Home » North America » USA » Alligators and bears in Florida | Roadtrip USA (11)

Alligators and bears in Florida | Roadtrip USA (11)

We leave America's oldest settlement St. Augustine and continue our ultimate USA roadtrip further south but first go further inland. These days we visit some beautiful state forests while we camp in the forest among the many bears, alligators and mosquitoes. We also meet Mike the war veteran who opens up about his eventful life and the social safety nets of America (…or lack thereof…).

The ultimate tour of North America

This article is part of a large one-year tour the United States en Canada in 2022, with a Dutch 4×4 camper that we shipped ourselves… It is a bucket list worthy and a once in a lifetime experience that will never be forgotten.

The ultimate roadtrip route through America and Canada | Wereldreizigers.nl
The ultimate roadtrip route through America and Canada | Wereldreizigers.nl

We wrote almost 100 articles about this ultimate tour. Below is a handy overview in 5 expandable categories.

1. Preparation
2. Highlights & Itineraries
3. Cities & places of interest (AZ)
4. National Parks & Monuments (AZ)
5. Plan your vacation to America here

Welaka State Forest

From St. Augustine which is located directly on the coast, we drive about an hour inland to Welaka State Forest† We saw via iOverlander that there is a beautiful nature campsite here for only 16 dollars a night. This is the route we drive today.

We decide to stay here for two nights because we also want to use a day to take a long walk here. There are some natural springs (water sources) in the forest that are worth visiting. Once we arrived we were soon greeted by some beautiful cranes with a young. These are birds unique to Florida and they are officially called 'Florida Sandhill Cranes'.

Common Cranes (Florida Sandhill Cranes) in Welaka State Forest
Common Cranes (Florida Sandhill Cranes) in Welaka State Forest

Mike the war veteran

While we light the barbeque we meet our nice neighbor at the campsite, Mike. Mike is a war veteran who has served in the US army for over 20 years and after some time socializing and some beers he tells us that he more or less lives here at the campsite.

Candid as he is, he tells us a few hours later by the fire that after countless broadcasts he in Europe (Kosovo) and the Middle East (Afghanistan, etc.) years after returning to the USA suffers from PTSD (Posttraumatic stress disorder).

Good conversations with Mike the war veteran at the campfire
Good conversations with Mike the war veteran at the campfire

Despite serving the country for decades, this disease left him homeless because he lost his house. Unfortunately, it is not the first veteran in the trouble that we speak to on this trip, we have already seen several at the campsites where we stay.

Mike tells us that he had to litigate against the state for a long time and fought to get benefits, which he finally succeeded recently. Now that he has income again, he can finally look ahead again. By temporarily living at the campsite, he can now save a lot of money and hopefully start looking for a house again.

Social safety net in America

Mike is a poignant example of how alone you are in a country like America when something goes wrong or you get sick. There is little or no social safety net here when you get into trouble. If for some reason you get something you are on your own. I didn't dare ask the question about the medical costs for his PTSD because I already know the answer… America is known for its bizarre bills if you need anything or someone from the hospital, a psychiatrist or whatever. That quickly runs into the hundreds of thousands here and health insurance policies are not only unaffordable, they often only reimburse a small part of the entire sum.

Welaka Mud Spring Trail

The next morning Malou and I decide to go for a long walk. We are up early to beat the heat, after all we are already in Florida and it is around 30 degrees every day. Today we walk the Mud Springs Trail that starts in front of the entrance of the campsite.

Mud Spring Trail, Welaka State Forest, Florida
Mud Spring Trail, Welaka State Forest, Florida
Mud Spring Trail, Welaka State Forest, Florida
Mud Spring Trail, Welaka State Forest, Florida

After half an hour of walking we arrive at the first water source. The water here is crystal clear. You can clearly see in the photo where the water comes up through the earth's crust: it is the white surface in the water.

Mud Spring Trail, Welaka State Forest, Florida
Mud Spring Trail, Welaka State Forest, Florida

Eating together

After a brisk walk of 3,5 hours we arrive back at the campsite just after noon. It is now 13:00 PM and it is very hot! After a good lunch and a fresh shower we decide to relax. At the end of the afternoon our neighbor Mike joins us again and we decide to cook dinner together today. We enjoy a few beers and cook delicious Macaroni with vegetables and herbs that we still had with us.

After another delicious meal and good conversations about all kinds of things with our new friend Mike, there is of course also work to be done. Malou is sitting outside at the table at sunset, working on the laptop.

The next morning we decide to take it easy as usual. Early in the morning it is still foggy and we hear the loud cry of some Florida Sandhill Cranes. It is a bizarre sound what these birds produce! Have a listen in the video below.

Lake George State Forest

We then leave around noon towards another nature reserve: Lake George State Forest† Here too there are 'state campsites' where you can spend the night for 16 dollars. On the way we do some shopping and two hours after departure we arrive at our next destination: River Road Campground in the middle of the forest.

River Road Campground

By the way, you can book the campsite via reserveamerica.com† I will write a full guide to that soon because the website is very useful for finding good free and cheap campsites that are run by the state.

When we drive into the campground, everyone stares at us as usual. What kind of weird camper is that? And a foreign license plate in America, huh? We wave and smile back friendly while the people at the campground visibly don't understand.

Alligators, snakes and bears

River Road Campground is located near the river and as you would expect in Florida the whole area is a kind of swamp with lots of water between the surrounding forests. The many warnings on the signs are there for a reason. The area is beautiful but it is suffocating here with alligators, snakes and even black bears. So watch out!

The many warnings for bears in the area

While enjoying the beautiful nature around us on an old pier, we see a small alligator that in the photo below disappears shortly afterwards in the green swamp. We couldn't get a good picture of them but they are definitely there. We hear the well-known terrifying 'belly cry' of the alligators from all sides, super cool!

Wetland in Lake George State Forest
Wetland in Lake George State Forest

Meanwhile, we admire another bird that first comes very close on the pier and then braves the swamp with its high legs. We keep a close eye on the bird as one of the many alligators through the swamp could attack here at any moment. Fortunately it doesn't get that far.

A beautiful bird in Lake George State Forest
A beautiful bird in Lake George State Forest

Bear locks and bear bins

Bears can also be found here. Bears generally don't show themselves that quickly, but what you have to watch out for is that they look for food in the evening and at night. And all that delicious food from all those people at the campsite smells really good for bears.

Bear bin at the River Road Campground
Bear bin at the River Road Campground

That is why you often have special Bear locks and Bear bins (shown above) at the campgrounds in America in which you can store or throw away your food. They are special, super sturdy steel containers that are designed in such a way that bears cannot open them. This is necessary because believe me, a bear will unfold your car life (we've seen the videos) and a plastic camper door is no problem at all. They really don't just do this, but if you have food in the car or camper that is not properly closed and the smell can easily escape, it is a risk. So better store it properly!

Campfire and mosquitoes

After we have eaten, the campfire is lit again. The mosquitoes really take over here around sunset! The fire and smoke will help keep them at bay while it lasts…

The fire keeps mosquitoes and insects away... While it lasts | Lake George State Forest
The fire keeps mosquitoes and insects away… For as long as it lasts | Lake George State Forest

Just after sunset we enjoy the clear sky and the many stars that we see. There are also a few fireflies in the bushes. Unfortunately at the same time the mosquitoes can no longer be stopped, not even with an infinite amount of anti-mosquito spray so we decide to go in early, tomorrow another day!


The only thing that has been exciting the last few days is that we have to be constantly on the lookout for alligators and bears in the woods and the swamp. Furthermore, it is the little things like a conversation by the campfire or a walk in the woods that we enjoy. The days fly by, even if we feel we hardly do anything. It is the tranquility of 'slow-travel' that now allows us to enjoy every moment, you can also enjoy doing nothing and strangely enough you only notice this when you are traveling for a longer period of time.

After these quiet days, however, we are looking for adventure again. Among other things, we go off-road with our camper (which is just going well) and we visit it Kennedy Space Center from NASA and SpaceX on Cape Canaveral in Florida to tick off a real bucket list wish of mine: to see and feel them launch a rocket into space with my own eyes!

In the next blog I will talk about this in detail. See you there!

Plan your vacation to America here

Seen a mistake? Ask? Remark? Let us know in the comments!

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– Travel 3+ months per year, 10 years in a row
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