If the idea of falling asleep to the sound of waves lapping the shore under a sky scattered with stars, casting for fish in crystal-clear water while watching the sunrise or paddling through tranquil tropical forests teeming with wildlife sounds like a dream come true, you must give camping in Florida a try. This southeastern state is chock-full of national forests, state parks and wilderness areas that provide campgrounds with access to some of the region’s most unique ecosystems and scenic natural landscapes. From primitive beach camping to established RV resorts, this guide gives you the lowdown on some of the best places to camp in Florida. With outdoor pursuits on the rise since the COVID-19 pandemic, advanced reservations are highly recommended for campsites. Travelers can make a reservation online for a fee (campsites range in cost from $16 to $42 a night) up to 11 months in advance for all Florida State Park sites. Although camping in Florida does present some challenges like heat, humidity and bugs, it’s nothing that a dip in the water can’t fix.
Ocala National Forest
Journey down the 60-mile Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway through pine scrub forests towering over crystal-clear pools to reach this central Florida oasis, which features more than 600 lakes, hundreds of miles of trails and 14 developed campgrounds with designated campsites for both tents and RVs (full hookups are available at the Salt Springs Recreation Area only). The park, located about 70 miles north of Orlando, also manages two rustic rental cabins for groups of up to 12 people, one of which overlooks a private natural spring and provides canoes for guest use. Travelers applaud the cleanliness and scenic beauty of Ocala National Forest’s camping amenities, which offer easy access to activities like swimming, paddling, wildlife photography and mountain biking. Backpackers can find dispersed campsites in the Alexander Springs and Juniper Prairie wilderness areas, among other regions, nestled alongside the Florida National Scenic Trail. This 1,500-mile trail was first constructed in 1966 near the park’s Clearwater Lake Recreation Area and it’s now home to a shady lakefront campground and a 1.3-mile loop trail, where nature lovers can keep their eyes peeled for signs of black bears and scrub-jays (Ocala National Forest harbors the state’s largest population of these birds). Campsite fees start at $31 per night. While some sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis, visitors can make reservations in advance online at recreation.gov.
Bahia Honda State Park
Located about 130 miles south of Miami en route to Key West on the famous Overseas Highway, this park flaunts an idyllic tropical landscape with pristine white sand beaches, turquoise sea views and an abundance of birds and wildlife. Travelers say this park offers some of the best beaches in the Florida Keys with calm, clear water perfect for swimming, snorkeling and paddling. Daily snorkeling tours to offshore islands are provided by an on-site operator, which also offers kayak rentals and a snack bar, for an even closer look at some of the most magnificent coral reefs in the world. Three campgrounds with 80 campsites are available to overnight guests, as well as three fully stocked, waterfront rental cabins. Both the Buttonwood and Sandspur campgrounds offer electric hookups for RVs, plus access to a central bathrooms and dump sites. Located on the north side of the park, the more remote Bayside campground does not allow RVs, but does allow hammock camping. All sites provide picnic tables, grills and water. Campsites start at $36 per night, with additional fees for RV utilities and an $8 entry fee per vehicle. Additionally, boaters will find an on-site marina with 19 rental slips and two boat ramps to fit their needs.
Collier-Seminole State Park
For a fresh perspective of Florida, try spending a few nights in one of the world’s largest mangrove swamps. You won’t find sandy beaches or ocean views in this expansive, inland park, but instead can experience a taste of the Greater Everglades ecosystem, a region of subtropical wetlands unique to southern Florida where a dizzying array of wildlife reside, including many endangered species like the Florida panther, West Indian manatee and the wood stork. Take a hike or bike ride on one of Collier-Seminole State Park’s four nature trails or paddle down the Blackwater River on a 13.5-mile canoe trail for a chance to spot some of these beauties. The park has one campground with 104 sites complete with electricity, water, grills and picnic tables (some sites are designated as tent-only and some allow hammock camping.) Also available on-site are a centralized shower facility, laundry room and dump station, which travelers applauded for being immaculate. The park – situated about 15 miles south of Naples – features additional activities like educational ranger-led programs, canoe rentals, historic landmarks and a children’s playground. Fees include a vehicle pass starting at $5, and a nightly camping fee starting at $22 (additional utility fees apply for RV hookups).
Note: Collier-Seminole State Park is temporarily closed after sustaining damage during the 2022 hurricane season. Check the park website directly for its reopening status before planning a trip.
Faver-Dykes State Park
(Courtesy of Florida State Parks)
Pellicer Creek is the crowning geographical feature of this park – located on the former site of a Spanish-occupied plantation around 20 miles south of St. Augustine – where visitors can take an easy canoe or kayak trip on its 6.7-mile paddling trail through tidal marshes and estuaries or hike along paths through shady forests of hardwood hammock and saw palmetto. Though seemingly nondescript, the site is recognized as part of the Great Florida Birding Trail; it’s also a Florida Designated Paddling Trail and part of the 1,500-mile Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail, known for its rugged, natural beauty. Faver-Dykes State Park’s full-facility campground has 30 campsites with fire pits, picnic tables and RV hookups for water and electricity, plus a central bathroom with shower facilities and a dump station. Campers say the sites are spacious and secluded, but warn of ticks. A vehicle entry fee of $5 and camping fee of $18 per night apply (there is an additional fee for RV utility usage.)
Jonathan Dickinson State Park
This unique recreation area on Florida’s Atlantic coast – located about 20 miles north of West Palm Beach – spans 10,000-plus acres of varied terrain divided into 16 zones, or “communities,” like the sand pine scrub, the preferred habitat for scrub-jays, and the Loxahatchee River, the state’s first federally designated Wild and Scenic River. Visitors can explore the river by renting a canoe or taking a 90-minute guided boat tour. Travelers can also enjoy the park’s numerous hiking trails, from portions of the Florida Trail to the Hobe Mountain Trail, a short boardwalk trail with an observation tower. Overnight guests can choose between two campgrounds each with restrooms, hot showers and laundry facilities. All 52 sites at the Pine Grove Campground provide full RV hookups and access to a dump station. Primitive and equestrian campsites are also available, as well as 11 fully furnished rental cabins. The cabins are conveniently located near the visitor center and restaurant with a beer garden. Fees include a one-time $6 vehicle pass, plus $26 per night for campsites (additional fees apply for RV utilities.)
Rainbow Springs State Park
People have been seeking the refreshing, healing waters of the Rainbow River and its emerald headsprings for some 10,000 years. As one of the state’s largest natural springs and an aquatic preserve, this north-central Florida state park (about 45 miles south of Gainesville) has developed attractions and activities like a river tubing trail, manmade waterfalls and hiking trails for the enjoyment of a plethora of annual visitors, who describe the park as “serene” and a “treasure.” Grounds located near the river offer campsites starting at $30 per night with full hookups, restrooms, laundry facilities and a dump station. Resort-style amenities like a kayak storage rack, concession stand and camp store with equipment rentals are also available to overnight guests. However, travelers warn that the campground is located several miles away from the springs, and that some amenities, such as hot showers and electric hookups, can be hit or miss.
Everglades National Park
This internationally acclaimed subtropical wilderness preserve dubbed the “River of Grass” is one of the most unique places to camp in Florida. In addition to tent-only and RV sites fully equipped with hookups, solar showers and dump stations, it also provides rustic “chickees”– remote wooden platforms that can only be reached by boating or hiking. Beach camping is also available, but should only be utilized by those with advanced backcountry skills. While there are many trails, landmarks, fishing spots and wildlife viewing areas to explore on your own, several guided kayak, airboat or tram tours are also available. Some of these tours originate from the Flamingo Visitor Center, which also has waterfront camping spots (some of which are first-come, first-served), a marina store, and food and beverage vendors. Visitors mention that this is also a good place for seeing wildlife, especially manatees. It’s important to note that the prime season for all park activities is during the winter months when there are fewer bugs and rain and more active wildlife. Drive-up camping reservations start at $30 per night, while wilderness permits start at $21 per night.
Gulf Islands National Seashore
Visitors gush about the pristine beauty of the natural beaches along this protected shoreline on the Gulf of Mexico near the Alabama border. Located 18 miles south of downtown Pensacola, the Fort Pickens campground has the only developed campsites on the Florida side of the park and is one of the busiest campgrounds in the entire National Park Service. The area is popular thanks to its direct access to Langdon Beach and as one of the main starting points for the Florida National Scenic Trail. The region is also steeped in history, and guests can explore the ruins of a Civil War-era fortress and battery, or the on-site discovery center. It’s important to note that although there is a small camp store, campers should plan to bring all supplies with them. The 200 campsites at Fort Pickens (20 are tent-only) all have picnic tables, fire rings and electric hookups, plus access to bathrooms, hot showers, laundry, water and a dump station. The cost is $40 per night, in addition to a one-time $25 vehicle entry fee.
Westgate River Ranch
For a change of scenery from gin-clear waters and white sand beaches, drive about 90 miles south of Orlando for a taste of “Old Florida” rustic heritage. With on-site activities like a weekly rodeo, horseback riding, trap shooting and a farm animal petting zoo, this dude ranch resort feels like it was transported from the Rocky Mountain West. The resort offers a wide variety of lodging options, including tent and RV sites (partial hookups and bathroom facilities provided) so you can sleep under the stars like the cowboys once did. For a truly unique experience, rent a glamping tent, luxury teepee or Conestoga wagon tucked into groves of swaying live oak trees, all of which feature full bathrooms, air conditioning and kitchenettes. Guests are delighted by special touches like the delivery of nightly s’mores kits, access to a community campfire and the use of a golf cart to get around the property, which made their visits even more comfortable and memorable. Rates vary, with tent sites starting at $45 per night. Additional fees apply for ranch activities.
Topsail Hill Preserve State Park
(Courtesy of Florida State Parks)
Located in the Florida Panhandle region about 15 miles east of Destin, a popular family vacation destination on the Gulf of Mexico, this state park is known for its unique sand dune formations, pristine beaches and top-notch campground amenities. Travelers rave about the park’s shaded campsites, calm waters for prime paddling and convenient tram shuttle service to the beach. In addition to more than 3 miles of natural beaches and 15 miles of hiking trails to explore, the park also has three freshwater lakes and is recognized as a part of the Florida Birding Trail. Its campground has 156 RV sites and 22 tent-only spots with access to central restrooms, laundry facilities, a swimming pool and shuffleboard courts. Those looking for a higher level of comfort and convenience can book bohemian-inspired glamping tents (hosted by a local company called Fancy Camps), which include the use of bicycles, beach chairs and complimentary coffee shop treats. Cottages featuring full kitchens and air conditioning are also available for daily and weekly rentals. Guests can rent kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, bicycles and beach umbrellas at an on-site camp store to help them enjoy the area’s many recreational offerings. Camping fees start at $24 per night, plus a $6 per vehicle to enter the park.
Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground
(Mark Ashman/Courtesy of Walt Disney World)
Camping with kids? Look no further than this “woodsy-chic” campground resort just minutes from the famous Walt Disney World offering both cabin and campsite accommodations for theme park visitors (note that all overnight guests must have both a valid ticket or annual pass, and a theme park reservation to enter this campground). The resort offers a slew of amenities to make “roughing it” a little less rough. You can enjoy a swimming pool and waterslide, transportation services, grocery delivery, and on-site activities for all ages – including archery, paddle sports on a private lake and evening campfire entertainment. Don’t miss a visit to the elegant Tri-Circle-D Ranch, which houses 90 horses of all sizes, breeds and colors for pony rides, carriage rides and trail rides throughout the wooded property. Ample themed dining options also abound, from a chuckwagon-style food truck and poolside snack bar to a rustic tavern and the full-service Trail’s End Restaurant. Rates start around $100 per night and include picnic tables, grills and Wi-Fi as well as hookups for water, electric and cable (some also offer sewer). No tent? No problem. RV rentals can be arranged in advance.
DuPuis Management Area
For a free, no-frills camping experience, head to the 22,000-acre DuPuis Management Area located in a picturesque rural area between Lake Okeechobee and Palm Beach. Although overnight visitors do need to obtain a special-use permit from the South Florida Water Management District online ahead of time, there is no cost to enter, camp or enjoy recreational activities on the property. Travelers report that the campsites are well maintained with picnic tables, fire pits, hot showers and a dump station (although RVs are permitted, there are no hookups available). This natural area offers access to a wide variety of activities like hiking, biking and hunting, as well as several historic landmarks and archaeological sites. With 40 miles of bridle trails, the area also attracts a lot of equestrians, and a separate campground with special amenities is available for those traveling with horses. The nearby Lake Okeechobee, the largest freshwater lake in the state of Florida, offers even more opportunities for fun activities like fishing, boating and hiking. Swimming here is not recommended, however, as the lake is home to some 30,000 alligators.