Beaches / Camping / Northeast Florida

Coastal treasure: Camp near stunning beach, historic city at Anastasia State Park


dunes at anastasia state parkYou would think with winter’s inflow of snowbirds, it would be hard to find a campsite at Anastasia State Park, adjacent to North America’s oldest city and a prime tourist destination.

This was not the case when I visited St. Augustine recently on a sunny, warm weekday in late January. Nearly half of the campsites were empty. Of course, sunny warm days are not the norm in January on this part of the Atlantic coast, and that could explain a lack of advance bookings by RVers in the know. The cramped sites may be another discouraging factor.

But I found this campground among the best in any of Florida’s state parks, especially if you are looking for a back-to-nature experience with a high level of privacy afforded by dense vegetation around virtually every campsite I observed.

kayak concession at anastasia state park

The boat concession at Anastasia State Park.

The campground’s 139 campsites break out into seven loops in a heavily wooded coastal  hammock forest, protected from onshore winds and salt spray that can blow into the park across coastal dunes, especially in winter.

The beach itself stretches four miles along the Atlantic coast, wrapping around the northern point of Anastasia Island at the St. Augustine Inlet. The beach is broad and beautiful, and you can ride your bicycle on hard sand below the tide line, when the tide is out.

The park has a sheltered tidal saltwater lagoon behind the beach dunes where you can paddle your kayaks and canoes, and there’s a concession on the main park road where you can even rent Hobie 16 catamaran sailboats (in addition to kayaks, paddleboards and sail boards).

I’m an old Hobie sailor and really liked that availability. You don’t often find Hobies in state parks, and the hourly price is reasonable at $35. The lagoon is wide and long, offering plenty of room to play.

The boats are set up and ready to go, and the concession staff will give you lessons if you need them.

St. Augustine history

Castillo de San Marco in St. Petersburg

Coquina rock from the park was used to build Castillo de San Marco

You cannot visit St. Augustine without tasting history in every corner, and Anastasia is no exception. At the entrance to the park, before you arrive at the park gate, you’ll find a short nature trail that goes back to a coquina quarry that served early Spanish settlers with blocks they needed to build homes and the fort that protected the harbor.

With hand tools, Indian and African slaves and prisoners from other European nations were put to work carving the soft shellstone out of the quarry for transport to the settlement across the river.

The Spaniards learned to waterproof the coquina blocks with water and plaster, strengthening their defenses against enemies and weather that tore into and destroyed early efforts to build structures from pinewood and palmetto forests inland.

From the 16th Century to the 19th Century, coquina mined on Anastasia Island continued to be a prized building material, and you’ll find many of those historic structures in St. Augustine still standing, including Castillo de San Marcos, the historic fort that is now a national monument.

The fort, as well as Historic St. Augustine, are a fun bike ride away, across the nearby Bridge of Lions. Just go north on A1A and cross the bridge.

The campground at Anastasia State Park

typical campsite at anastasia state park

Typical campsite

As I mentioned earlier, there are 139 sites, all of them with water and electric hookups, a picnic table, in-ground grill and fire ring. There are no sewer hookups, but there is a dump station as you leave the campground.

The seven campground loops are strung out along the dead-end campground road, and there are four full-service bathhouses, each serving two loops, with hot showers and laundry facilities.

The first thing I noticed was how tight most of the sites are for RVs – and how private they are.  I checked several sites for privacy, and the underbrush was thick with scrub and even mangrove, creating a dense screen of vegetation between each site.

There are 44 sites set aside for tents and 124 for either RVs or tents, but even the deepest RV sites are narrow, leaving scant room to fully roll out your awning. On the other hand, the forest is so thick and shady, you don’t really need an awning for shade.

campground map anastasia state park

Expand campground map.

There are a few sites that are wider than the norm, so look at the photos for each individual site on the reservations website before you book it.  The maximum RV length is 40 feet.

The Coquina Loop is closest to the beach and appeared to be the most appealing for RVers.

Pets are allowed in all areas of the park, including the campground loops, but not in the restrooms or the beach.

The overnight rate is $28, plus tax, and includes water and electric. Florida residents 65 and over receive a 50 percent discount, although be prepared to prove it when you check in.

Reservations can be made by phone — (800) 326-3521– or online through ReserveAmerica.  Advance reservations are not accepted by park rangers, although you can book available sites in person on your day of arrival.

Amenities for Anastasia State Park campers

I was surprised to find Wi-fi  available on the patio outside the beach concession, The Island Beach Shop and Grill.  Wi-Fi is a nice touch not often found in state parks, and a friend of mine who was camping at the park during my visit said he was pleasantly surprised to find the Wi-Fi active throughout the night.

But my friend was disappointed that the store didn’t have a propane canister for his campstove when he needed it.  This is your typical campground store with only basic camping supplies, a few foodstuffs, bait for fishing and souvenirs.  Beyond the basics, you’ll have to go outside the park. If you travel south on A1A, you’ll find an ACE Hardware store and a Publix Supermarket in St. Augustine Beach.

My friend found his propane at the ACE Hardware (3033 A1A South). On a personal note, I’ve generally found ACE stores to be a reliable source of camping supplies on my many trips around the state. Worth keeping in mind.

For nearby eats, try Jack’s BBQ on the Beach Boulevard at A Street.  I enjoyed their tasty mojo pork hoagie, but this venerable beachside eatery is best known for its barbecue ribs.

Kayaking at Anastasia State Park

Paddling about in the lagoon, known as Salt Run, would be fine for an afternoon, but serious kayakers will want to venture out into the Intracoastal Waterway to expand their horizons.

When I arrived at the park, a park ranger, by all indications an experienced paddler, suggested I would find some ideal kayaking territory by driving about south on State Road A1A and put in at the boat launch at Matanzas Inlet or a little further south, across from the Marineland aquarium.

Although I didn’t have time for kayaking that day, I did drive south on A1A to check out his recommendation, and I found some excellent launch areas and inviting inland waterways that will surely be on my agenda for my next trip to that area.

Both launches provide access to the expansive Pellicer Creek Aquatic Preserve with ample opportunities for exploring backcountry waterways and pristine marshes that transition from saltwater to freshwater. (For you fishers, that creates a prime environment for game fish.)

Access is also available from Faver Dykes State Park, off U.S. 1 on the west side of the Intracoastal Waterway, or the 3900-acre Princess Place Preserve.

When paddling this area, the authors of Canoeing and Kayaking in Florida recommend that you maintain a high awareness of the weather, particularly tides and winds, before venturing into these vast marshes. If possible, I’d also make an effort to tap local knowledge about areas you expect to explore.

Other campgrounds near St. Augustine

St. Augustine Beach KOA (3 miles)

Faver Dykes State Park (17 miles)

Pellicer Creek Campground (17 miles)

Related Florida Rambler articles about things to do near Anastasia State Park

St. Augustine: Spanish fort reflects history of the “Oldest City”

Princess Place Preserve is a magical destination

Washington Oaks Gardens

Fort Matanzas: A charmer, and free

Flagler Beach, an Old Florida beach town.

Right whale watching in northeastern Florida

Related Links

ReserveAmerica: Reserve a campsite at Anastasia State Park

Florida State Parks:  Official Anastasia State Park link

 

 

 

Send to Kindle

Comment on this article

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*


− 2 = two

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Web Analytics