Camping is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Fort Lauderdale, once the Spring Break capitol of the world and still a magnet for college students and families seeking a prime winter or spring beach destination.
Fort Lauderdale anchors the center of South Florida’s urban, coastal sprawl, an epicenter of luxury oceanfront resorts, beautiful tropical beaches and Gulf Stream fishing.
But hidden away in this megapolis of sea, sex and sand are quite a few prime public campgrounds and a multitude of private RV parks that meet our “best” test and will accommodate your RV or tent for a week or a weekend.
As you might expect, these campgrounds can be chock full during winter months when snowbirds invade South Florida, but if you plan carefully, you can often find weekday openings that allow you to slip into town for a few days.
My initial focus, as usual, will be public campgrounds because they are usually the most scenic and least expensive. Unfortunately, neither of the two state parks in or near Fort Lauderdale accommodate campers, but both are worth a visit. At the end of this article, I add a few private campgrounds worth noting.
Despite the lack of state parks, there are five public campgrounds maintained by Broward County Parks, and all of them are comfortable, clean and accommodating. Most are geared towards family camping (including pets) with water parks and playgrounds for children. Locals avoid these parks in winter but take over in spring, summer and fall, especially on weekends.
For the county parks listed, reservations should be made at least two weeks in advance, and campers are limited to a two-week stay.
Markham Parkis a full-service regional park at the gateway to Alligator Alley, offering a broad range of recreational opportunities for the entire family, including a radio-controlled airplane field, a gun range, a dog park, trails for hiking and biking, fishing and boat launches, a tennis center with racquetball, volleyball, a swimming pool complex and a “mist” pool.
The 666-acre park features 10 miles of well-maintained mountain bike trails, single and double-track, ranging from novice to intermediate, with technical sections for more advanced riders. Despite South Florida’s flat terrain, the bike trails are often steep with switchbacks and rough and tricky surfaces. Bike rentals are available in the park. For hikers, there is a 1.5 mile nature trail.
Download PDF of mountain bike trails.
Perched at the edge of the Everglades Conservation Area at the east end of Alligator Alley, the park features a newly renovated campground with 88 full hookup sites for RV and tent camping. Each site includes a picnic table and fire ring or grill. The campground has two restrooms with showers. Wi-Fi is available in the campground area.
Campsites are $40 for non-residents and $30 for residents of South Florida’s tri-counties (Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade). A two-day deposit is required for reservations. There is a pet fee of $1 per pet, up to two pets.
Download campground map.
A boat ramp is available in the campground that provides access to the L35A perimeter canal that buffers the park from the Everglades Conservation Area, and there’s a system of interconnected lakes, including a 26-acre lake set aside for motorized personal watercraft (jet skis) and another set aside for water skiing. A second boat ramp provides access to the New River Canal, which parallels State Road 84. Canoe and kayak rentals are also available.
Night-time activities are not limited to sitting around the campfire. Indeed, you can visit the Fox Observatory every Saturday night from dusk to midnight for stargazing.
Markham Park, 16001 West State Road 84, Sunrise, FL, 954-389-2000 for campground reservations and park information. E-mail to [email protected] Shooting range: 954-389-2005
Link to Markham Park: http://www.broward.org/Parks/MarkhamPark/
Like most parks in the Broward County park system, C.B. Smith is geared towards family activities and features a water park with multiple waterslides, including two small waterslides designed for youngsters under the age of 5. For older children, there are five waterslides, including the 450-foot H2Whoa. (That’s half again the length of a football field!). The water park also features a 410-foot tube ride. Admission to the water park, Paradise Cove, is $9.50 per person.
Other recreation amenities in the 299-acre park include casual bike trails (rentals available), batting cages for softball and baseball, a golf driving range that is open seven days a week, a tennis center, several playgrounds and multiple lakes for fishing. Boat rentals are also available.
The campground has 71 paved RV sites with water, sewer and electric, picnic tables and grills. There are also restrooms with heated showers and a laundry facility. Wi-Fi is also available in the campground. Campsites are $40 for non-residents and $30 for residents of South Florida’s tri-counties (Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade). A two-day deposit is required for reservations. There is a pet fee of $1 per pet, and a maximum of two pets are permitted per site.
Download campground map.
CB Smith Park, 900 N. Flamingo Road, Pembroke Pines, FL, 954-357-5170 for camping reservations and park information. E-mail, [email protected]
Link to CB Smith Park: http://www.broward.org/Parks/CBSmithPark
There is a snack bar, concession stand and “marina” with boat rentals on weekends, a two-mile paved multi-use path for biking, hiking and skating. Bicycle rentals are available on site. You’ll also find basketball, volleyball and tennis courts, a large covered playground and several smaller playgrounds scattered around the 139-acre park.
Although neat and clean, the campground has a “plastic,” barren parking-lot feel to it, although it makes up for it with location, location, location. It’s close to I-95 (maybe too close) with easy access to Hollywood, Dania Beach and Fort Lauderdale’s beaches, as well as the commuter rail line that serves the coast from Miami north to West Palm Beach.
The campground has 61 paved RV sites with full hookups (water, sewer, electric), grills and picnic tables. A restroom building includes hot showers and a laundry. Campsites are $40 for non-residents and $30 for residents of South Florida’s tri-counties (Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade). Reservations are required. There is a pet fee of $1 per pet, and a maximum of two pets are permitted per site.
Download Campground map.
T.Y. Park, 3300 N. Park Road, Hollywood, FL, 954-357-8811 for campground reservations and park information. E-mail: [email protected]
Web site: http://www.broward.org/Parks/TopeekeegeeYugneePark/
While the park is small at 47 acres, its size is deceiving because there is so much vegetation, making for a pleasant respite from the bustle of South Florida.
The campground features 55 sites, including 45 with full hookups (water, sewer and electric) and 10 tent sites with water and electric only. Seven of the RV sites are pull-through. Picnic tables and grills are on all sites, and there is a dump station near the exit. Two restrooms include hot showers. Wi-Fi is available only in the main office area.
Campsites are $40 for non-residents and $30 for residents of South Florida’s tri-counties (Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade). A two-night deposit is required. There is a pet fee of $1 per pet, and a maximum of two pets are permitted per site. (Proof of rabies vaccination is required).
Download campground map.
Easterlin Park, 1000 NW 8th Street, Oakland Park, FL, 954-357-5190 for campground reservations and park information. E-mail: [email protected]
The big draw at Quiet Waters is cable water skiing at Ski-Rixen, but the park also has a 7-mile network of paved multi-use trails and challenging mountain bike trails with segments for everyone from beginners to expert riders that wrap around the park’s five lakes.
Quiet Waters took a big hit during Hurricane Wilma, the center of which passed right over the park, and a huge swath of trees and vegetation was ripped out of the ground, leaving much of the park barren, compared to what it once was.
Volunteers piled into the park to rebuild the mountain bike trail with new landscaping, new structure and adding new trails under the guidance of the International Mountain Bicycling Association. There is a staging area at the trailhead with parking and picnic tables.
Download the bike trail map.
There is also – surprise! – a water park with a sandy beach on one of the park’s freshwater lakes. Adjacent to Ski Rixen, which occupies another lake, is a 20,000 square foot Skate Park for skateboarding, inline skating and BMX biking, open only on weekends. The Skate Park features more than a hundred ramps and grind trails.
A third lake, perhaps the most scenic of them all, is home to a marina where you can rent canoes, kayaks, jon boats and paddleboats. You can also bring your own canoes and kayaks and launch on a nearby grassy “beach” with nearby parking.
Campsites are $35 per night for up to four campers. The 10-by-10-foot tents sleep six, so two additional campers can be accommodated for an additional $3 each. A security deposit of $35 is required, and up to two pets are permitted per site for a fee of $1 per pet. Firewood, kindling and ice are available at the park office, which is adjacent to the campground.
Download the campground map.
Quiet Waters Park, 401 S. Powerline Road, Deerfield Beach, FL, 954-357-5100 for tent reservations and park information. E-mail: [email protected]
Private campgrounds worth noting:
Everglades Holiday Park is your perfect destination for an Everglades experience close to Fort Lauderdale. The park operators offer airboat rides, live alligator shows and boat ramp access to some of the best freshwater fishing in the state. Currently private, the park will soon be taken over by Broward County Parks and Recreation (June 2012). The campground includes 100 sites for RVs, with water, electric and sewer hooks, and 36 tent sites. Reservations for the winter months should be made well in advance. (Plan now for next year.) Call for rates.
Everglades Holiday Park, 21940 Griffin Road, Fort Lauderdale, FL 1-800-226-2244 or 954-434-8111 for campground reservations or park information. E-mail to: [email protected]
Web site: http://www.evergladesholidaypark.com/
Sawgrass Recreation Area, 1006 N. U.S. Highway 27, Weston, FL. 1-888-AIRBOAT (888-424-7262) for camping and airboat information. E-mail to: [email protected]
Web site: http://www.evergladestours.com
Seminole Park, 3301 North State Road 7, Hollywood, FL 954-987-6961 for reservations and information. E-mail to: [email protected]
Web site: http://www.seminolepark.com
Yacht Haven Park and Marina, 2323 State Road 84, Fort Lauderdale, FL. 1-800-581-2322 for reservations and information, or you can reserve a site online at their web site: http://www.yachthavenpark.com. E-mail to: [email protected]
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