Florida Rambler favors campgrounds down the road and behind the trees, well-hidden and friendly to wildlife.
State and national parks, wildlife refuges, forests and many county parks attract our attention because they usually deliver on the promise.
This can be a challenge during Daytonas’s big events: Speed Weeks (Feb. 18-26, 2017), Daytona 500 (Feb. 26, 2017), Bike Week (March 10-19, 2017), Coke Zero 400 (June 30-July 2, 2017) and Biketoberfest (Oct. 19-22, 2017).
At other times of the year, your odds of finding a campsite are much better.
All distances measured from Daytona International Speedway on U.S. 92.
Tiger Bay State Forest (RV or tent)
7 miles from Daytona International Speedway
This huge (23,425 acres) wetland forest is a recreational paradise with 50 miles of unimproved park roads for off-road cyclists, hikers and equestrians to enjoy — and it’s just down the road from Daytona International Speedway.
Spidering off the park roads you’ll find miles and miles and miles of logging trails that lead hikers into the deep woods, a wildlife corridor with black bears, deer, fox, wild turkeys, wild hogs and hundreds of species of birds, including nesting bald eagles.
What you might not know is that there are two small campgrounds in this forest, both primitive, one of which is designated for equestrians and equipped with corrals. Both campgrounds are in the Rima Ridge Tract on the east side of the forest, accessible from Indian Lake Road off U.S. 92.
The main campground at Bennet Field Road has another six sites, spacious and well-shaded in a grove of live oak, far enough apart that you’d have to shout to rile your neighbor. Each site has a fire ring and picnic table, but there is no water, no electric and no dump station. Forget hot showers. No rest rooms, just an outhouse. All of the sites are excellent for tents and boon-docking RVs (all but site no. 6).
Tiger Bay State Forest, 4316 W International Speedway Blvd, Daytona Beach, FL 32124. (386) 226-0250
Web site: Tiger Bay State Forest
No Reservations: $10 per night, first-come, first-served. Purchase your permit in person at park headquarters on U.S. 92 or can be obtained by phone at 386-266-0250, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Tomoka River State Park — (RV or tent)
18 miles from Daytona
Tomoka State Park is surrounded by water and offers excellent paddling, biking, boating and fishing. Gateway to the Scenic Ormond Loop Trail, it is also one of the premier stops along the Great Florida Birding Trail with more than 160 species either in residence or passing through during seasonal migrations.
There are 100 well-shaded campsites, and most are deep, spacious and private. All but a few pads are hard-pack sand and coquina shell, so they accommodate tents as well as RVs. Each campsite has electric and water, picnic table, lantern post and a grill. Dump station nearby. The campground has three restrooms with showers. Pets are allowed. (Maximum RV length is 34 feet.)
The park’s proximity to Daytona Beach makes it a popular destination when events are scheduled at Daytona International Speedway, but I have found that sites are surprisingly available at other times of the year. especially on weekdays.
Tomoka State Park is an excellent base for bicyclists, and the park is surrounded by shoreline with access to the Tomoka River Basin’s saltwater marshes that harbor 90 different species of fish, including a variety of gamefish.
Tomoka River State Park, 2099 North Beach Street, Ormond Beach, FL. 32174. 386-676-4050
Web site: Tomoka River State Park
Reservations: $24 per night, plus tax and a non-refundable $6.70 reservation fee. Includes water and electricity. Call 800-326-3621 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Lake Ashby Park, New Smyrna Beach (Tent only)
18 miles from Daytona
I visited this park recently, planning to camp just two nights, but the solitude it afforded prompted me to stick around for two more.
The relatively small 64-acre park is a former Boy Scout Camp on a beautiful little lake with a nature trail, nearby boat ramp, a boardwalk that extends out over the lake with fishing decks, and a one-time swimming beach where you can launch kayaks and canoes. Near the campground, there is a playground, volleyball court and picnic pavilions.
There are no RVs allowed in this primitive campground, and there are no cars. It’s all tent camping, and you have to trundle your gear from the central parking lot to your campsite. The 10 campsites are spacious, some accommodate group campers, and all sites enjoy plenty of shade from the towering trees and privacy from low-level vegetation.
Each site has a picnic table, grill and a there is a well-maintained rest room but no hot showers.
The park has a lot of beauty, but it is hard to find in these far-west reaches of New Smyrna Beach. There is an on-site caretaker, but no rangers, so you have to reserve your campsite by phone through Volusia County’s Department of Parks and Recreation.
There are a few quirky features you need to know about. Lake Ashby, for one, is used by seaplane pilots for test landings and take-offs. (Didn’t really bother me.) And there is a string of privately owned hunting camps east of the park, and you may hear occasional distant gunfire.
Lake Ashby Park, 4150 Boy Scout Camp Road, New Smyrna Beach. 386-736-5953.
Web site: Lake Ashby Park
Reservations: $15 a night. Maximum stay 7 days. Call 386-736-5953.
Lake Ashby wildlife by Jason Hellender (all rights reserved)
Gamble Rogers State Recreation Area (RV or tent)
24 miles from Daytona
Gamble Rogers is not a very big park as state parks go, but the campsites are beachfront shielded by dunes along a beautiful 1/2-mile stretch of orange sand.
The main section of this 145-acre park is across State Road A1A, where there’s a boat ramp and hiking trails that open up to the Intracoastal Waterway and saltwater marshes common along this section of the coast. It’s an excellent launch pad for boats, kayaks and canoes wishing to explore the Matanzas River and quiet inland waterways.
A paved bike path parallels A1A to the adjacent North Peninsula State Park, a much larger park with two miles of beautiful pristine beaches.
Each of the 34 campsites has water and electric, a picnic table with fire ring, and all sites have access to a communal dump station. The sites are close together without any vegetation or privacy, which makes this campground more appealing to RV’s (up to 40 feet) than tent camping.
A second campground is currently under construction on the west side of SR A1A, along the Intracoastal Waterway. A completion date has not yet been announced.
If you are fortunate to be camping here over a weekend, musicians gather at the beach pavilions on the 2nd and 4th Saturdays of every month for the Gamble Jam, a sanctioned jam session honoring the park’s namesake, folksinger and storyteller James Gamble Rogers.
Read more about Gamble Rogers State Park and other state parks in Northeast Florida,
Gamble Rogers State Park, 3100 S. State Road A1A, Flagler Beach, FL 32136. 386-517-2086
Reservations: $28 a night; Book online up to 11 months in advance through ReserveAmerica, or call 800-326-3621 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., up to 11 months in advance.
Blue Spring State Park (RV, tent and cabins)
26 miles from Daytona
Blue Spring State Park is on the edge of a vast basin of preserved lands, wildlife refuges and state parks that protect the watershed of the oddly north-flowing St. John’s River, making this park an ideal launching pad for paddlers.
A magnet for bathers in summer and a refuge for manatees in winter, the 1/4-mile spring run flows through an idyllic setting of dense tropical vegetation to the St. John’s River.
I found tent camping here a bit uncomfortable and would opt for the RV or one of the park’s six cabins the next time I visit.
The park’s 51 campsites all have water and electric , picnic table and grill. Restrooms with hot showers nearby, and there is a dump station on site. Pets are welcome at the campground, but not in the cabins. Alcohol is prohibited, though tolerated within the confines of your site, if you’re discreet.
Read more about Blue Springs State Park
Blue Spring State Park, 2100 W. French Ave., Orange City. 386-775-3663 Reservations
Reservations: 51 campsites (tent or RV), $24 night; 6 cabins, $95; Book your site online at www.reserveamerica.com, or call 800-326-3521.
Faver-Dykes State Park (RV or tent)
40 miles from Daytona
This tranquil park borders Pellicer Creek into the open marshes that frame the Intracoastal Waterway south of St. Augustine, and it’s a quick jump off I-95 at Exit 298.
**** Editor’s Pick — Tranquil park, super paddling destination
Pellicer Creek is a designated state paddle trail, and kayakers have miles and miles of waterways and coastal marshes to explore. With its proximity to the coast, the park also lies in the path of the Atlantic Coastal Flyway, giving it extra panache for bird lovers.
The campground’s 30 sites are situated in a shady hardwood hammock, each buffered from neighboring sites by natural vegetation. All campsites have water, electric, a fire circle with grill and a picnic table. Dump station is on site. (Maximum RV length is 30 feet). Pets are allowed in the campground.
Faver-Dykes State Park is a part of a 16,000-acre conservation corridor that includes the Mantanzas State Forest, which features primitive camping for boondocking in addition to hiking, biking and equestrian trails. Needless to say, the kayak trails are spectacular.
Read more in this Rambler article about Faver-Dykes State Park
Faver-Dykes State Park, 1000 Faver-Dykes Road, St. Augustine, FL 32086. 904-794-0997
Reservations: Sites are $18 per night. Book online at ReserveAmerica, or call 800-326-3621 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.,up to 11 months in advance.
Camping near Daytona worth a look…
Lake Dias Park (RV only)
23 miles to Daytona
One of three county-operated parks that feature camping (see Lake Ashby above and Lake Monroe below), this 20-acre park in western Volusia accommodates a limited number of RVs. With a focus on fishing and boating, including kayaks and canoes, the park has a well-maintained and accessible boat ramp, picnic pavilion, picnic area, playground and rest rooms. There are no hookups, but it’s a bargain for boondockers at $11.25 a night (summer) and $16.88 per night (winter).
Candace R. Strong/Lake Dias Park, 5320 State Road 11, DeLeon Springs. 386-736-5953.
Reservations: $11.25-$16.88/night. Call 386-736-5953 to obtain a camping permit.
Lake Monroe Park (RV or tent)
30 miles from Daytona
Excellent boat ramps with access to the St. John’s River and a decent campground, this is one of Volusia County’s oldest and most popular parks. Recent renovations included floating docks, modern restrooms, picnic pavilions and a new trailhead to the multi-use Lake Monroe-Gemini Springs trail. There are 44 RV sites and 26 for tent camping, all with hookups for water and electricity. Vegetation between sites is limited, but at these prices, who’s complaining. This is the only Volusia County park with a ranger station that allows you to book on-site on arrival, although reservations are recommended on weekends.
Lake Monroe Park, 975 U.S. 17-92, DeBary. 386-668-3825 (Volusia)
Reservations: $24.64/night for RVs; $13.38-$19.01 for tents. Book on-site, or call 386-668-3825
Heart Island Conservation Area (Backpackers, off-road cyclists and equestrians)
25 miles from Daytona
This 12,082 acre conservation area is managed by the St. John’s River Water Management District and offers hiking, horseback riding, seasonal hunting, bicycling, picnicking, wildlife viewing and remote primitive camping. Tent camping only, no RVs, and you have to hike, bike or boat to one of four designated sites, each of which has a fire ring. There are no facilities, no potable water and no restrooms. You must carry out your garbage.
Heart Island Conservation Area, De Leon Springs, FL 32130 (St. John’s) (386) 329-4404.
Reservations: Camping is free and sites are available first come, first served.
Lake George State Forest (RV or tent)
34 miles from Daytona
There are no amenities at this primitive campground, but the dense 21,000-acre forest around the campground and it’s proximity to the St. John’s River make this an attractive overnight stay for nature lovers, whether you’re here for one night or a few. There are only four campsites, each in the shade of a live oak, with a picnic table and fire ring. No hookups. The biggest obstacle is obtaining a camping permit ($10/night) in person at the DeLeon Forestry Station, about 20 miles away. The biggest plus is that you can almost always get a campsite, even during Daytona events.
Lake George State Forest, 5458 N. Hwy. 17, DeLeon Springs, FL 32130-4229 (386) 985-7815
Reservations: Camping is $10 per night and permits are issued first come, first served at the forestry station, which is about 20 miles from the campground.
Ocala National Forest (RV, tent, cabins and backpackers)
Although none of the 18 “developed” campgrounds in Ocala National Forest are closer to Daytona than 35 miles (most via plodding secondary roads), they are worth considering, even highly recommended, especially for bikers who love to cruise the open country through stunning natural areas.
The two most developed campgrounds in the forest closest to Daytona Beach are Alexander Springs (42 miles) and Juniper Springs (45 miles).
Here’s a complete rundown on all 18 developed campgrounds in the forest: Stop and camp awhile to explore the vast wilderness of Ocala National Forest.
Hontoon Island State Park (Tent or cabins)
There’s something about islands, especially ones reachable only by boat. Hontoon Island State Park is located in the St. Johns River; no more than 500 feet of water separate it from “the mainland.” Yet that separation makes Hontoon a bit more remote and romantic and has helped keep it from blending into the nearby town of Deland. There are 12 campsites and six very basic cabins clustered around a central bath facility with hot showers and flush toilets.
For more information, read about Florida Rambler’s visit: Camping, Cabins, great kayak trip in wild setting
We’d love to hear about your favorite campgrounds near Daytona Beach in the comments below.