Last updated on July 19th, 2019 at 03:27 pm
We like campgrounds immersed in nature
And we don’t like to pay a lot for it
Camping near Disney World doesn’t mean you have to surrender the natural environment you embrace while camping in your RV or tent.
Sure, there are a many stack-em-up RV parks and hotels near Disney World and Universal Studios. But is that what you really want?
We found 7 great campgrounds you’ll love, including one at Disney World, listed in order of the time it takes to get to the Magic Kingdom.
Welcome to the authentic, natural Florida — all within an hour’s drive of Disney World or Universal Studios.
Fort Wilderness Campground: In case you can’t get enough of Disney
20 Minutes to the Magic Kingdom via Bus or Ferry
No matter how you cut it, you’re at least 20 minutes away from the Magic Kingdom, even when you’re camping at Disney World’s Fort Wilderness Campground. It’s only three miles as the crow flies, but you’re not a crow. You’ll most likely be taking a bus or the ferry.
My overnight stay at Fort Wilderness was an afterthought, to be truthful. I couldn’t imagine I would find my kind of natural landscape. A friend suggested this roundup would be incomplete without it. She was right. The campground was fabulous, though a bit on the high side compared to nightly rates of the others.
The campground is immersed in natural Florida habitat, a pine and cypress forest that spreads out over 740 scenic acres. My site was tucked into one of two campground loops set aside for tents and pop-up campers. Another 700 sites are designated for motor homes and travel trailers, and there are 400 cabins at the far end of the campground.
While it seems massive, even overwhelming, the campground was thoughtfully designed to afford space and some privacy. Nineteen campsite loops spin out from the hub, a central recreation area with a swimming complex, campground store, amphitheater and Bike Barn, where you can rent bicycles, kayaks or canoes for paddling on the lake. Every evening, a singing cowboy and Disney characters Chip ‘n’ Dale entertain in the amphitheater around a campfire, where the kids can roast marshmallows, hot dogs and S’mores.
Traffic and parking are restricted to your campsite. Bring bicycles or ride the free shuttle with ferry connections to the Magic Kingdom. When you return in the evening, join other campers on the beach for the Electric Boat Parade and fireworks.
Campsites can get a little pricey. Tents and pop-ups pay $56 to $102 per night, and RV sites with full hookups run from $84 to more than $200, depending on the time of year. Opt for a premier RV site and enjoy a larger pad with upgraded grills for a few dollars more.
Cabins are Fort Wilderness range from $349 per night to more than $500, depending on the dates — and they sleep six.
There are designated camping loops for pets, and alcohol is permitted.
Disney’s Fort Wilderness, 4510 N. Fort Wilderness Trail, Lake Buena Vista; 407-WDW-CAMP; www.disneyworld.disney.go.com/resorts; 90 tent/pop-up sites, $56 to more than $102 per night (seasonal); RV sites range from $84 to more than $200, depending on the date. All sites have charcoal grill and picnic table, water and electric hookups, cable TV and Internet connections (additional fee); Wi-Fi hot spots (fee). RV sites also have sewer hookups. Comfort stations have showers and ice machines. Swimming, entertainment, restaurants, concession, hiking, paddling, motorboat rentals, bike rentals, electric golf cart rentals. Pets allowed at designated sites; Alcohol permitted, but no weapons. Check firearms upon arrival in safe deposit box. Book reservations online. 1 mile (by ferry) to the Magic Kingdom; 8 miles to Universal Studios. View map.
Related article: Disney’s Fort Wilderness delivers on nature
Moss Park: Shaded campground, wildlife, water sports
20 minutes to Disney World via expressway (toll)
You can drive straight down the Central Florida Greeneway (State Road 417) to the Magic Kingdom in 20 minutes, not counting the time it will take to round up the kids. The kids will be playing in the wide open spaces this park affords.
Moss Park is huge — 1,500 acres on a peninsula between two large lakes, one of which has a swimming beach. Adjacent to the campground is another 2,000 acres in the Split Oak Nature Preserve, ideal for hiking and orienteering.
The preserve is home to all manner of wildlife, some of whom emerge from the preserve and roam the campground at dusk. I saw dozens of deer grazing among the pinewood and oak trees that blanket the campground’s 54 sites with shade. The park is also a refuge for the endangered Florida sandhill crane. I saw three pairs near my campsite at various times during the day and evening.
There are two playgrounds for the kids, one near the fresh-water beach.
The best part? Sites are a bargain at $23 per night for out-of-county residents plus $2 for each additional camper, $3 for each additional vehicle. Orange County residents can book a site for $18 per night. Reservations can be made online up to 45 days in advance at www.ocfl.net
Moss Park, 12901 Moss Park Rd., Orlando. 54 campsites (tent or RV) for $23 per night; discounts for seniors and Orange County residents; Rest rooms with showers; Grill, table, fire ring, water and electric at every site; Dump station; Swim in lake, hike, bike; Boat launches for both lakes; No pets, no alcohol, no weapons. 24 miles to Disney World; 27 miles to Universal Studios, via the Central Florida Greeneway (State Road 417, Toll). View map
Related article: Moss Park is our little secret
Lake Louisa State Park: Hiking, fishing, really nice cabins
30 minutes to Disney via secondary roads
This is one of Florida’s newest state parks, situated in a sea of rolling hills covered with citrus trees. The park itself is a former citrus grove that was acquired by the state, and parts of it are still maintained as a working grove by local farmers.
The campground seemed sparse with little privacy when I visited, but it was rapidly giving rise to low-lying vegetation between sites, so it’s probably worth another visit. There is no swimming in this park, a downer in summer, but the cabins are equipped with central air.
The park’s 20 cabins string out along a ridge overlooking the lake, and they are quite comfortable with two bedrooms, two baths, a dining/living room and a fully equipped kitchen with microwave, dishwasher, dishes, pots, pans and silverware. Linens and towels are also provided. Every cabin has a screened deck with a picnic table and rocking chairs. No TVs, but the view from the porch is beautiful.
Two of the park’s six lakes are accessible for fishing, canoeing and kayaking, and there are more than 20 miles of off-road trails for hiking and cycling with another 7 miles of park roads.
Pets are allowed in the campground area, but not in the cabins.
The park is on the west side of Disney World, and the drive to the Magic Kingdom is about a half-hour; Universal Studios is 30 miles away and should take about 40 minutes.
Lake Louisa State Park, 7305 U.S. 27, Clermont; 352-394-3969; 20 cabins, $120 per night; 60 campsites, $24/night; Cabins have two bedrooms (sleep 6), fully equipped kitchen, porch deck overlooking lake. Rest rooms with showers in campground; Grill, table, water and electric at each campsite; Hike, bike, fish, canoe/kayak launch; No swimming. Pets OK in campground but not in cabins; No alcohol or firearms. Reservations online at ReserveAmerica.com, or call 800-326-3521, up to 11 months in advance. 19 miles to Disney World; 32 miles to Universal Studios. View Map.
Related article: A great base for hiking
Kelly Park/Rock Spring: Cool swimming hole
35 minutes to Disney World via expressways (tolls)
Hands down, this is my favorite campground near Orlando
There are only 26 campsites, and every one is spacious, private, clean and shaded. Arriving midweek, I had my pick. The sites are arranged in a circle with feeder paths to a clean and well-maintained bathhouse in the middle.
The big attraction at Kelly Park are the Rock Springs. At the headspring, the crystal clear water spills into a series of elongated pools, fabulously cool for swimming and wading as it flows into Rock Springs Run.
Canoe and kayak rentals are available at nearby Kings Landing for paddling through the wild and scenic Rock Springs Run Preserve, or bring you own kayak and launch at Camp Joy, which is now part of Kelly Park, and enjoy the aptly named Emerald Cut. The super-green sub-tropical foliage will take your breath away.
The basic camping rate is $23 per night for out-of-county residents. Orange County residents pay $18. Reservations can be made up to 45 days in advance, but you’ll have to do it by email to KellyCamping@ocfl.net
Kelly Park/Rock Spring (Orange County), 400 East Kelly Park Road, Apopka; (407) 254-1902. 26 campsites (tent or RV), $23 per night ($18 for Orange County residents); Rest rooms with showers; Fire ring with grill, table, water and electric at every site; Dump station; Swimming, wading, tubing in spring; Kayak, canoe rentals and launch outside park; No pets, no alcohol, no weapons. Reservations up to 45 days in advance by email. Write to KellyCamping@ocfl.net. Kelly Park is 42 miles to Disney World via State Road 429 and Florida’s Turnpike (Toll); 32 miles to Universal Studios. View map
Related article: Hide away in this campground near Orlando
Wekiwa Springs State Park: A spring and a wild and scenic river
45 minutes to Disney via Interstate 4
Wekiwa Springs is one of Florida’s largest state parks, a 7,800-acre wonderland of 19 distinct plant communities and the source of one of the state’s two designated National Wild and Scenic Rivers, the Wekiva River.
The spring rises at the rate of 42 million gallons per day into large, clear and chilly pools for swimmers and snorkelers, then spills downstream into the Wekiwa Spring Run to join the Rock Springs Run and form the slow-moving Wekiva River, a paradise for paddlers that meanders 9 miles to the St. John’s River.
Canoes and kayaks are available at the park concession, which provides shuttle services on weekends, and park roads offer an excellent surface for bicycling. The park has more than 20 miles of multi-use trails, some of which are enjoyed on weekends by equestrians.
Home to 50 endangered or threatened species of plants and animals, including the disappearing Florida black bear, the park is blessed with an abundance of birds, including the rare Florida scrub jay, herons, warblers, moorhens, osprey and kingfishers.
The main campground has recently been renovated and is located in a thinly wooded area, unfortunately within view of encroaching development. Sites vary in size, depending on the natural landscape. Campsites are $27 plus a non-refundable $6.70 booking fee.
The park is about 5 miles off Interstate 4, making it a 45-minute drive to the theme parks.
Pets are permitted in most areas of the park, including trails but not swimming areas. Alcohol is prohibited but tolerated if confined inside your tent or RV.
Wekiwa Springs State Park, 1800 Wekiwa Circle, Apopka; 407-884-2008; 60 sites (tent or RV), $24 night; Rest rooms with showers; Fire ring with grill, table, water and electric at each site; Dump station; Swimming in spring, hiking, bicycling, canoe/kayak launch; Pets OK but not in swimming area; No alcohol or firearms. Reservations online at ReserveAmerica.com, or call 800-326-3521, up to 11 months in advance. 52 miles to Disney World; 41 miles to Universal Studios. View Map.
Related article: A wild and scenic adventure
Blue Spring State Park: Spring for swimming, 30 minutes to beaches
1 Hour to Disney via Interstate 4
The park is on the eastern 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 paddling your kayak into the wild or just chilling out in the spring.
A tempting and popular magnet for bathers in summer, the quarter-mile-long spring run ambles through an idyllic setting of dense sub-tropical vegetation to the St. John’s River. Plenty of room to play in the water. Near the junction with the river is the kayak and canoe concession, where you can paddle to pristine islands.
In winter, the springs become a magnet for sheltering manatees, drawing crowds on weekends.
One thing that might make this an extremely attractive camping destination is the beach at New Smyrna Beach, which is 40 minutes away. Universal Studios is 40 minutes away and Disney World will take a full hour.
The park’s 51 campsites — or six, two-bedroom cabins — can be reserved up to 11 months in advance. Book online. Sites are a modest $24 per night and cabins run $95. Pets are permitted in the campground, but not the cabins. Alcohol is permitted within the confines of your RV or tent.
Blue Spring State Park, 2100 W. French Ave., Orange City; 386-775-3663; 51 campsites (tent or RV), $24 night plus a $6.70 non-refundable reservation fee. Cabins are $95 plus the $6.70 reservation fee. Rest rooms with showers; Grill, table, water and electric at each site; Dump station; Swimming, snorkeling, tubing in the spring; Nature trails; Kayak/canoe concession on St. John’s River; Boat launch outside park; Pets OK in campground; No weapons. Reservations online or call 800-326-3521, up to 11 months in advance. 50 miles to Disney World; 40 miles to Universal Studios. View Map.
Related article: Chill out at Blue Springs State Park
Manatee Hammock County Park: Near Kennedy Space Center
1 hour to Disney via expressway (toll)
This 27-acre RV and tent campground on the Indian River Lagoon is shady but often crowded because it’s just a hop and a skip to the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral National Seashore and the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.
And that’s just why you might like it.
I’ve camped at this park a few times and love the location and the price, just $26 a night. There’s plenty of shade, and while the sites are close together, they still beat the bumper-to-bumper spacing in most private campgrounds.
The shoreline park offers a 197-foot fishing pier into the Indian River Lagoon, a playground and a great view of Kennedy Space Center rocket launches. A kayak launch also provides access to the lagoon for paddlers.
The park’s swimming pool is a great summer escape.
Pets are allowed, and there’s even a leash-free zone for fido to play.
Surfing mecca Cocoa Beach is just down the road a piece, and your kids (you, too!) will go crazy shopping at Ron Jon’s Surf Shop at any time, day or night.
Other than the Kennedy Space Center, one advantage this campground has over the others on this list is its proximity to many great restaurants at Port Canaveral and historic Cocoa Village.
While you’re here, you may well decide you haven’t had enough of the Mouse, so go for a cruise aboard a Disney-themed cruise ship.
Manatee Hammock County Park, 7275 South US 1, Titusville, FL 32780. Phone: (321) 264-5083. Features 166 campsites with electric, water and sewer, and another 20 sites with water and electric only. Rest rooms with hot showers and laundry. Swimming pool. Wi-Fi. Rates are $26/night plus tax. Reservations accepted online at Brevard County WebTrac. 58 miles to the Magic Kingdom; 51 miles to Universal Studios. View map.
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