Some of the best Florida camping can be found in county, state and federal parklands, campgrounds where you can fish and kayak, hike and ride bicycles for miles. These natural settings abound throughout Florida.
We haven’t explored them all, but of those campgrounds we have explored, these 12 campgrounds are a few of our favorites.
Anastasia State Park, St. Augustine
The four-mile-long beach is nothing short of spectacular, a magnet for beach lovers and surfers who hike to the north end of the beach for the breaks at the inlet.
The campground is tucked away in a stand of trees, well back from the rolling dunes, and there’s a beach concession nearby with a cafe and Wi-Fi serving both the campground and day-use visitors.
A tidal basin on the east side of the park allows kayaking out to the Matanzas River and the historic St. Augustine waterfront, wetlands and feeder creeks.You can also rent canoes, catamaran sailboats and paddleboards if you don’t have your own.
Nature trails wind through maritime hammocks bursting with migrating songbirds, and you can ride your bicycle on the beach and along park roads.
The campground’s 124 campsites are suitable for both tents and RVs, laid out in seven loops cut into a dense coastal forest, protected by sand dunes from onshore winds and salt spray.
Cayo Costa State Park, Pine Island Sound
To be truthful, I have never camped here, but I have spent a day exploring the island and its 9 miles of pristine beaches from my boat (photo at left). Florida Rambler co-founder Bonnie Gross has camped in the island’s cabins, and she loved it.
The biggest attraction for me was the gorgeous beach, but a really good argument can be made for the scenic nature trails through pine, oak and palm hammocks, which you can hike or bike. The park is accessible only by boat or ferry. There’s a dock for private boats, or you can take a ferry from Pine Island.
The 12 rustic, one-room cabins near the beach (no water or electric) are $40 a night and the 30 primitive tent sites are $22. Boat camping at the docks on Pine Island Sound is $20 per night. Restrooms, cold water showers and potable water are located in the park
Cayo Costa State Park, 4 Nautical Miles West of Pine Island (26.685789, -82.245381), Cayo Costa FL 33922. Phone: 941-964-0375. For reservations up to 11 months in advance, go online to ReserveAmerica or call 1-800-326-3521.
Getting there: Book the Tropic Star ferry to Cayo Costa ($50 roundtrip for overnight visitors, $40 for children) Be prepared to pay $10 per night for parking. Or take the King Fisher Fleet out of Punta Gorda. The King Fisher docks are a few minutes off I-75 and offer free parking.
Read more: Live your dreams of a private island
Fort Desoto County Park, St. Petersberg
The campground has 238 sites on three connected islands and include a separate section for tents and another section for RV or tent campers with pets.
A majority of the sites are waterfront, allowing you to launch your kayaks, canoes or paddleboards right from your back yard with easy access to more islands and paddle trails you can explore by water.
As you enter the park, there is a large boat ramp with parking available to both campers and day visitors.
The 1,136-acre park has several swimming beaches, a dog beach, two fishing piers and a historic fort that once guarded the entrance to Tampa Bay from intruders.
Waterfront RV sites are $38.50 in season ($40.50 for waterfront) and $37 off-season. Waterfront tent sites are $33.50 in-season ($35.50 for waterfront) and $30 off season. Plus tax. A number of sites are set aside for walkup campers, but reservations are definitely recommended because this park fills up.
The park is public and is operated by Pinellas County
Jonathan Dickinson State Park, Hobe Sound
There are two campgrounds in this massive park, and I favor the River Campground, deep in the 11,500-acre park on the bank of the Loxahatchee River, one of two federally designated Wild and Scenie rivers in Florida.
The Pine Grove Campground is newer, with 90 sites, near the entrance to the park, adjacent to U.S. 1. “Pine Grove” is a misnomer. Once upon a time, this campground was thick with shade-producing pines, but no longer. The pines were wiped out as the campground was renovated. It will take years for vegetation to return.
The new campground is more suitable for RVs because of the concrete pads, and it is packed with families on weekends. Each site has water, sewer and electric hookups.
Almost all 45 sites in the River Campground are deep in vegetation, suitable for either tent or RV. Cabins are also available near the riverside concession stand.
The river is major draw for paddlers. Paved and off-road bike trails run throughout the park. Hiking trails run deep into the backcountry, where there are two primitive tent sites for energetic backpackers who need to trek 5 miles to one site and 9 miles to the other.
Related article: Jonathan Dickinson State Park: A Florida treasure
Kelly Park / Rock Spring, Apopka
There are only 26 campsites, and every one is spacious, clean and well-shaded. It’s also just a short walk through the woods to one of the most treasured springs in the state, Rock Spring, where you can swim in the refreshingly cool, clear water that extends down the Run in a series of elongated pools.
Near the park is a privately run canoe and kayak livery, King’s Landing, where you’ll be set up for an 8.5 mile paddle down Rock Spring Run through a pristine tropical jungle to the Wekiva River.
Kelly Park is very busy on weekends, with lines building after 10 a.m. on exterior roads, but campers have a private entrance day or night.
The basic camping rate is $23 per night for non-residents, with discounts for seniors and Orange County residents. No pets. This is bear and alligator country, and Fido would be seen as an easy meal.
Kelly Park is about 50 minutes from Disney World and Universal Studios via the Western Expressway (SR 429) and Florida’s Turnpike.
Read more: Cool camping near Orlando
Lake Kissimmee State Park, Lake Wales
Every one of the 60 campsites is shaded by oak hammock, and they are separated by thick vegetation that offers plenty of privacy between sites.
While I was there, no fewer than four deer crossed a clearing behind my site, through a common area where the campfire ring is shared. These woods are filled with wildlife and birds who seek shelter from northern winters.
The lake is nearby and easily accessible for canoes, kayaks and there’s a boat launch for motorboats. Lake Kissimmee is in the heart of cracker country, and you can visit a restored 1876 Cow Camp, where you can learn about Florida’s frontiers men and women.
Campsites are $20, including water and electric. Primitive campsites are available for $5. Day use is $5.
Long Point Park, Melbourne Beach
Every campsite in this well-run Brevard County campground is on an island with excellent access to fishing and boating, Shaded sites are rare, but most sites are waterfront and enjoy a breeze off the Indian River.
Pull your boat, kayak or canoe ashore right behind your RV or tent, and if you have an inside site, there is a boat ramp with a fish-cleaning station and a small dock.
Long Point is just a few miles south of Sebastian Inlet State Recreation Area’s pristine beaches, excellent catwalk and jetty fishing as well as two museums, a treasure museum and the other for anglers.
The island at Long Point has a wildlife pond, a swimming pond and a playground. An adjacent island offers a mile of nature trails.
Related article: Two great campgrounds near Sebastian Inlet
Myakka River State Park, Sarasota
One of Florida’s oldest and largest state parks, Myakka River State Park has three campgrounds with a total of 90 sites.
Every site has water hookups and 50 amp electric service, and the 38 sites in the new Palmetto Ridge campground also have sewer hookups. A dump station is available for everybody else. Sites in all three campgrounds have fire rings and picnic tables.
The park is paradise for cyclists and paddlers, not to mention hikers and wildlife observation. I was amazed how close I could get to a red-shouldered hawk sitting quietly in a tree.
There are seven miles of paved park roads and backcountry dirt roads that wind through backwoods habitats. Canoe or kayak on a large lake or down the wild and scenic Myakka River.
Read more: Camping at Myakka River State Park.
St. George’s Island State Park, Apalachicola
But the memories of this park are still with me, and it remains one of my favorite campgrounds in Florida, largely because it has 9 miles of one of the most beautiful white-sand Gulf beach you’ll find anywhere in Florida.
And there’s no better location to enjoy famous Apalachicola oysters, which are harvested in Apalachicola Bay and sold fresh locally. I don’t know if it’s still there, but I have vivid memories of an oyster shack near the state park where you sat on the back porch for an afternoon of eating oysters and drinking beer.
The campground is deep in the park, laid out behind a magnificent wall of sand dunes just a hop and a skip from the Gulf of Mexico. There are 60 sites with electric and water, and there are six sites with concrete pads.
On the bay side, there are two natural launch ramps. Both ramps are restricted to small craft less than 24 feet with shallow draft. Launch fees are $8-$10, depending on the number of people in the boats.
Camping fees are $24 a night, including water and electric. Day-use fee is $6 per vehicle.
Trimble Park, Mount Dora
This tiny 71-acre Orange County park on a point between Lake Carlton and Lake Beauclaire has just 15 campsites, all well-appointed and shaded by oak trees.
The campsites string out along the lakefront, where you can launch a kayak or fish from a dock.
Each site has a 30-amp electric and water hookups, picnic tables on a paver patio, lantern post, charcoal grill with smoker lid, and a fire ring with benches. There are no sewer hookups, but the rest rooms with showers are conveniently located, and there’s a dump station is at the campground exit.
The park has a boat ramp, boat docks and a playground in the day-use area, which is separate from the campground.
Campsites are $23 per night with discounts for seniors and Orange County residents.
Trimble Park, 5802 Trimble Park Road, Mount Dora, FL 32757. For campgroud reservations, book online or call 352-383-1993 up to 45 days in advance.
Read more: Orange County Parks
W. P. Franklin Lock Campground, Alva
Of the three U.S. Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds along the cross-state Okeechobee Waterway, the W.P. Franklin Lock near Fort Myers is my favorite.
Meticulously maintained, this campground rides high on an island in the middle of the Caloosahatchee River — and all but three of the 22 RV or tent campsites are waterfront. There are eight boat sites for transient boaters on the waterway.
Every waterfront campsite has a gradual slope to the water, making it easy to launch a kayak, canoe or paddle board or fish from your site.
All 30 sites, including the boat sites, have water hookups and 20-/30-/50-amp electric service, and there are even a few pull-throughs. A dump station, rest rooms with showers and a laundry are on the island, and there’s a playground for your kids.
The downside the Franklin Lock Campground is everybody else likes it, too, often making it difficult to get a campsite reservation. Plan as far ahead as you can and camp there on weekdays, if that’s possible.
W.P. Franklin North, 17850 North Franklin Lock Road, Alva, FL. Phone: (239) 694-8770. Reservations accepted up to 180 days in advance online at Recreation.gov or by calling 1-877-444-6777. GPS: 26°43’27″N, 81°41’34″W
Getting there: From I-75, take Exit 141. Follow State Road 80 east to SR 31 in Labelle. Turn left onto SR 31 N and travel 4 mi to SR 78. Turn east on SR 78 for 3 miles to North Franklin Lock Rd. Follow the signs.
Read more: Camping with the Corps
Do you have suggestions for Best Florida Camping? Tell us in the comments below, and we’ll visit them and see if they will make our “favorites list.”