Camping in Florida State Parks offer scenic respite when traveling on busy Interstate 4 from Daytona Beach through Orlando to Tampa.
While there are dozens of private RV resorts in the I-4 corridor, Florida’s award-winning state parks offer a more natural environment with access to hiking, kayak and canoe trails or off-road bicycling and are cherished for their natural amenities and low overnight rates.
In addition to these four state parks easily accessible from I-4, we also suggest two well-appointed county campgrounds near the interstate that we find to be well-managed and aesthetically pleasing.
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Hillsborough River State Park
Exit 10 @ Thonotosassa — 18 miles off I-4
Clockwise from top left: Our campsite at Hillsborough River State Park; nature trail bridge; paddling the upper river.
Camping in Florida State Parks may be best represented at Hillsborough River State Park just outside of Tampa along a river that is noteworthy for its kayak and canoe trails, four miles of bicycle paths and seven miles of hiking trails.
Hillsborough River State Park has 112 sites with water, electric, picnic tables and fire ring. No hookups for sewer, but there is a dump station. The sites are spacious and shady, although ground vegetation is sparse between some sites.
The Hillsborough River cuts through the park with opportunities for fishing, canoeing and kayaking. Additional river access for paddlers is available downriver at three county parks — John B. Sargeant Park, Morris Bridge Park, and Trout Creek Park.
This park is popular during the winter season, so book early and monitor cancellations for availability.
Related article: A wilderness experience near Tampa
Lake Louisa State Park
Exit 55 @ Haines City — 16 miles off I-4
Clockwise from top left: Porch cabin overlooking Lake Louisa; Kayak rentals on Hammond Lake, adjacent to the campground; tent campsite.
Spacious, modern cabins overlooking the lake are the best choice here, but there’s plenty of room for RVs in the campground.
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 acquired by the state, and parts of it are still maintained as a working grove by local farmers.
When we visited, the campground seemed sparse with little privacy, but the rise of new vegetation gave promise to a more secluded future.
The park’s 20 cabins string out along a ridge overlooking the lake, and the campground features 60 sites with full hookups, including 50-amp electric. Campsites 1, 34 and 36 are fully accessible, including a level concrete pad, and are connected to the bathhouse by a sidewalk and or paved surface. (Maximum length = 75 feet)
Related article: Nature near Orlando with great hiking and cabins
Wekiwa Springs State Park
Exit 94 @ Longwood — 6 miles off I-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 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.
The campground’s 60 sites have recently been renovated in a thinly wooded area, unfortunately within view of encroaching development but still scenic with a sense of seclusion. Sites vary in size, depending on the natural landscape. (Maximum RV length = 50 feet)
Related article: Wekiva River Basin: Stunning beauty for paddlers, campers
Blue Spring State Park
Exit 114 @ Orange City — 6 miles off I-4
Clockwise from left: Swimmers in the spring run; cabin rental; kayak launch on the St. John’s River.
Manatees by the hundreds rendezvous at Blue Spring State Park to warm up in winter, replaced by swimmers trying to cool off in summer. The cool, clear and constant 72 degree temperature serves both seasons well.
Blue Spring State 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 paddlers.
Blue Spring State 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. The park has six cabins for those without a tent or RV. Pets are welcome at the campground, but not in the cabins. (Maximum RV length = 45 feet, but most are 30-35 feet)
Related article: Manatees in winter; tubing and swimming in summer
To reserve a cabin: Go to reserve.floridastateparks.org or call 1-800-326-3521, Monday-Friday, from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. up to 11 months in advance. (TDD 888-433-0287) Minimum stay is two nights. Maximum stay is 14 days. Editor’s Note: Readers are reporting security issues blocking access to the new web site. In that case, try again with another web browser or make your reservations by phone.
Cabin Fees: In addition to the base rate, which varies from park to park, campers will pay state and local taxes, a $6.70 booking fee and a new $7/day utilities fee for cabins with water and/or electric power.
Cancellations and Changes: Cancellation fee is $17.50, up until the day before the reservation begins. If you cancel on the first day of your reservation, you will also sacrifice your first night’s fees. Cancellations are not permitted within 18 days of making the reservation. Any other changes to your reservation will cost $10.
Pets: Not allowed in state park cabins or cabin areas.
2 county campgrounds we like off I-4
Edward Meddard County Park
Exit 17 @ Branch Ford Road — 8 miles from I-4
This 1,284-acre park, 700-acre reservoir and campground near Plant City may be the most scenic campground in the Tampa Bay area. The 42 sites, all with water and electric, picnic tables and grills, accommodate RVs, tents and trailers on two loops within a heavily wooded area with a spectacular tree canopy and ground vegetation for privacy. Kayak rentals available.
Edward Meddard Conservation Park, 6140 Turkey Creek Rd, Plant City, FL Camping rate: $24/night for up to 28 days. Cash only. Credit cards not accepted. First come, first served. Reservations are not accept. For more information, call (813) 757-3802.
Related article: Best 9 campgrounds near Tampa
Lake Monroe County Park
Exit 104 @ Sanford — 1 mile from I-4
Boat ramps with direct access to the St. John’s River. Floating docks, modern restrooms, 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.
Lake Monroe Park, 975 U.S. 17-92, DeBary. $24.64/night for RVs; $13.38-$19.01 for tents. For reservations, call 386-668-3825 or book your site at the campground.
Related article: Best 15 campgrounds near Daytona
Notes from the editor:
The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning a trip, especially to areas hard hit by hurricanes.
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Bob Rountree is a beach bum, angler and camper who has explored Florida for decades. No adventure is complete without a scenic paddle trail or unpaved road to nowhere. Bob co-founded FloridaRambler.com with fellow journalist Bonnie Gross 12 years ago.