This may come as a surprise, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages more recreation areas than any other federal agency, including more than 600 campgrounds.
There are three Corps campgrounds in Florida along the Okeechobee Waterway. Three more straddle the state line on Lake Seminole. Even though these campgrounds are technically in Georgia, I’ve included them in this roundup.
50% discounts on camping fees are available to holders of the America the Beautiful Senior Pass, America the Beautiful Access Pass, Golden Age and Golden Access Passports at all Corps of Engineers campgrounds.
[mappress mapid=”495″ alignment=”right”]The Okeechobee Waterway links Stuart on the Atlantic coast to Fort Myers on the Gulf of Mexico via the St. Lucie River, Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee River.
In order to raise transiting boats to the level of the lake and lower them to the level of the Gulf and the Atlantic, a succession of five locks are maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers.
The Corps has established recreation areas along the waterway near the locks, including three campgrounds for RVs, tents and overnight docks with hookups for transiting boaters.
St. Lucie South Campground
My most memorable kayaking experience took place at St. Lucie South. My wife and I camped there in our RV and launched our kayaks into St. Lucie River from the boat ramp above the locks.
Across from the boat launch, there is an inviting cove to explore. As I leisurely paddled out of the cove, my sit-on-top kayak rose out of the water! I didn’t have time to lose my balance, as I slid forward into the water, landing upright. What the heck was that? !#*!!
“Manatee!” shouted a nearby fisherman. “Great form!”
The campground itself rises above the river on a levee adjacent to the St. Lucie Lock. Plain vanilla and small, nothing fancy, but clean and well-maintained, as you might expect from an Army facility.
There are 8 boat sites (38 feet) and 9 RV sites (all 46 feet) with 20-/30-/50-amp electric and water hookups for $30 per night. Three tent sites have water but no electric for $25/night.
The park has a fishing pier, dump station, restrooms with showers, a laundry, boat ramp and playground. Pets OK.
St. Lucie South, 2170 SW Canal Street, Stuart. Reservations accepted up to 6 months in advance online via Recreation.gov or by calling 1-877-444-6777. Information: (772) 287-1382. GPS: N27º 06′ 37.21″ W80º 17′ 06.16″.
Getting there: From I-95, take Exit 101 (Stuart/Indiantown) and follow State Road 76 west for a half-mile to Locks Road. Turn right onto Locks Road and follow signs into the campground.
There is a Martin County park next door with a small campground. Phipps Park has 54 campsites without hookups for $20 per night for county residents, $25 for non-residents. No pets. For reservations, call (772) 221-1418
Ortona South Campground
A half-hour later, after crossing the river at LaBelle, we found the campground a mile off State Rod 80 on Dalton Lane.
Our three-night stay at Ortona South was wet, and it was boring, miles from anywhere. We spent most of our time reading and watching the occasional trawler passing through the lock. Good reception on our TV helped. (We counted more than 40 channels!) The data signal from both Verizon and ATT was adequate, so we had limited internet.
The boat ramp and playground are across the river and, for all practical purposes, inaccessible.
On the other hand, I was impressed with landscaping and cleanliness.
As we were leaving, we were told we could have launched our kayaks at the end of the campground, although it would be tricky because of the rocks.
There are 48 sites with water and 20-/30-/50-amp electric for both RVs and tents. There is not separate tent area, and the pads are gravel-based. Sites also have a BBQ pit and a covered picnic table.
The park has a fishing pier, restrooms with showers and laundry, and a dump station. Camping fee is $30 per night, $15 with our lifetime National Parks Pass.
Ortona South, 2410 Dalton Lane SW, Moore Haven. Phone: (863) 675-8400. Reservations accepted up to 6 months in advance online via Recreation.gov or by calling 1-877-444-6777. GPS: 26°47’14″N, 81°18’31″W
Getting there: Take State Road 80 west from Clewiston or east from Fort Myers. About 10 miles east of Labelle, turn onto Dalton Lane and follow the road through cow pastures until it ends.
The campground is 10 miles east of LaBelle, which is home to the popular Swamp Cabbage Festival in late February. It’s a small town with the basics, a supermarket and a couple of decent (but not spectacular) restaurants. If you like Mexican food, you got a few choices.
W. P. Franklin Lock
In fact, of the three Corps campgrounds along the Okeechobee Waterway, this one is now my favorite.
The campground is on an island in the middle of the Caloosahatchee River, just below the lock’s spillway.
Almost every campsite is waterfront. (Only three of the 30 are not.)
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 eight boat sites, have 20-/30-/50-amp electric and water hookups, and there are even a few pull-throughs. A dump station, rest rooms with showers and a laundry are on site.
There’s convenient playground for your kids, a feature that was lacking at Ortona South.
The downside the Franklin Lock Campground is everybody else’s favorite, 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 6 months in advance online via 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.
Lake Seminole (Georgia state line)
[mappress mapid=”494″ alignment=”right”]Although I have paddled, fished and camped on Lake Seminole from Three Rivers State Park, I have not visited these three nearby Corps’ campgrounds.
But I do love Lake Seminole and its environs, and I found it to be one of the most scenic recreation lakes in Florida. (Read this article.)
The vegetation and terrain around the lake transported us to another world as we experienced leaf color last fall in the dense stands or trees around the lake.
Lake Seminole is a man-made reservoir fed by Georgia’s Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers, converting to the Apalachacola River below the Corps of Engineers dam.
The lake is bordered by Georgia and Florida with Alabama dipping into the picture, creating a time warp. You’ll get mixed signals on your cell phone’s clock. One minute you’re in the Eastern Zone, the next in Central.
The largest of the Corps’ three campgrounds on Lake Seminole, Eastbank has 63 campsites with 50-amp electric and water hookups for $24 a night, $12 with the applicable federal discount pass.
Some sites are paved, some gravel, and only 19 sites are waterfront in the B and C loops. (A loop is inland.)
Two sites are set aside without electric for tents, but tenters are welcome to reserve an RV site.
All sites have a fire ring and a picnic table with access to hiking and biking trails, a dump station, restrooms with showers and a laundry, boat ramp, fish cleaning station and swimming. Pets are OK.
Eastbank Campground. 153 Eastbank Road, Bainbridge, GA. (Access via Chattahoochee, FL, where the dam is located.) Phone: (229) 662-9273. Reservations up to 6 months in advance by calling (877) 444-6777 or online at recreation.gov. GPS: 30.71806, -84.85111; 30°43’5″N, 84°51’4″W
Getting there: Take Exit 166 on I-10, go north on 269 to U.S. 90 in Chattahoochee, FL. Take a left onto Bolivar Street (First red light). Turn right, go 1 mile and turn left at East Bank Road.
The 24 campsites at Hales Landing have 20-/30-/50-amp electric and water hookups, but they are not reservable. First come, first serve only.
Facilities include a dump station, restroom with showers, boat ramp with dock, and each site has a picnic table with a grill.
Seven of the sites are waterfront, and fishing is the main recreation activity.
For a personalized visit, check out this blog post at wxtoad.com
Hales Landing, Hales Landing Road, Bainbridge, GA. Phone: (229) 662-2001. GPS: 30.8477, -84.6599
Getting There: U.S. Highway 84, take State Route 253 west for 3.8 miles, take Ten Mile Still Road for 2 miles, follow signs.
The 11 campsites at River Junction Landing have 50-amp electric and water hookups, but they are not reservable. First come, first served.
Facilities include a dump station, restrooms with showers, a group camping area, a boat ramp with dock.
The campground is shady, but open, allowing a lot of filtered light.
Fishing is the main recreation activity.
Volunteer park hosts are on duty, and the nightly fee is $20, payable through an honor box.
River Junction. 256 River Junction Landing Road, off Booster Club Road, Bainbridge, GA. Sites are non-reservable. Phone: 229-662-2001
Getting there: From Exit 166 on I-10, take 269 north to U.S. 90 in Chattahoochee, FL. Turn left onto Bolivar Street (Booster Club Road). Turn right and go 2 miles. Park is on your left (follow signs).
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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.