Cool summer camping near Tampa Bay

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‘Roughing it’ takes on new meaning when camping during a Florida summer. Cooling off becomes a priority.

Take the edge off with lots of water, lots of shade and smart thinking.

Head to the Tampa Bay area for these cool places to camp.

Fort De Soto Park, Tierra Verde.

Shady, waterfront campsites with fabulous beaches.

Paddling away from campsite

Fort De Soto has 238 campsites, and most are waterfront, allowing you to launch your canoe or kayak directly from your site.

One campground loop with 85 sites is set aside exclusively for tents  and tent trailers. Another loop is designated for pets.

The campsites are spacious with dense vegetation for privacy, and a towering tree canopy offers relief from the sun.

The beaches are beautiful, consistently ranked among the best in the state, and paved multi-use trails connect all areas of the park.

Launch a kayak or paddle board from your campsite or the nearby boat ramps. Rentals are available.

Reservations are accepted online up to six months in advance but hard to get for RVs. There’s more availability in the tent zone, which includes pop-up tent trailers as well as vans. Pinellas County residents can book seven months in advance.

The park holds back 10% of sites and make them available online on Fridays at 7 a.m. Remaining sites are available at the campground office at 9 a.m. Camping fee: $38-$45, including tax.


FORT DESOTO PARK, 3500 Pinellas Bayway South, Tierra Verde, FL 33715 (727) 582-2267. For information, visit www.pinellascounty.org

Lithia Springs Park, Lithia.

Shady campsites and a cool, clear spring for swimming.

Lithia Springs run at the Alafia River
Lithia Spring Run at the Alafia River

The main attraction of this small Hillsborough County park is the man-made swimming hole developed around a natural spring that constantly feeds cool, clear water at a constant 72 degrees.

Surrounding the swimming area are heavily shaded picnic areas with tables and a playground where families settle in for the day.

The park has 44 campsites, most isolated by dense vegetation and a broad canopy of majestic trees. My site was on a ridge above the Alafia River with extreme shade.

Kayakers can take advantage of a state-designated 10.5-mile paddle trail along the Alafia River that starts at Alderson’s Ford Park and ends at Lithia Springs.

Kayak rentals are available from Alafia Canoe Rentals at 4419 River Road, outside the park. Call (813) 689-8645. for rates, river levels, and shuttle services.

Be forewarned, this park is jammed to capacity with day visitors on summer weekends, so early arrival is essential. Campers should plan their visits during the week to avoid the crowds.

Camping fee is $24/night ($18 for seniors), and reservations are NOT accepted. First come, first served, and you can stay up to 28 days at a time. Credit cards are not accepted.

LITHIA SPRINGS REGIONAL PARK, 3932 Lithia Springs Road, Lithia, FL 33547. (813) 744-5572. Web site: Lithia Springs Park

E.G. Simmons Park, Ruskin

Waterfront campsites, swimming beach and a bay breeze.

Fishing in Tampa Bay at E.G. Simmons County Park
Fishing at E.G. Simmons County Park

This 469-acre Hillsborough County park on Tampa Bay has 112 campsites divided into two campground loops. All but a dozen sites are waterfront, and each has a fire ring, picnic table, water and electric hookups with a nearby dump station.


The campsites are spacious, although shade is in short supply and there is little privacy. On the plus side, bay breezes have few obstructions. Create your own shade with a pop-up canopy.

And you can launch your kayak, canoe or paddle board directly from your campsite for a quick swim and a cool-down.

A fabulous swimming beach on the bay is just a short walk or bike ride from all campsites.

Reservations are not accepted; sites are assigned first come, first served. Once in, you can stay up to 28 days. Rates: $24/night ($18 for seniors over 55).

E.G SIMMONS PARK, 2401 19th Ave NW, Ruskin, FL  Phone: (813) 671-7655. For more information, visit hillsboroughcounty.org

Lake Manatee State Park

Swimming beach near the campground.

Lake Manatee
Lake Manatee

This 556-acre park stretches three miles along the shore of Lake Manatee, a 2400-acre man-made reservoir created by a dam on the Manatee River.

The small swimming beach in the day-use area offers summer relief for campers and day visitors with restrooms, showers and a picnic area a short walk on a paved path from the campground.

There are 60 campsites for tents and recreational vehicles, all with hookups for water and electricity. Two restrooms with showers are centrally located within the campground loops. Another restroom with showers is available near the beach.
The fishing in this freshwater lake is well-regarded with catches common for largemouth bass, catfish, speckled perch, bluegill and crappie. Anglers can fish from shore or on a boat. Boats up to 20 hp are allowed on the lake, as are kayaks, canoes and paddle boards. Ample parking is available for boat trailers.
There are 6.5 miles of multi-use trails accommodating bicycles, hikers and equestrians.
Lake Manatee State Park, 20007 State Road 64 East, Bradenton, FL Phone: (941) 741-3028. For more information, visit floridastateparks.org.

Hot Tips for Summer Camping in Florida

Airy tent: Rule of thumb for Florida camping is a tent with at least twice the capacity you need, large screened windows and a roof vent for ventilation.

Rise up on a cot: Get off the ground and allow air to circulate around your body.

Bring a fan if you have a hookup for electric. If not, find a battery-operated fan with a light that hangs from the top of the tent.

Pop-up canopies popular for tailgating create a shade zone around or over your tent, generating a little breeze.

Garden wand with adjustable head if your camp site has water hookups. Bring a short hose and garden wand for an outdoor shower.

Cooling towels: Wrap a wet towel or scarf around your neck. The evaporation will cool you down quickly.

 

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