Skip to Content

3 Corps of Engineers campgrounds offer unique Florida experience

Camping with the Corps

ortona south us army corps of engineers
Morning mist rises off the Caloosahatchee River at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Ortona South Campground near Moore Haven. This campground at the Ortona Locks is one of three maintained by the Corps along the 154-mile Okeechobee Waterway. (Photo by Bob Rountree)

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operates three popular campgrounds along the Okeechobee Waterway in south-central Florida for RVs, tents and boaters crossing the state.

All three campgrounds are meticulously maintained, as you might expect from the U.S. Army, and they offer a unique experience — an opportunity to view the passage of yachts, sailboats and trawlers through locks along the 154-mile waterway.

The Okeechobee Waterway traverses the state from the Atlantic Ocean at Stuart, through Lake Okeechobee, to Fort Myers on the Gulf of Mexico.

We don’t often think of the Army Corps as a provider of public recreation, but they actually manage 400 recreation lands on U.S. lakes and rivers, more than any other federal agency, including the National Park Service.

The Corps is also the lead agency for restoration of the Florida Everglades eco-system, of which Lake Okeechobee and its tributaries play a central role.

Okeechobee Waterway

okeechobee waterway corps of engineers
The Okeechobee Watereway crosses the state from Stuart to Fort Myers. (Army Corps map)

The Okeechobee Waterway links Stuart on the Atlantic coast to Fort Myers on the Gulf of Mexico via the St. Lucie Canal, 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 Atlantic, a succession of five locks are maintained by the Corps of Engineers.

The Corps has established recreation areas along the waterway near these locks, including the three campgrounds for RVs, tents and overnight docks with hookups for boaters.

St. Lucie South Campground

st. lucie south campground army corps of engineers
The Corps of Engineers campground at St. Lucie South Locks on the Okeechobee Waterway. (Army Corps photo)

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 ramp, there is an inviting cove to explore. As I paddled around the cove, my sit-on-top kayak suddenly rose out of the water! I didn’t have time to lose my balance, as my kayak hovered, then slid forward, splashing back into the water, landing upright.

What the heck was that?

“Manatee!” shouted a nearby fisherman who saw the whole event. “Great form!”

The St. Lucie recreation area has a small campground atop a levee on the south side of the St. Lucie Lock. Plain vanilla and small, nothing fancy, but clean and well-maintained, as you might expect from an Army facility.

The park has a fishing pier, dump station, restrooms with showers, a laundry, boat ramp and playground. Pets OK.

There are 8 boat sites (up to 38 feet) and 9 RV sites (all 46 feet) with water and 20/30/50-amp electric hookups for $30 per night. Three tent sites have access to water but no electric for $20/night.

Holders of the interagency America the Beautiful Senior Pass (age 62+) or the America the Beautiful Access Pass (all ages) are eligible for a 50% discount off the base rate at all Corps of Engineers campgrounds. For more information, go to

St. Lucie South, 2170 SW Canal Street, Stuart. Reservations accepted up to 6 months in advance online via or by calling 1-877-444-6777. Information: (772) 287-1382. 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. GPS: N27º 06′ 37.21″ W 80º 17′ 06.16″.

What’s nearby?

Phipps Park — Martin County operates a newly renovated campground next door to St. Lucie South with 99 RV sites with full hookups, an excellent alternative for $45-$60 per night. Reservations online: Phipps Park Campground.

Discover ‘secret’ wild beach — Secret beaches are the stuff of vacation dreams. But I found one — more than 5 miles of wild, broad unspoiled sandy shore, lined with thick native vegetation and without a condo or T-shirt shop in sight. Read more: Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge

Ortona South Campground

yacht passes ortona south campground on okeechobee waterway
Yacht approaches the Ortona Lock, passing the Ortona South Campground on its way across Florida on the Okeechobee Waterway. (Photo by Bob Rountree)

On my first visit, my smartphone maps led me astray, taking me to the Ortona North recreation park on the other side of the Caloosahatchee River. Yours might, too.

A half-hour later, after crossing the river to the south side at LaBelle, we found the campground on State Rod 80 on Dalton Lane.

On our first visit a few years ago, it was raining for most of our three-night stay. We were bored, miles from anywhere. Good reception on our TV helped (more than 40 channels).

We went back this year (2024) under sunny skies. This time, we paid more attention to our natural surroundings and didn’t stay as long.

Still boring, but we could at least sit outside with a nice breeze and watch the boat traffic entering the lock on the river. The campground has two fishing piers. The boat ramp and playground are across the river and, for all practical purposes, inaccessible.

ortona south lock campground corps of engineers
View from the rear window of our camper at the Ortona South Campground. (Photo by Kathy Rountree)

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.

Ortona South has 51 sites with water and 20-/30-/50-amp electric for 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 also features restrooms with showers and laundry. Camping fee is $30 per night, or $15 with our America the Beautiful Pass.

Ortona South, 2410 Dalton Lane SW, Moore Haven. Phone: (863) 675-8400. Reservations accepted online up to 6 months in advance at or by calling 1-877-444-6777. Getting there: Take State Road 80 west from Moore Haven or east from LaBelle. About 10 miles east of Labelle, turn onto Dalton Lane and follow through cow pastures until it ends. GPS: 26°47’14″N, 81°18’31″W.

What’s nearby?

LaBelle — The campground is 10 miles east of LaBelle, 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;ve got a few choices. A lot of immigrants work on nearby farms.

Fisheating Creek — When water levels are high, kayakers enjoy paddling the wild and scenic Fisheating Creek, which can be accessed about 15 miles northeast of LaBelle on State Road 29. This river belongs on the bucket list of those who love the Florida outdoors. Read more: Kayak trail lives up to hype

W. P. Franklin Lock

w.p. franklini lock campground army corps of engineers
The campground at W.P. Franklin Lock in Alva is on an island. (Army Corps photo)

We have yet to stay overnight at the W.P. Franklin Lock near the west end of the Okeechobee Waterway, but we drove over there to check it out and were impressed with what we saw.

In fact, of the three Corps campgrounds along the Okeechobee Waterway, this one may be our favorite because it is on an island in the Caloosahatchee River, just below the lock’s spillway.

w.p. franklin aerial army corps of engineers campground
The W.P. Franklin Campground is on the island on the north side of the river. The locks are on the other side of the river. (US Geologic Survey)

All but three of the 30 RV/tent sites are waterfront with a gentle slope to the water, ideal for launching your kayak from your campsite.

The campground also has eight boat slips for overnight camping.

All sites have water hookups and 20/30/50-amp electric, and there are even a few pull-throughs. A dump station, rest rooms with showers and a laundry are in the campgrounds

There’s also a 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 or by calling 1-877-444-6777. 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. GPS: 26°43’27″N, 81°41’34″W

What’s nearby?

Along the Caloosahatchee River: Between Lake Okeechobee and Fort Myers, there’s a stretch of the Caloosahatchee River that offers a taste of Old Florida — small towns, family-owned diners, a scenic country road, tree-lined rivers ideal for kayaking and two excellent public campgrounds. Read more: Kayak trails, rustic scenery & small towns

Fort Myers slowly recovering from Hurricane Ian — Fort Myers Beach was a charming Old Florida town, but Hurricane Ian caused severe damage. A new Margaritaville Resort opened this winter, but much damage remains. The rebound is slow. Read more: Update on the Fort Myers Beach recovery

More from the Corps

3 campgrounds near the Georgia-Florida line

The Army Corps of Engineers operates three campgrounds near the Florida-Georgia line on Lake Seminole, a reservoir created by the Corps at the junction of the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers, which form the Apalachicola River below the reservoir’s dam.

The lake is bordered by three states, Georgia, Florida and Alabama.

I’ve written about Lake Seminole in the past:

Related story: Losing track of time at Three Rivers State Park

Eastbank Campground

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.

corps of engineers campgrounds download 3 Corps of Engineers campgrounds offer unique Florida experience

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 ($14), but tenters are welcome to reserve any 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 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.

Hales Landing Campground

The 24 campsites at Hales Landing have water and 20/30/50-amp electric hookups for $20/night, but they cannot be reserved, available only to walkups.

Seven of the sites are waterfront, and fishing is the main recreation activity. Facilities include a dump station, restroom with showers, boat ramp with dock, and each site has a picnic table with a grill.

For a personalized visit, check out this blog post at

Hales Landing, Hales Landing Road, Bainbridge, GA. Phone: (229) 662-2001. GPS: 30.8477, -84.6599

Directions: U.S. Highway 84, take State Route 253 west for 3.8 miles, take Ten Mile Still Road for 2 miles, follow signs.

River Junction Campground

The 11 campsites at River Junction Landing have 50-amp electric and water hookups, but they are not reservable. First come, first served only.

The campground is shady, but open, allowing a lot of filtered light. Facilities include a dump station, restrooms with showers, a group camping area, a boat ramp with dock. 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

Directions: 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).

You may also want to read:

14 North Florida State Parks with camping. Diverse eco-systems are the hallmark of North Florida state parks with camping, from beaches to cool springs and deep woods hideaways.

Great camping can be found in Florida’s little-known county parks. County park campgrounds are increasingly on our radar as campers get shut out of crowded state and national parks as rates skyrocket at private campgrounds.

All articles on are original, produced exclusively for our readers and protected by U.S. Copyright law. Any use or re-publication without written permission is against the law.

This page contains affiliate links from which Florida Rambler may earn a sall commission when a purchase is made. This revenue supports our mission to produce quality stories about Florida at no cost to you.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Paul Reynold

Tuesday 2nd of April 2024

This is great info. We plan on coming next spring 2025.

Bob Rountree

Tuesday 2nd of April 2024

Book a site as far ahead as you can. These COE campgrounds are in high demand, especially in spring.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.