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Waterfront RV camping with the Corps of Engineers

army corps of engineers campground w.p. franklin lock
The campground at the W.P. Franklin Lock is one of three campgrounds operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers along the Okeechobee Waterway. (Photo by Bob Rountree)

Corps has 3 campgrounds in South Florida

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintains three immaculate campgrounds in recreation areas at locks along the Okeechobee Waterway, created as part of its massive Lake Okeechobee flood control project.

The waterway helps control water levels in the lake while also allowing boat passage from Stuart on the Atlantic Ocean, through the lake, to Fort Myers on the Gulf of Mexico.

Flood control and inland navigation are two of the Corps’ primary missions, along with a mandate to provide public recreation when possible in conjunction with those projects.

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.

The waterway utilizes the natural Caloosahatchee River, which flows west from the lake, and the manmade St. Lucie Canal, flowing east, providing a continuous boat route across the state.

In order to raise transiting boats to the elevation 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 and overnight dockage or moorings. Although tents are OK, these sites are really designed for recreational vehicles.

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, which is on the south side of the river near LaBelle. (Photo by Bob Rountree)

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

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.

Okeechobee Waterway

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

W. P. Franklin Lock Campground

corps of engineers campgrounds wpfranklin bank sites27 30 Waterfront RV camping with the Corps of Engineers
All but three of the 30 campsites at W.P. Franklin Lock Campground are waterfront. The campground is on an island in the Caloosahatchee River. Our campsite (#30) is at far right. (Photo by Bob Rountree)

The campground at the W.P. Franklin Lock and Dam is on an island, accessible via causeway from the north side of the river, about 15 miles east of Fort Myers and 5 miles from I-75.

All but three of the 30 campsites are waterfront with gentle slopes where you can slide your kayak or canoe into the river or fish from the riverbank. The three campsites that are not waterfront are pull-throughs.

All sites in the two camping loops have hookups for potable water and 20/30/50-amp electric. Each site has a concrete pad, covered picnic table and gravel patio area surrounded by well-manicured lawns.

There are two rest rooms with showers, one in each of the two camping loops, and a laundry. A single dump station is available near the exit for RVs.

The campground has a boat ramp with parking for day visitors on the upstream side of the locks. There is no boat ramp on the downstream side of the campground, below the lock, where campsites #1-21 are located.

However, you can easily launch a kayak or small boat from any of the waterfront sites.

A little over a half-mile downriver from the campground, below the lock and damn, is Telegraph Creek, which you can reach by water or launch from the bridge on North River Road (SR 78). Telegraph Creek is a designated Lee County Blueway Trail.

When we camped here in May 2024, it was too hot for us to paddle downriver to Telegraph Creek. I did take a ride to the launch at the bridge where a handful of paddlers got a very early start one morning, but they were gone or packing up before 10 a.m.

My blogging partner, Bonnie Gross, paddled the creek a couple of years ago and filed this report: Telegraph Creek: Unspoiled kayak trail worth discovering.

Although the campground doesn’t offer much more than camping, boating and fishing, about three miles east on North River Road (SR 780) is Caloosahatchee Regional Park, almost 800 acres on the north side of the river with multiple trails for hiking, bicycling and equestrians.

Bicyclists might also enjoy exploring the scenic horse ranches in a subdivision that abutts the campground on the east side.

One other note: Docks that once harbored eight boat slips for overnight camping were wiped out in 2022 when Hurricane Ian blew inland from Sanibel Island and Fort Myers. A campground volunteer told me that there were plans to replace the boat sites with floating docks but not before 2025.

w.p. franklin lock campground site no. 8
Site #8 is typical of the back-in sites at the Franklin Lock and Dam, and it has a large grassy area for launching kayaks below the lock. (Photo by Bob Rountree)

We were camping on the upstream (east) side of the island (#22-30), so our kayak access was limited to the river above the locks, which is scenic but not the backwater experience you’ll find on Telegraph Creek.

The downside to Franklin Lock Campground is that it’s everybody’s favorite, making it difficult to reserve a campsite for a stay of any length. Plan ahead and shoot for weekdays.

You’ll also have more luck if you are only planning a one-night layover in transit to another destination further south, such as Everglades National Park or Big Cypress Preserve.

What’s nearby

Telegraph Creek — Designated as an official Lee County Blueway, Telegraph Creek is a tributary of the Caloosahatchee River about a half-mile west of the campground at the W.P. Frankling Lock and Dam. Read more: Unspoiled kayak trail worth discovering

Caloosahatchee Regional Park — About three miles east of Franklin Lock and Dam is a major Lee County park with trails, picnic areas and a kayak launch. The 768-acre park also has a primitive tent campground. You’ll have to haul your gear from a central parking lot in a provided cart. Learn more: Official park page

Cape Coral, Matlacha — Take State Road 78 straight west to a major shopping strip in Cape Coral (about 15 miles), where we found an amazing family-owned supermarket, Farmer Joe’s. Continue on to the arts and crafts village of Matlacha (about 28 miles). Read more: 6 reasons to love Matlacha

Supplies — The closest grocery is a Publix Supermarket on State Road 80 (Palm Beach Boulevard) on the south side of the river, across the State Road 31 bridge. (About 8 miles.) There is a Walmart Supercenter on State Road 78, 16 miles west of the campground.

W.P. Franklin North, 17850 North Franklin Lock Road, Alva, FL. Phone:  (239) 694-8770. Camping rate: $30 nightly, including utilities. Half-price for holders of an America the Beautiful Access Pass. Reservations accepted up to 6 months in advance online via Recreation.gov or by calling 1-877-444-6777. Getting there: From I-75, take Exit 143 to State Road 78. Go east on SR 78 about six miles to North Franklin Lock Rd. GPS: 26°43’27″N, 81°41’34″W


Ortona South Lock 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 to Ortona South, 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 Dalton Lane, just off State Road 80

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

We went back in 2024 under sunny skies. This time, we paid more attention to our natural surroundings but didn’t stay as long.

We could sit outside with a nice breeze and enjoy our natural surrounding while observing the boat traffic entering the lock. 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. Our site was not on the water. (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 rocky shore.

Ortona South has 51 sites with water hookups 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, ($15 with our America the Beautiful Pass).

What’s nearby?

LaBelle — The campground is 10 miles east of LaBelle, home to the popular Swamp Cabbage Festival in late February. LaBelle is 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.

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

Supplies: There are a couple of grocery stores in LaBelle, including Dollar General, a Winn-Dixie and a Walmart Supercenter, which also carries RV supplies.

Ortona South, 2410 Dalton Lane SW, Moore Haven. Phone: (863) 675-8400. Camping rate: $30 nightly, including utilities. Half-price for holders of an America the Beautiful Access Pass. Reservations accepted online up to 6 months in advance at Recreation.gov 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.


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)

One of 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 lock.

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!”

st. lucie lock campground u.s. army corps of engineers
The Corps of Engineers Campground at St. Lucie Locks. (Photo by Bob Rountree)

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.

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 ($45-$60 per night). The campground also offers ready-to-camp tent setups and multiple trails for hiking and bicycling along the waerway. Read more: Phipps Park Campground in Stuart ideally suited for family outings

Discover ‘secret’ wild beach — Secret beaches are the stuff of vacation dreams and we 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

St. Lucie South, 2170 SW Canal Street, Stuart. Camping rate: $30 nightly, including utilities, for RVs and boats. $20 for tent campers (non-electric). Half-price for holders of an America the Beautiful Access Pass. Reservations accepted up to 6 months in advance online via Recreation.gov 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″.


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 Corps of Engineers campgrounds. For more information, go to https://store.usgs.gov


More from the Corps

3 COE campgrounds at the Georgia-Florida line

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages 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, forming 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: 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 Waterfront RV camping with the Corps of Engineers

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 recreation.gov. GPS: 30.71806, -84.85111; 30°43’5″N, 84°51’4″W

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 wxtoad.com

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

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

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.

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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.

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