Winter is the best time for Everglades camping in both Everglades National Park and Big Cypress Preserve. Options run from recreational vehicles to tents in the back country and even “glamping.”
The Everglades is a slow-moving river of grass, beginning near Orlando and trickling south 200 miles into Florida Bay through Everglades National Park and the Big Cypress National Preserve.
Camping is different here. Few campgrounds have the amenities you’ll find elsewhere, so you’re going to be roughing it.
The reward is you’ll be sharing one of Florida’s most natural settings with an abundance wildlife, enhanced all the more in winter by a massive influx of migratory birds.
More than 300 species of colorful, talkative birds take up residence in the Everglades from November until April.
Mosquitoes. You’ll experience mosquitos all year in the Everglades, but the intensity is significantly milder in winter. Still, be prepared, especially after a rain.
- Camping in Everglades National Park
- Big Cypress National Preserve
- Collier Seminole State Park
- Private campgrounds
- Related articles about the Everglades:
Camping in Everglades National Park
There are two developed campgrounds in Everglades National Park, and a half-dozen more in Big Cypress, not counting primitive backcountry sites accessible by boat or hiking from often wet and swampy trails.
The first developed campground you encounter upon entering the park is Long Pine Key, which has changed its first-come, first served policy under new management and now accepts reservations. But there are still no hookups for RVs.
The second developed campground, 40 miles deep into Everglades National Park at Flamingo, has an RV section with electric (no water), two tent campgrounds, a “glamping” section and houseboat rentals.
Admission to Everglades National Park is $30 per vehicle, which entitles you to park access for 7 days, and can be purchased in advance online. Camping fees are additional.
An annual park pass can be purchased for $55, and seniors can obtain a lifetime pass to all national parks for $85. Other passes are also available at the main ranger station or online.
Free Entrance Days
Fees are waived at Everglades National Park on the following days:
- Jan 17, 2022: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
- Apr 16, 2022: First Day of National Park Week
- Aug 4, 2022: Anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act
- Sep 24, 2022: National Public Lands Day
- Nov 11, 2022: Veterans Day
Long Pine Key Campground at Everglades National Park
Long Pine Key Campground is a short drive from the entrance to Everglades National Park and the Homestead Visitor Center, saving campers the 40-mile drive to Flamingo while still deep enough to provide a strong dose of the Everglades.
The 108 campsites can now be reserved online or by phone, 1-855-708-2077, through Flamingo Adventures, the park’s new campground and marina concession. A limited number have been set aside for walkups.
There are no hookups for RVs, although each site has a fire ring and a picnic table. As is true in the Flamingo Campground, RV campers should stop at the water fill station before setting up camp.
Long Pine is only a few miles from the Anhinga Trail at Royal Palm, which means it provides a good opportunity for one of those only-if-you’re-camping experiences: Go to the Anhinga Trail after dark with a flashlight to see how the alligators behave when they’re active. (They eyes glow red when you shine them with a flashlight.)
The campground is adjacent to the 7-mile-long Long Pine Key trail, a favorite with fat-tire cyclists, and the scenic Long Pine Key Lake.
Five things you should know about Long Pine Key Campground:
- The bathrooms are clean and convenient, but no hot showers.
- Your cell phone will get lousy reception, if any.
- No firewood is sold. We picked some up at the Home Depot in Homestead on the way into the park. You can forage for dead wood and kindling.
- Long Pine Key Campground is open seasonally from Nov. 1 – May 31. It is closed during the hotter, hurricane-prone months.
- Reservations are accepted online through the park concession, Flamingo Adventures, or by calling 855-708-2207. If you book online, your campsite is automatically assigned. To request a specific site, you will have to call.
Rates: Mon-Thurs., $30 per night; Fri-Sun, $35. (Campground closed April 1-Oct. 31)
Flamingo Campground at Everglades National Park
A new park concession, Flamingo Adventures, has taken over campground management and reservations as part of its overall administration of the Flamingo marina, store, boat rentals and boat tours.
The new marina store has been stocked with basic convenience store supplies, including groceries, beer, wine and commonly needed camping gear, but it would be smart to buy and pack the stuff you need before leaving civilization.
And a new motel is being built in Flamingo this year (2022).
We camped here in our travel trailer in late fall, and we had no trouble getting a site with electric hookups. Water was another story, and our first act before setting up camp was to fill our fresh water tank from a “potable water” spigot next to the dump station.
I was a little concerned about this “safe” spigot, but we always carry bottled water for drinking and cooking, using the water in our tank for showers and dishwashing, so I filled the tank. Next time, I’ll fill up at the main ranger station or at Long Pine Key before heading south.
The RV campsites were spacious, though shade and privacy were sparse, but this campground was an excellent vantage point for exploring the heart of the Everglades.
There are 65 RV sites with picnic tables and fire pits, 41 have electric hookups, in the campground pictured above.
There are 274 tent sites in an adjacent campground, as well as in an open field near the Eco-tents. Be aware that flooding can and does occur after a heavy rain. The week were were there, the tent campground was very wet.
Bring your kayak or canoe to explore the wilderness on backcountry boating trails. Small motorboats (6 HP max) are allowed in many areas. If you don’t have your own, you can rent fishing boats, canoes and kayaks at the marina store.
As you might expect, the fishing in the waters around Flamingo is fabulous and not just from boats. A good catch can be had from the shoreline with a basic rod and reel and some fresh bait from the marina.
While gas is available for boats at the marina, there is no gas for cars, so be sure to fill up your vehicle before entering the park.
Flamingo Adventures has introduced two new overnight options for visitors, houseboats and eco-tents.
Houseboat guests can stay at the dock or roam the back country, but you miss all the best reasons for visiting the Everglades if you remain at the dock, says Florida Rambler editor Bonnie Gross.
“It’s not cheap; I thought it might even be a little boring,” she writes. “But then, when I woke up on the boat on the first morning, I looked out at the warm dawn light glowing in the clouds and reflecting in the mirror-like waters.
“All I could hear were birds and rustling wind in the mangroves. I could see for miles and there wasn’t another soul; not another sign of man.”
Read More: Bonnie’s houseboat adventure
The Eco-Tents at Flamingo are built on raised platforms and connected by a boardwalk to higher ground, where the restrooms and showers are located.
Each tent is furnished with a queen bed or two double beds with a deck and view of Florida Bay.
“These clever structures look like the sort of place you saw in old movies about rich people on African safaris,” said Bonnie of her overnight campout. “They feel more like portable cabins than tents.”
Read More: Bonnie’s Eco-Tent Adventure
Backcountry camping from Flamingo
There are a number of designated ground sites, beach sites, and elevated camping platforms (chickees) available in the park, most in the Ten Thousand Islands and along the rivers that feed the islands, accessible only by boat from Flamingo or Everglades City.
Winter is the best season. Summer’s are hot, muggy, miserable and dominated by insects. Relatively speaking, mosquitos lay low in winter but not completely, so you still need to be prepared.
A backcountry camping permit is required for wilderness campsites, Reservations are not accepted, and permits are only issued the day before or day of your trip.
Backcountry camping permits are $21 plus $2 per person per night from mid-November through April. The permits are free from April through mid-November;
Permits for backcountry sites must be made in person up to a day in advance at the Flamingo or the Gulf Coast (Everglades City) Visitor Centers.
Read More: Bonnie’s overnight adventure to Cape Sable
A few tips on getting back-country permits:
- Review this map of 48 backcountry sites.
- For sites where only one or two campers are allowed, you will need to arrive at the ranger station a day early to secure permits. If you seek a permit for the day you arrive, be flexible and have alternative sites in mind.
- A few backcountry sites are accessed via the Florida Keys — North Nest Key, Little Rabbit Key and Johnson Key — and you can reserve those by telephone the day before.
Big Cypress National Preserve
This 1200-square-mile preserve boasts a variety of Everglades eco-systems, not the least of which are cypress swamps. The northern section off Interstate 75 (Alligator Alley) is a prime destination for hunters in season, and off-road vehicles, although hikers and mountain bikers are becoming more common.
Most visitors gravitate to the southern section of the Big Cypress along the Tamiami Trail.
Unlike Everglades National Park, dispersed camping for backpackers and hikers is permitted anywhere in Big Cypress south of Alligator Alley (I-75). Whether you are entering the back country for a day or a week, by car or on foot, you must have a backcountry permit, which you can download here.
Campgrounds along Tamiami Trail
Tamiami Trail is the original road dredged out of swamp land to connect the east and west coasts of Florida through the Everglades, eventually connecting Miami to Tampa.
The section that skirts through the Everglades is full of life and things to do.
There are five park service campgrounds along the Tamiami Trail (U.S. 41) managed by the Big Cypress Preserve. Only Midway has hookups (electric) and a dump station for RV’s. A second dump station is located at Dona Drive (2.5 miles east of SR 29 on US 41).
All of the campgrounds in Big Cypress offer access to recreational activities, including hiking, biking, fishing, hunting, photography and off-road vehicle trails.
Two of the campgrounds — Pinecrest and Mitchell’s Landing — are along Loop Road, a scenic route deep in the Everglades. Both are primitive campgrounds and are first come, first served (no reservations).
Read more: Road trip: Tamiami Trail
Burns Lake has 10 RV (boondocking) and five tent sites in separate campgrounds on opposite sides of the lake. Sites are available from Aug. 15 until April 15, although day-use area is open all year with backcountry access.
There are no hookups and no water, so bring your own everything. The nearest dump station is at Dona Drive, 7 miles away in Ochopee. We camped here in February 2020 in our RV and loved it!
Although lacking shade, there is lots of separation between sites, offering a modicum of privacy. We also found the use of generators was minimal in the RV section, as if every camper respected the silence. (Officially, quiet hours are from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m.)
This campground is popular with off-road vehicles, but we saw few, even on a weekend. The campground is also set off the highway, so there was zero road noise. Very pleasant experience. We’ll go back.
Camping fee $24/night for tents and RVs. Holders of annual national park passes receive a 50% discount.
For reservations, call (877) 444-6777 or visit recreation.gov. Nearby attractions include airboat and swamp buggy tours, museums, the Clyde Butcher art gallery, nature boardwalks and kayaking in the Turner River.
The Midway Campground is the most developed Big Cypress campground with drinking water, electric hookups and restrooms. The campground has a dump station and rest rooms.
Each RV campsite has its own picnic table and hibachi-style grill. Covered picnic areas are located around the lake for day use.
The 26 RV sites with electric are $30/night, and the 10 tent sites are $24/night. Holders of annual national park passes receive a 50% discount.
Midway is open year-round, but sites are hard to get. For reservations, call (877) 444-6777 or visit recreation.gov. Be patient if no sites are available, and check back often for cancellations.
This campground is near the Big Cypress Preserve Oasis Visitor Center, Miccosukee Cultural Center, Shark Valley in Everglades National Park, and Clyde Butcher’s Big Cypress Art Gallery.
Read more: Shark Valley bike trail
A real gem, the well-groomed Monument Lake Campground is eight miles east of Burns Lake on the Tamiami Trail.
Like Burns Lake, you will be boondocking: no hookups, no dump station. Unlike Burns Lake, Monument Lake Campground does have drinking water (central tap) and flush toilets.
Some RV sites are right on the lake, while others are set back a wee bit across the campground access road, backing up to a cypress forest. Fire rings (with grills) and picnic tables are available at all sites.
We really liked this campground, and boondocking was not an issue. Use of generators was a little more prevalent than we experienced at Burns Lake, but not obnoxiously so.
The tent camping area was on the other side of the lake from the RV sites and located next to the rest rooms and water spigot. The only RVs nearby were the campground hosts (volunteers), which do have hookups.
The campground is open from Aug. 29 until April 15. An RV site is $28/night and a tent site is $24; half price for those with a National Parks access pass. For reservations, call (877) 444-6777 or visit recreation.gov.
Camping on the Loop Road
Mitchell’s Landing (Loop Road)
Mitchell’s Landing is on the Loop Road and has 12 RV/tent sites without hookups — no water and no dump station. The campground has vault toilets, and sites are $24/night, payable on-site upon arrival. Each campsite is equipped with a picnic table, fire ring, and lantern pole. No reservations. Fee is $12 for campers with a National Parks senior or access pass. Maximum stay is 10 days from January through April; 14 days the rest of the year.
Pinecrest Group Camping (Loop Road)
Each of the four group sites at Pinecrest accommodates up to eight tents and 15 people. There are no hookups, no drinking water, no dump station and no rest rooms. This campground is open year-round, and each group site goes for $30/night. Picnic tables and fire rings are available at each site. There are no covered picnic areas, toilets, hookups, or water. Minimal shade. For reservations, call (877) 444-6777 or visit recreation.gov. Recreational activities include paddling, hiking, birding, fishing, and hunting.
Bear Island Unit (North of I-75)
North of I-75, campers are restricted to the campgrounds in the Bear Island Unit in Okaloacoochee Slough, which has special restrictions that make access difficult:
Access Points for Pink Jeep, Gator Head and Bear Island
- Backpackers will find an access gate on U.S. 29 about a mile north of Alligator Alley (I-75). Park inside the gate and hike into the refuge. Pink Jeep Campground is the closest at two miles. No vehicle access.
- Backpackers can access the Bear Island Unit campgrounds from a recreation-area parking lot on the northbound side of I-75 at Mile Marker 70. There is no vehicle access, so you’ll have to leave your car in the rest area.
- Motorized vehicles and RV‘s can access the main Bear Island campground from Tamiami Trail (U.S. 41) on Turner River Road (County Road 839). It’s a bumpy 20-mile drive on a gravel road, which you want to avoid after a heavy rain.
Bear Island Campground – Open year round, Bear Island is a primitive campground with 40 sites for tents or RVs. There are no hookups and the only rest room is a vault toilet. No dump station. Each site has a picnic table and a fire ring.
Gator Head – Gator Head has nine tent sites, no hookups and is open from Aug. 29 until June 1. Again, there are vault toilets. Only off-road vehicles can access these sites, and you are required to have an ORV permit.
Pink Jeep – Nine tent sites are open from Aug. 29 until June 1. There are vault toilets, but nothing else, not even drinking water. Only off-road vehicles can access Pink Jeep, and an ORV permit is required.
Be aware that these campgrounds are frequented by hunters in season and off-road vehicles (ORV) in an area of Big Cypress that has trails designated for noisy swamp buggies and ATVs.
But hikers and off-road bicyclists are beginning to discover it, so don’t be discouraged. Best time to avoid the noise of ATVs is during the week.
Three things you should know about Bear Island Campgrounds:
- There is no drinking water or electricity available anywhere.
- No dump stations or restrooms, only vault toilets.
- Campsite fee is $10 per night. Call 877-444-6777.
Big Cypress National Preserve consists of 729,000 acres of backcountry with miles of multi-use trails to explore. Dispersed camping is allowed, and a Backcountry Camping Permit is required. Permits are free and can be filled out online and printed.
Collier Seminole State Park
Collier-Seminole State Park, 20200 E. Tamiami Trail, Naples — This comfortable and well-equipped state campground has 91 RV/tent sites and 19 tent-only sites, all with hookups for water and electric. There are restrooms, picnic areas and off-road bike/hiking trails. Bring your kayak or motorboat for access to the Ten Thousand Islands. The park also features one of the original dredges that was used to build the Tamiami Trail through the Everglades. All sites are $22/night plus a non-refundable $6.70 reservation fee. For reservations, call (800) 326-3521 or visit floridastateparks.org/park/Collier-Seminole
Big Cypress Trail Lakes Campground, 40904 Tamiami Trail, Ochopee, FL — Home of the Skunk Ape and backcountry eco-tours, this 150-site campground 60 miles west of Miami features RV sites for $35 to $50 per night, and tent sites are $25 (non-electric) to $30 (electric). Most of the sites are lakefront, and kayaks are welcome. So are pets on a leash. RV sites have electric hookups with hot showers and laundry facilities nearby and a dump station. Other accommodations include open-air, native-built chickee huts for a pricey $179-$199 per night. This campground is also the base for Everglades Adventure Tours, where you can make campsite reservations. Reservations also accepted by phone: 239-695-2275.
Chokoloskee Island Park, Chokoloskee — Rustic Chokoloskee Island Park has 35 RV sites and a handful of tent sites. The main attraction is the marina, which offers access to the vast Ten Thousand Islands for fishing, birding and kayaking. There are more than 60 boat slips. Rates vary by season with Dec. 1 to April 15 being the most expensive ($51/for RVs and $39/night for tents). Discounts available for longer stays. Visit their web site, www.chokoloskee.com, for more information and to make reservations.
Ian bulldozes through Florida
The latest storm maps, outlook and checklist; State Park closures, National Parks and Forests, Water Management District recreation areas.
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A note from the editor:
The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning your trip.
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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.