Florida residents will get a one-month head start to reserve campsites and cabins at Florida State Parks, under new laws that go into effect on January 1, 2024.
Included are cabins, RV sites, tent, boat and equestrian camping but not primitive backcountry sites and ‘glamping’.
The changes come in response to residents’ complaints that out-of-state visitors dominate campground bookings, especially during the prime winter season. The new law received unanimous support in the Florida Legislature.
30-day edge to reserve campsites, cabins
The new law allows Florida residents to book sites up to 11 months in advance, while non-residents will have to wait another 30 days. An official Florida drivers license or state-issued ID are required for proof of residency.
The new rules will not have an impact on this year’s tourist season because sites have already been booked in advance.
Until now, residents have had to compete with visitors from out of state, who pounce on available campsites within minutes on the day they become available 11 months in advance. Residents have long felt disadvantaged by the swarms of out-of-state visitors booking those sites.
Residents’ frustrations are compounded when they see large numbers of empty sites caused by no-shows, although these new rules don’t directly address that problem.
Visitors argue they are the ones paying the bills in Florida through sales and tourist taxes, not to mention spending in support of local businesses and jobs. Florida residents pay no state income tax.
Florida State Parks manages 65 campgrounds within its 175-park system, which has won numerous awards for quality over the years.
The new rules follow major changes to the state parks reservation system last year, including a new online reservations system and a $7 per night utilities fee added for electric and water hookups.
Resident-preference rules still do not apply to Florida State Forests, which aren’t as much in demand as state parks. Nor does the new law apply to National Parks or National Forests in Florida or public campgrounds in the state’s city and county parks, which are managed by their respective government agencies.
Many county parks already have an advance reservations window for their residents.
$7 utility fee for state parks camping, cabins
Florida State Parks added a $7 per day utilities fee in 2022 to campsites and cabins with electric and water connections, marking the first increase in camping fees at state parks since 2009, according to the DEP.
The fee is not subject to discounts. (See below)
Other changes recently implemented include:
- A two-night minimum for state park cabin rentals. Prior to 2022, the two-night minimum applied only to weekends.
- A $17.50 cancellation fee to discourage overbooking;
- A one-time, non-refundable $6.70 processing fee is charged with each reservation.
- State and local taxes are additional. Some counties charge a lodging fee.
Discounts for seniors, disabled still apply
Florida residents 65 and over are entitled to a 50% discount, but only on the base camping rate, which varies from park to park. The discount does not apply to the $7 utility fee, nor does it apply to cabin rentals.
A 50% discount is also available to Florida citizens possessing a current Social Security disability award certificate or a 100% disability award certificate from the federal government.
A 50% discount on the base camping fee is also available to families operating a licensed family foster home.
Proof of eligibility is required upon arrival at the campground.
Visit Florida State Parks Reservation Information page.
Florida Rambler stories about Florida State Parks
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Veteran journalists who worked together at Fort Lauderdale’s SunSentinel newspaper, Bonnie and Bob founded FloridaRambler.com in 2010 to explore the natural, authentic Florida, writing about their natural interests in hiking, biking, paddling, RV and tent camping, wildlife, unique lodging, dining and historic places.