My first visit to Gamble Rogers State Park was during a Sunday ride around the 30-mile Ormond Scenic Loop, a beautiful drive through sparsely populated low-country wetlands north of Daytona Beach.
Gamble Rogers is a modest 144 acres flanking State Road A1A, wrapped by sand dunes in a coastal ecosystem with a modest half-mile beach.
But sometimes looks can be deceiving, especially now that a second campground has been carved out of a coastal hammock, expanding access and drawing more attention to its amenities.
When you add three miles of pristine beachfront nearby at North Peninsula State Park, you have the ingredients for a fabulous destination, especially for campers.
Camping at Gamble Rogers State Park
Gamble Rogers State Recreation Area has long had a nice little campground on the beach, just behind the dunes, with 34 sites for tents or RVs.
On the downside, those beach sites are not tent-friendly: They are close together with little privacy, little shade and laid out parking-lot style.
Good weather can be a crap shoot, especially in January and February, and when the wind blows cold across those dunes, even RVers yearn for a warmer clime.
On the other hand, the new Riverside campground on the west side of State Road A1A holds a lot of promise to ease some of that pain.
The 34 new sites, including four smaller sites designed specifically for tents, are on the lee side of the park, protected from ocean-born weather. Those new sites are also within easy reach of the river for fishing and boating.
The downside is that the new sites have little shade and little privacy, at least until newly planted vegetation matures.
All 68 sites in both campgrounds have 50-amp electric, water hookups, picnic tables and a fire ring. Each campground has its own rest rooms with showers. There is a dump station within the park.
The four new tent sites are along the wooded edge of the maritime hammock with full to partial shade.
Beach side, the maximum RV length is 47 feet, but it’s really tough to maneuver big rigs in and out of those sites.
On the river side, the maximum RV length is a whopping 90 feet.
Camping fees are $28/night plus a non-refundable $6.70 reservation fee per stay. Florida residents over age 65 and certified disabled receive 50% off the base campground fee. For reservations, call (800) 326-3521.
Admission to Gamble Rogers State Park for day visitors is $5 per vehicle (limit 8 people per vehicle), $4 for one person and $2 for pedestrians and bicyclists. Admission for campers is included in the camping fee.
Bring your kayaks, bicycles and a guitar
There is a boat ramp on the river side of the park suitable for runabouts, fishing boats, kayaks, canoes and paddle boards, giving visitors access to a vast network of interconnected saltwater marshes, nearby wetlands and quiet inland waterways.
There is no ocean access from the river with the closest inlets at Ponce Inlet (25 miles) and St. Augustine (35 miles). However, you can fish in the surf from the beach.
You can rent kayaks here at the ranger station on the river side, and they’re reasonably priced: Single kayak $15; tandem kayak/canoe $25; each additional hour $10. There are also guided kayak tours; check the park website for information.
There’s a paved bike path along A1A that runs south to nearby North Peninsula State Park or north to Flagler Beach, a classic Old Florida beach town with excellent restaurants, oceanfront tiki bars and shopping.
The beach is a prime location for whale-watching, and the park is an extraordinary migratory bird transit point.
For hikers, a nature trail winds through a shady coastal forest of scrub oaks and saw palmetto. The three-quarter-mile trail has several benches and interpretive signs. It’s an easy hike, a little rugged in places.
Because it’s a coastal trail near wetlands, you should wear good shoes and a hat, bring sunscreen, bug spray and something to drink.
Gamble Rogers, folk singer
Twice a month, on the second and fourth Saturdays, musicians gather in the park’s outdoor pavilion for the Gamble Jam, a casual acoustic jam session that attracts musicians of all skill levels in honor of the park’s namesake, folk singer Gamble Rogers.
Guests are welcome. Bring a chair and your instrument. There are no electric facilities in the pavilion.
The park, formerly known as the Flagler Beach State Recreation Area, was renamed Gamble Rogers in 1992 after a heroic rescue attempt a year earlier. In October 1991, Gamble Rogers and his wife were camping at the park when a young girl asked them to help her father, who was struggling in rough surf.
Despite suffering from spinal arthritis, Gamble grabbed an air mattress and headed towards the ocean. Within minutes, a park ranger joined in the rescue attempt.
Gamble, clinging to the air mattress, indicated to the ranger that he was OK.
The ranger was able to pull the drowning man’s wife from the water but was unable to locate the man. At the same time, a large wave washed over Gamble, ripping away his air mattress. Both men drowned.
Rogers was a renowned Florida folk singer and storyteller known for the recurring theme in his songs and stories about characters and places in fictional Oklawaha County, representative of Roger’s imagination for the good-ol’-boy culture of Central Florida.
According to Wikipedia, Rogers began performing in the 1960s, often with noted Florida singer-songwriters Paul Champion, Jim Bellew and Will McLean. By the 1970s, he was a regular fixture at the Florida Folk Festival, often as headliner.
A self-described “modern troubadour,” Rogers influenced many others, including Jimmy Buffett, who dedicated his 1994 album Fruitcakes to Rogers.
Gamble Rogers State Park, 3100 S. State Road A1A, Flagler Beach, FL 32136. 386-517-2086 (Ranger office, not reservations); Camping Fee: $28; Reservations: Up to 11 months in advance. Call (800) 326-3521. (8 am to 8 pm) or book online at floridastateparks.org/park/gamble-rogers
Pets are allowed in the campground areas, but not on the beach.
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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 14 years ago.