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Hardee Lakes Park delivers exceptional park, campground

I’m always on the lookout for affordable camping in public parks.

When state parks are full, as they often are, I look for campsite availability in county and city parks or unsung state forests off the tourism grid.

I found a real gem this spring in rural Hardee County.

Hardee Lakes Park is a reclaimed phosphate mine, reimagined into an extraordinary county park with a lakefront campground.

Lots of room to play. Miles of off-road trails. Fishing in four lakes. Camping is $25 per night.

hardee lakes hardee lakes shoreline Hardee Lakes Park delivers exceptional park, campground
There were 24 waterfront RV sites set back from the lake shoreline but close enough to launch kayaks and canoes. This is not a large lake. Paddling is limited, but there is plenty of opportunity for fishing. (Photo by Bob Rountree)

‘Bone Valley’

As we drove through the sparse countryside looking for Hardee Lakes Park, I really wasn’t expecting much. This is a pretty barren landscape as Florida goes.

There are very few people living out here, only a handful of good roads, straight and flat, open pasture and an oddly placed, oversized electrical transfer station.

This is “Bone Valley,” the heart of phosphate mining in Florida.

Hardee County harbors most of North America’s phosphate used in the production of fertilizer. Commercial mining of phosphates and potash began here in the late 1800s, and there are still two mines in operation nearby.

Controversy over phosphate mining practices led to mandatory reclamation, returning some mines to their agricultural origins while others are turned into public parks with support from state and local government.

The reclamation of the mines at Hardee Lakes Park gets a gold star.

The park

hardee lakes park trail
Unpaved roads like this one wind throughout the park. I explored the park on my eBike, but there were plenty of golf carts and UTV vehicles on these trails. This trail was a loop skirting Gator Lake. (Photo by Bob Rountree)

The first thing you notice when arriving at Hardee Lakes Park: how well its maintained. The broad lawns were recently cut, and little else was out of place.

Beyond the lawns, the two main lakes loom large. A couple of small boats are on each, and both lakes have fishing docks.

I also noted several UTVs, the tamer sibling of off-road all-terrain vehicles, and golf carts, both of which are allowed in the park for additional fees. (Golf carts are charged $5 per day, and UTV’s, $20.)

A major attraction of the park is an extensive trail network connecting all four lakes and the forest. There are horse trails, bike trails and hiking trails, all intersecting with old mine roads throughout the 1,260-acre park.

The calling of these trails was strong, and I spent most of my visit exploring the park on my e-Bike.

Go to: Hardee Lakes Park golf cart and UTV policy.

hardee lakes park
This trail leads to a network of trails on the backside of the park in an area popular with UTVs, the tamer sibling of husky all-terrain vehicles. (Photo by Bob Rountree)

The park’s four lakes are the product of reclamation by the mine owners, The Mosaic Company, in partnership with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The Hardee Park property was mined by Cargill during the 1990s.

Government regulation requires every acre of land the phosphate industry mines must be reclaimed back to nature, agriculture, or other productive uses. Prior to mining, phosphate companies must demonstrate that post-mining reclamation will result in a net ecological benefit compared with the land before mining.  

Under this umbrella, the FWC joined forces with Mosaic to establish a “Florida Fishing Trail” on lakes in Hardee County. The fishing trail is noteworthy because prior to the reclamation of these mines, there were no natural lakes in Hardee County.

Shore fishing, dock fishing and boat fishing are permitted on all four lakes in Hardee Lakes Park. A freshwater fishing license is required unless you are a Florida resident under 16 or over 65.

The FWC has established daily bag limits: black bass (5), sunshine bass (6), pan-fish (20), catfish (5) and black crappie (10). Maximum power for boat motors is 10 mph.

Read more: Who needs a Florida fishing license?

hardee lakes hardee lakes fishing dock Hardee Lakes Park delivers exceptional park, campground
Fishing dock on the causeway between Lake Hardee and Deer Lake. There are four lakes in the park, all of which harbor bass and freshwater panfish. (Photo by Bob Rountree)

The campground

hardee lakes hardee lakes campsite Hardee Lakes Park delivers exceptional park, campground
Our lakefront campsite (#53) in Hardee Lakes Park had plenty of shade and easy access to the lake, where we could launch our kayaks. The park has 60 sites with hookups for RVs, 24 of them lakefront, and there are 15 primitive tent sites in a separate loop on the lakeshore. (Photo by Bob Rountree)

The best campsites at Hardee Lakes Park are lakefront, and they are hard to book in season (January through April), and they are a challenge on weekends at any time of year. They are so worth the effort.

Each of the lakefront campsites is comfortably shaded, and while there is little privacy between sites, we weren’t uncomfortably close to our neighbors. The trees, picnic tables and fire ring at every site provided a sense of separation.

Hardee Lakes Park features four campground loops:

  • Primitive camping, lakeside: Sites P1-P15. (No electric) $20
  • Equestrian campground: Sites 1-9.
  • Inland RV loop: Sites 10-36 with electric and water hookups. $25
  • Lakefront RV loop: Sites 37-60 with electric and water hookups. $25
hardee lakes hardee lakes map Hardee Lakes Park delivers exceptional park, campground
Campground map.

There are two restrooms with showers in the camping areas, and two more restrooms serving day visitors.

I was only able to book one night during March, but it was enough to know it’s worth returning here when snowbirds go home after “the season.”

When I checked availability during May, there were many weekday openings. Weekends are popular with local families and may be more challenging, at least for waterfront sites.

May and June would be pleasant months to camp here, weather-wise.

rv logo hardee lakes park

Hardee Lakes County Park & Campground

Hardee Lakes Park, 5502 Ollie Roberts RD, Bowling Green, FL 33834. Rates: $25 per night, including water and electric hookups. For reservations, call the park office at (863) 767-1100. Office hours: Mon-Fri, 9 am-5 pm To book online up to one year in advance, go to…/HardeeLakesPark

Activities: Horse trails, hiking trails, handicap-accessible hiking trails, bike trails and UTV trails. There are picnic areas, a picnic pavilion, and a playground available. Fishing from shore, boats and docks. Boat ramps at each of four lakes. The park includes a boardwalk and an observation tower where people can watch wildlife.

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