Sebastian Inlet has long been a favorite destination for my family, enhanced by two outstanding public campgrounds, Sebastian Inlet State Park and Long Point County Park.
Both campgrounds offer unrestricted access to the Indian River Lagoon, pristine Atlantic beaches, abundant wildlife and a treasure chest of Florida coastal history.
Three miles of undeveloped beachfront make inlet beaches a haven for sunbathers, and surfers come here in search of the best breaks on the Florida coast. Here’s the latest Surf Report and live webcam from SurfGuru.
The fishing is outstanding, inshore and offshore, thanks to a steady flow of gamefish riding currents through the inlet to feed at endless clam beds, oyster bars, seagrass beds and tidal wetlands in the lagoon.
Wildlife abounds in the protected rookeries of Pelican Island, the nation’s oldest wildlife refuge, and the brackish tributaries offer winter refuge to manatees and other wild things.
Boating is symbolic of life here. Kayaks, canoes, runabouts, pontoon boats and paddle boards are common sights in the lagoon and ocean.
Your base of operations should be these two fabulous campgrounds:
Sebastian Inlet State Park Campground
Sebastian Inlet State Park’s 51 renovated campsites overlook the inlet and accommodate both RVs and tents. Much of the shade evident from the old campground is gone, but new shade is taking root.
All sites have water and electric, but no sewer hookups. There is a dump station in the campground, and rest rooms with showers are convenient to all campers. A camp store sells the basics, including bait for fishing.
Sebastian Inlet State Park is divided into two sectors. The campground entrance is south of the inlet, and it has its own boat ramp. Another boat ramp is available at the park’s marina on north side of the inlet, primary destination for day visitors.
Campsites may be reserved up to 11 months in advance online or by phone (800) 326-3521 for $28 per night plus a $7 daily utility fee, taxes and a one-time $6.70 booking fee. Florida residents who are 65 years of age or older or who hold a Social Security disability award certificate or a 100% disability award certificate from the federal government are permitted to receive a 50% discount on current base campsite fees. (Reservation fee and utility fee are excluded.) Proof of eligibility is required.
Limited primitive camping may also available in the park and on spoil islands in the lagoon. Call 321-724-5424 for more information.
Park admission for day use is $8 per vehicle (2-8 people); $4 for a single user vehicle; $2 for pedestrians and bicyclists. Park admission is included for campers. The boat ramp fee is $4 plus tax.
Sebastian Inlet State Park, 9700 South Highway A1A, Melbourne Beach FL 32951. Open 7 days, 24 hours a day. Phone: 321-984-4852. (Park office is on the north side of the inlet bridge; campground is on the south side.)
Long Point Park Campground
A mile north of Sebastian Inlet on State Road A1A is the inlet’s best kept secret, Long Point Campground in Brevard County. Long Point has 170 campsites on an 85-acre island with 113 waterfront sites directly on the Indian River Lagoon.
Each of the waterfront sites has water and electric hookups. On the interior of the island, there are an additional 57 campsites, some with full hookups.
Group tent camping is available on Scout Island, where you’ll also find nature trails.
We’ve camped here with our kayaks, which can be launched from waterfront sites, and my center console open fisherman, which we launched from the park’s boat ramp and anchored behind our camp site.
Bring your own shade, especially in summer, and experience refreshing sea breezes. Food, beer and bait is available at a convenience store at the corner with A1A.
Camping fees are $30 per night (plus tax) with a late checkout fee (until 6 p.m.) of $18, which is great for weekend campers. Reservations can be made up to a year in advance online or by phone, 321-952-4532. Note: Camping fees will increase as of Nov. 15, 2022.
Day-use fees are $4 for vehicles and $5 for the boat ramp. Cancellations made at least 7 days prior to the reservation date are subject to a $20 processing fee.
Long Point Park Brevard County, 700 Long Point Rd, Melbourne Beach, FL 32951. Open 7 days, sunrise to sunset.
A little-known alternative…
Donald McDonald Park
This small, wooded and shady public campground in Sebastian offers direct access to the St. Sebastian River, which flows into the Indian River Lagoon directly across from Sebastian Inlet.
All 31 sites have a fire ring and picnic table, but only five sites have electric and water hookups for RVs.
The 26 non-electric sites are designed for tents or small pop-up trailers, and they share access to multiple potable water spigots on the campground loop. Only a few of these primitive sites are roomy enough for a small trailer.
This campground is not well-known or heavily used, so sites are almost always available. The park has a restroom with hot showers.
Camping fees are $20 for non-electric sites (1-27) and $30 for electric (28-31). Reservations are accepted online. Book online.
A boat ramp is available, and there are no day-use fees.
Donald McDonald Park and Campground, 12315 Roseland Rd, Sebastian, FL 32958. Open 7 days, 7 a.m. until sunset. Phone: (772) 589-0087
Things to do near Sebastian Inlet
Three miles of pristine beach backed by rolling dunes and some of the best surfing on Florida’s Atlantic Coast sets the beach at Sebastian Inlet State Park apart from all others.
For those who prefer calmer waters, the state park also features a beach inside the inlet on the north side of the inlet and bridge. (Campground is directly opposite on the south side.)
One of the most consistent surf breaks in Florida is Sebastian Inlet’s “First Peak,” next to the north jetty.
Another hot surf spot is Monster Hole (actually, a shoal), about a third of a mile off the beach, on the south side of the inlet. Like all inlets in Florida, the ebb and flow of tides draws gamefish through the inlet, making it not only attractive to anglers, but also to sharks who patrol the mouth.
For the safest swimming, there’s plenty of great beach away from the inlet in both directions.
Web cam: http://www.sebastianinletcam.com/
Paddle to an island
Paddle to your heart’s content in the Indian River Lagoon.
Head for Pelican Island, a mile south of the inlet, to visit the nation’s first bird sanctuary, or visit one of the many spoil islands in the lagoon for a picnic and a swim.
You can even camp on some islands (but not on Pelican Island).
Paddle directly across the lagoon from the inlet to the mouth of the St. Sebastian River, then up the river to another wildlife sanctuary where manatees congregate in winter.
Fly fishers prowl the oyster bars around the spoil islands for red drum (redfish), and black drum are abundant in deeper inlet waters. Ask a park ranger where clamming is permitted, but stay clear of leased clam beds. Boat rentals are available from Bayside Marina.
Related Article: Primitive camping on dozens of starlit islands in Florida
President Teddy Roosevelt, alarmed by the slaughter of pelicans and egrets for their plumage, signed an executive order in 1903 declaring Pelican Island a bird sanctuary.
More than 30 species of birds use the island, and 16 species nest here, including the brown pelican, wood stork, several varieties of egrets and herons, and the American oystercatcher.
The island can only be approached by water but can be viewed from an observation tower accessible via a boardwalk trail from the visitor’s area on State Road A1A south of the inlet. Or you can paddle your kayak a mile south of the inlet for an up-close and personal look. (Don’t go ashore.)
Hiking and Biking
Take a stroll down the Hammock Trail in Sebastian Inlet State Park.
This mile-long nature trail meanders under the shade of a coastal, sub-tropical, palm/oak hammock and along the fringe of the mangroves. Plant identification signs tell about many of the unique species in this habitat.
Three mountain bicycle trails are located within Sebastian Inlet State Park, a combination of off-road and paved courses. A multi-use, paved path runs along State Road A1A and the Indian River Lagoon with numerous beach access points.
McLarty Treasure Museum
The McLarty Treasure Museum, south of the inlet is the site of a 1715 Spanish Fleet wreck survivor’s camp. The museum features artifacts, displays, and an observation deck that overlooks the ocean. Salvagers continue to work the ocean bottom offshore, seeking gold, silver and the “Queen’s jewels” lost to the sea and its sandy shores. The museum is open daily 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $2. Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Phone: (772) 589-2147
McLarty Treasure Museum, 13180 North A1A, Vero Beach, FL 32963. Open 7 days from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $2. Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Phone: (772) 589-2147 — Read more: History and Culture of Sebastian Inlet
Sebastian Inlet Fishing Museum
Commemorates three of Sebastian’s early families that operated fish houses. Inside you will find a replica of an original fish house and dock. A homemade fishing boat, nets, fishing gear, and photos of fishing in the lagoon are also on display. The museum is inside Sebastian Inlet State Park near the campground and is open daily. Admission is free with park admission or with a campsite reservation. Video: Sebastian Fishing Museum
St. Sebastian Preserve
There are two ways to get into the 22,000-acre St. Sebastian River Preserve. By water from either campground, go almost directly across the Indian River Lagoon from the inlet to the mouth of the St. Sebastian River. The preserve short paddle up river. Or you can enter the preserve by vehicle from Fellsmere. Mountain bikers, equestrians and hikers should use the Fellsmere entrance to enjoy 60 miles of rough, multi-use trails. There is a manatee observation deck in Fellsmere. Many different species of birds use the preserve during spring and fall migration, including the swallow-tailed kite, various songbirds, hawks, hummingbirds and robins. Read more: Roughing it: St. Sebastian River Preserve
St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park, 1000 Buffer Preserve Drive, Fellsmere FL 32948. Open 8 a.m. to sunset, 365 days a year. Phone: 321-953-5005.
The aerial photographs on this page were provided to Florida Rambler courtesy the photographer John Massung.
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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.