Editors Note: Due to damage as a result of Hurricane Ian, state park campgrounds along I-75 south of Tampa Bay are closed until further notice. See notes below for individual parks.
Each of these Florida State Parks campgrounds near Interstate 75 offers a unique experience, aside from outstanding outdoor recreation like kayaking, hiking and bicycle paths.
Perhaps you want to learn about life in an oddball cult, or hike into a wide-open prairie where the buffalo roam. Really! Two parks in this roundup take you way down upon the Suwannee River and “those old folks at home.”
Cool clear springs offer swimming at some on this list, and one park even features a disappearing river and mysterious lakes.
Reservations are recommended for all of these parks, but a small number of sites are set aside for drop-ins.
I-75 North of Tampa
For Florida State Park campgrounds near Interstate 95 (Atlantic coast) read this article.
Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park
Exit 439 @ White Springs (4.2 miles from I-75)
Way down upon the Suwannee River, just 4.2 miles from I-75, you’ll find this historic state park memorializing American composer Stephen Foster, who never actually saw the Suwannee River. The museum features exhibits and a 97-bell carillon that plays Foster’s music throughout the day.
Hiking, bicycling, canoeing and kayaking are popular here, all near the campground’s 45 oak-shaded sites with electricity, water, picnic table and fire ring. All campsites are ADA accessible.
Two ADA accessible restrooms with showers are located within the campground. A dump station is available. Pets are welcome. (Maximum RV length is 45 feet.)
Related article: Stephen Foster State Park: Glorious Suwannee river
Suwannee River State Park
Exit 460 @ Live Oak (17 miles from I-75)
Deep inland at the junction of the Withlacoochee and Suwannee Rivers, this Florida State Park might surprise you with its maritime history as a shipping route and for its shoreline Civil War defenses.
HIking historic trails, off-road cycling and paddling on the river all add up to a fabulous destination for outdoor things to do.
The park’s 30 campsites that can accommodate tents and RVs. Each campsite has a picnic table, grill, clothesline, 50 amp electric service, water and sewer hook-ups.
An accessible restroom with showers is centrally located in the campground. Pets are welcome. Firewood and ice are available for sale on-site. (Maximum RV length is 45 feet)
Related article: Suwannee River State Park at the center of adventure
O’Leno State Park
Exit 414 @ High Springs (8 miles from I-75)
This scenic Florida State Park is situated along the banks of the Santa Fe River, one of the best paddling destinations in Florida, and there are miles of hiking, bicycling and nature trails, one of which takes you to the point where the river disappears underground.
Another trail takes you through mysterious woods with “lakes” that pop up out of nowhere, but actually are part of an underground river system, or so it is believed.
O’Leno State Park is one of Florida’s original state parks, developed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
O’Leno has two camping loops with 61 campsites, each with water, electric, in-ground grill, picnic table and a centrally located restroom in each camping area. A dump station and dumpsters on site. Pets are allowed within the two campground loops but not in the swimming area, river, youth camps or buildings. (Maximum RV length is 50 feet.)
Paynes Prairie State Park
Exit 374 @ Micanopy (2 miles from I-75)
Paynes Prairie Preserve is a vast Everglades-like savannah, a fabulous destination for hiking, biking, camping and particularly wildlife viewing.
Roaming the prairie, within range of hikers, are wild horses, descendants of those brought to Florida by the Spanish, and bison, re-introduced here in 1975. Bison actually lived here when Spanish explorers arrived.
The heavily shaded campground is near Lake Wauburg and it accommodates tents, trailers or RVs (back in). There’s a short walk from the parking area to the tent sites. Each tent site has a lantern post, fire ring with grill and picnic table with shared water and electric service.
All of the RV sites have either 30-amp or 50-amp electric service and water hookups, and a dump station is located in the campground. The campground has ADA restroom facilities with hot showers.
Related article: Visit Old Florida in Micanopy FL
Silver Springs State Park
Exit 358 @ Ocala (15 miles from I-75)
There are no rivers to kayak in Florida with more history, beauty and unusual wildlife than Silver Springs and the Silver River.
Silver Springs was Florida’s first tourist attraction (dating to the 1820s!), and it is one of the largest artesian springs in the world. And where else can you paddle past troops of wild monkeys?
Glass-bottom boats were introduced to Silver Springs and the Silver River in the 1870s, propelling this to a major tourist destination in the early 1900s. The glass-bottom boats are still there and continue to offer awesome views of underwater wildlife.
The park also has 15 miles of hiking trails, equestrian and off-road bicycle trails, weaving through 10 distinct natural habitats
The campground has 9 cabins and 59 RV/tent sites, and each site has water and electric hook-ups with 30-amp or 50-amp service. All sites have fire ring, a barbecue grill and a picnic table. A dump station is nearby. Sites 20 and 53 are wheelchair accessible. Pets are allowed in the campground but not in cabins. (Maximum RV length is 50 feet)
Rainbow Springs State Park
Exit 352 @ Dunnellon (18 miles from I-75)
Florida’s fourth-largest spring, Rainbow Spring and the Rainbow River has been a draw to humans for thousands of years. Today, it is a popular Florida State Park for swimming, snorkeling, canoeing, kayaking and tubing.
The park has a 60-site campground with full hookups about 1-½ miles downstream from the main headspring and day-use area. Campers can launch their own canoes or kayaks on the river near their campsites, or rent them at the concession at the headspring for the 5.6-mile paddle along the Rainbow River to the Withlacoochee River at Dunnellon.
All sites have water, 20-, 30-, and 50-amp electric and sewer hook-ups with ADA accessible restrooms. A dump station is located between the upper and lower campgrounds. Amenities include a campground store, laundry facilities, recreation hall, showers and restrooms, laundry, (Maximum RV length is 40 feet.)
Related article: Rainbow River: Pure spring water makes kayaking, tubing tops
Hillsborough River State Park
Exit 266 Thonotassa (16 miles from I-75)
There is a sense of history in the air when camping in the forest at Hillsborough River State Park, a sprawling safe haven for birds and other wildlife on 2,990 acres near Tampa.
It was here, a strategic river crossing, where native Seminole Indians held the line in their battle for survival against the invaders. That was us.
Today, you can fish and paddle the river, enjoy seven miles of nature trails without fear of attack, and bicycles are permitted on the 2.2-mile park road and the 1.6-mile Wetlands Restoration Trail.
Hillsborough River State Park has 112 sites with water, electric, picnic tables and fire ring. There are no hookups for sewer, but there is a dump station. The sites are spacious and shady, although ground vegetation is sparse between some sites.
I-75 South of Tampa
For the Best Camping near Tampa, read this article.
Little Manatee River State Park
Exit 240 Ruskin (8 miles from I-75)
This is a big state park — 2,416 acres — full of great recreation opportunities and home to a beautiful, secluded campground shaded by live oaks and pines in a mature forest.
The Little Manatee River offers days of kayaking opportunities along a pristine river with clear water, a white sandy bottom and shaded banks. Rent kayaks inside the park for short out-and-back paddles, or you can use the services of an outfitter adjacent to the park, who will provide livery service for three different segments of this gorgeous river, ranging from challenging all-day paddles to an easy three-hour float.
The campground has 34 campsites with full hookups. There are also equestrian campsites available and a primitive backpacking campsite ($5 per person), which entails a 2.5-mile hike. The primitive site has a picnic table and fire ring.
Lake Manatee State Park
Exit 220 Bradenton (8.4 miles from I-75)
Don’t look for manatees here. They can’t get past the dam that formed this 2,400-acre reservoir. But you can fish here in a kayak, canoe or small motorboat (under 20 hp).
There’s a freshwater swimming beach with cool, clean water and three miles of lakefront to explore at this Florida State Park. Round out your outdoor fun with bicycle trails, on- and off-road, and four and a half-miles of hiking trails. Canoe, kayak and bicycle rentals are available.
The campground is a short distance away from the beach. All 60 sites have water and electric (30-amp) hookups.
Myakka State Park
Exit 205 Sarasota — 8.5 miles from I-75
Myakka River State Park sustained extensive wind and water damage from Hurricane Ian and will be closed to the public until further notice.
One of Florida’s oldest and largest state parks, Myakka River State Park has three campgrounds with a total of 90 sites.
Every site has water hookups and 50 amp electric service, and the 38 sites in the new Palmetto Ridge campground have sewer hookups. A dump station is available. Sites in all three campgrounds have fire rings and picnic tables.
The park is paradise for cyclists and paddlers, not to mention hikers and wildlife observation. I was amazed how close I could get to a red-shouldered hawk sitting quietly in a tree.
There are seven miles of paved park roads and backcountry dirt roads that wind through backwoods habitats. Canoe or kayak on a large lake or down the wild and scenic Myakka River.
Related article: Playland on the prairie
Oscar Scherer State Park
Exit 200 Nokomis (5.6 miles off I-75)
Hurricane Ian: Campground is closed, although the rest of the park has re-opened.
Tucked behind Sarasota’s urban sprawl along Tamiami Trail is this hidden gem, a 1400-acre wilderness with paddle trails for canoe and kayak, a freshwater swimming lake and 15 miles of off-road trails for hikers and mountain bikes.
The park is also a trailhead for the multi-use Legacy Trail, which stretches 11 miles along an old railroad bed linking Venice to Sarasota and popular with bicyclists.
For birders, Oscar Scherer State Park is home of the Florida scrub jay, a threatened species increasingly rare as its natural scrub habitat disappears.
Oscar Scherer also happens to be one of my favorite campgrounds, shady and quiet, with dense vegetation offering privacy, protection from the elements and ample canopy to protect you from Florida’s intense sun.
Half of Oscar Scherer’s 98 sites (Nos. 1 through 20 and 68 through 98) are on the banks of South Creek, which spills into the Intracoastal Waterway. Campers are encouraged to launch kayaks and canoes into the creek from the nearby launch ramp and not from their campsites, where the delicate creek banks are subject to erosion.
Five bath houses with showers are located in the center of the campground loop, convenient to all campsites.
Related article: Oscar Scherer State Park a wild oasis amid urban sprawl
Koreshan State Historic Site
Exit 123 Estero (2.4 miles from I-75)
Hurricane Ian: Park has re-opened but campground, boat launch and picnic areas are closed.
Bonnie likes to quote an old newsroom idiom: Take any wacko story in the country and, sooner or later, it will involve somebody from Florida. At the Koreshan State Historic Site, wacky has been preserved.
In 1894, this park was home to a cult that moved here from Chicago and created a commune: “The Koreshan Unity believed that the entire universe existed within a giant, hollow sphere.”
Their bubble is yours to explore: Hike and bike park trails, tour 11 historic buildings, or paddle the Estero River, which runs through the park. Paddle down to Estero Bay. Cross the bay, and you’re at Lovers Key. Veer north and you’ll paddle into Mound Key Archeological State Park and Estero Bay Preserve State Park.
Koreshan features 60 campsites, all with electricity and water, a picnic table and fire ring. Twelve sites are designated tent camping only and are located next to the Estero River. Sites are buffered with vegetation for privacy.
Related article: Koreshan State Park preserves wacky Florida history
Collier-Seminole State Park
Exit 101 Naples (17 miles from I-75)
Due to Hurricane Ian, the park is CLOSED until further notice.
This comfortable and well-equipped state park campground at the edge of the Everglades has 105 sites, 86 for RVs or tents and 19 tent-only, all of which have hookups for water and electric. There are restrooms, picnic areas and off-road bike/hiking trails.
Bring your kayak or canoe for access to backcountry trails and the Ten Thousand Islands, and its popular off-road bicycle trail plies a 3.5-mile course through marsh, hammock and pine flatwoods.
The park features one of the original dredges used to build the Tamiami Trail through the Everglades, an amazing feat of engineering that took 13 years in sweltering heat and clouds of mosquitoes.
Notes from the editor:
The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning visits.
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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.