Last updated on May 1st, 2022 at 07:31 pm
Long before there was a word glamping (glamor + camping), I sought out ways to stay in a wild or natural setting without too much suffering. You know what I mean – the discomfort of water seeping into your tent, the annoyance of mosquitos being the most enthusiastic diners at your campfire feast.
My solution? Cabins in state parks.
But now glamping in Florida is an increasingly popular solution to those problems and, for some, it provides the perfect blend of being in the wild and being comfortable. These glamping facilities offer large furnished tents, with beds and linens instead of sleeping bags, rugs, lighting and, in many cases, air conditioning and heating.
Glamping has popped up in four state parks, and they are among my favorites – Lake Louisa State Park near Orlando, Lake Kissimmee State Park in Lake Wales, Topsail Hill State Park in the Panhandle and Hillsborough State Park in Tampa.
In addition, glamping has been offered for more than two years at Everglades National Park at its remote outpost on Florida Bay, Flamingo.
Also jumping on the glamping bandwagon are some commercial establishments – Coldwater Gardens in the Panhandle and Westgate River Ranch between Lake Wales and Yeehaw Junction.
Glamping in Florida: Not cheap but it makes great photos
One thing that struck me about this glamping phenomenon is that people often pay more to glamp than to stay in a comfortable two-bedroom kitchen-equipped cabin at the same state park.
The 17 cabins at Lake Louisa State Park, for example, are as a nice as you’ll find – huge screen porches, views overlooking a lake, fire pits nearby for campfires. They cost $120 a night and have two bedrooms and two bathrooms.
Luxury glamping in Lake Louisa State Park? It’s $130 a night for a fancy tent and a bathroom you walk outside to reach.
When I asked one of the staff members at Fancy Camps in Topsail Hill State Park who is the market for glamping, I expected him to describe a demographic. Maybe people who want to try out camping but don’t have gear?
But instead he responded immediately: “Instagrammers.”
The joys of glamping in Florida
I don’t fit that demographic, but I have experienced the joys of glamping, which is all about having a memorable outdoor experience.
Twice my husband and I have spent two nights at the eco-tents at Flamingo in Everglades National Park. Other than bring-your-own-gear camping, it’s the only place to stay in the national park, with the nearest town being Florida City, 45 miles away.
These eco-tents provide a beautiful setting for glamping (although flawed, as I will explain later). We loved being surrounded by the sights and sounds of the Everglades and these tents looked like ones in romantic old movies about African safaris. At night, I heard an owl hooting; I would have missed that if I had been in a cabin.
When it drizzled shortly after sunrise, we sat on our covered deck, toasty and dry, sipping our coffee.
What made glamping here so worthwhile was that it was one of the few options to extend our stay in Flamingo, which is very special place.
Four options for glamping in Florida parks
There are four parks in Florida that offer glamping, and I suspect that number will grow as the companies that run the snack bars and boat-rental businesses in state parks become convinced it’s a way to increase revenue. A state park spokesperson said glamping is not a statewide initiative but rather is a service offered through partnerships with concessionaires.
Glamping at Lake Louisa State Park in Clermont near Orlando
Lake Louisa State Park is close to the Orlando theme parks, but feels remote and wild. It’s a landscape of rolling sand hills, lush cypress swamps and miles of pine forests dotted with lakes. Here’s a Florida Rambler guide to Lake Louisa State Park.
The luxury glamping tents here have queen size beds with linens, a heating and cooling unit, electricity, a coffee maker, a chandelier and other amenities. You can add two twin air mattresses for an additional fee. There’s a bathhouse with toilets and hot showers a short walk away. The luxury tents are $130 a night.
Lower-priced eco-tents are located in a separate quieter location and do not offer an electrical connection. Here, the lighting is solar-powered and you are equipped with a single burner propane coffee station, a bottled water dispenser and one queen bed with linens. You can add two twin air mattresses for a fee. Portable toilets are nearby; the bathhouse is a half mile walk. Eco-tents are $95 a night.
You book these sites at the concessionaire’s glamping website rather than the state’s reservation website.
Glamping at Topsail Hill State Park in Santa Rosa Beach in Panhandle
This Panhandle park has spectacular untouched 25-foot dunes, three miles of perfect white sand beach and 15 miles of hiking trails. It preserves a rare complete dune ecosystem with freshwater coastal dune lakes, pine forests and cypress swamps. Here’s a Florida Rambler guide to Topsail Hill State Park.
The company that has the camp store and kayak concession at Topsail Hill also operates Fancy Camps where, for $130 a night, you can stay in a fully outfitted tent with a queen bed, linens, rugs, lamps and even portable air conditioners or heaters.
The glamping area is adjacent to the tent camping loop and overlooks a field where deer graze some mornings and evenings.
When we visited in November (staying in the terrific park cabins) we were told weekends in the glamping tents were booked weeks in advance.
Glamping at Lake Kissimmee State Park in Lakes Wales, Central Florida
Located on the rural Lake Wales Ridge distant from urban population centers, this state park is vast, scenic and full of wildlife. You can hike or kayak for miles, fish in Lake Kissimmee or connecting lakes and visit the weekend living history exhibit of the 1870s “cow camp” complete with cracker cows and costumed “cow hunters.” Here’s a Florida Rambler guide to Lake Kissimmee State Park.
Lake Kissimmee is a remote location and there are no cabins in the park, so here, a night glamping is the only alternative to camping. But be prepared to pay for the privilege, with their luxury tent experience priced at $210 a night for two.
With a queen bed, linens, electricity, rugs, chandeliers, a K-cup coffee maker and a heating/cooling unit, these 100-square-foot “pioneer tents” check all the luxury boxes.
The glamping tents are adjacent to the family campground and share the bath house a short walk away.
Glamping at Hillsborough River State Park near Tampa
Hillsborough River State Park has so much going for it, and now it offers glamping too. (Here’s a Florida Rambler story on Hillsborough River State Park.)
A glamping operation opened in 2022 with six luxury tents. The park has kayaking, hiking, biking and a humongous swimming pool. Its Class II rapids are rare for Florida; its extensive area brings a wilderness feel close to an urban area.
Glamping comes via Timberline Glamping, a company that started with locations in the Georgia mountains and which now franchises glamping operations elsewhere, including at Hillsborough River State Park.
Prices range from $150 to $175, depending on tent setup and date. (Be aware: there is also a $60 cleaning fee per site.)
The tent setup comes with floor, rugs, beds, lamps, comforters, chairs, a heating and air conditioning unit, electricity outlets for charging devices, Keurig coffee maker and a mini fridge.
Glamping at Flamingo in Everglades National Park
Flamingo, located on the end of the road through Everglades National Park, is so far from everything else that it is hard to experience it without an overnight stay, but not everybody is equipped to camp or desires to. Motel rooms and cabins were once located here, but were destroyed in Hurricane Wilma in 2005.
The eco-tents were added in 2019, the first phase of the concessionaire’s re-development of Flamingo, which will include new cabins and a restaurant opening in 2022.
These eco-tents have a stunning location overlooking the birds and beauty of Florida Bay. The spacious tents are bigger than most others (186 square feet) and have the advantage of being built on platforms connected by a walkway embedded with soft solar lights. Tents have queen beds or two double beds, linens, electricity, a fan and covered porch decks. They are beauties! (They do not offer any heating or cooling units and are not kitted out with luxury touches like chandeliers.)
Where they fall short is in the bath house and the provisions for food. The bath house is a bit of a walk and when you get there, it’s not particularly glamorous. The eco-tents do not have a picnic table and grill nearby. The only place to prepare your food is near the parking area and bath house, where there is a cluster of tables and grills far from the eco-tents.
The only other alternative for dining is a camp store and food truck a mile away, which closes at 5 p.m. Cooking or keeping food in the tents is forbidden.
Still, if you accept those limitations and prepare you food at the picnic area, this can be a spectacular base. I may be a critic, but my husband and I have stayed here twice! Here’s my Florida Rambler report on staying in eco-tents in Flamingo.
For the winter season, the eco-tents are $95 a night. From May 1 to Nov. 1, the tents are available without furnishings for $50 a night. Camping and eco-tent reservations in the Everglades.
Glamping in Florida at locations other than parks
Glamping operations are popping up at many commercial campground and cabin operations.
Here are two to check out:
- Coldwater Gardens in Milton in a beautiful section of the Florida Panhandle is an eco-resort with cottages as well as glamping tents. (Tripadvisor reviews are very positive.) Glamping is $85-$95 a night. Here’s a Florida Rambler story on Milton, FL. Coldwater Gardens is located an hour north of Pensacola.
- Westgate River Ranch in a rural area in Central Florida near Lake Kissimmee State Park has gotten into glamping in a big way. The dude ranch offers stays in Conestoga wagons and luxury tee pees, with private bathrooms with showers. Glamping tents come in two grades – regular and luxury. Be prepared for luxury prices, too: The “regular” glamping starts at $279. Conestoga wagons? $859 a night. Westgate is located an hour west of Vero Beach and two hours east of Tampa.
Looking for places to stay in nature in Florida?
- We love Florida State Park cabins. There are 19 parks with cabins and I’ve stayed in most of them. Here’s a rundown of cabins, which vary park to park.
- Bring-your-own-stuff camping is the traditional way to be in the wild, and Florida Rambler covers many varieties in its camping section here.
- We also recommend a variety of cabins and historic lodges, hotels and cabins not operated by Florida State Parks in our unique-lodging-and-cabin section.
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The author, Bonnie Gross, travels with her husband David Blasco, discovering off-the-beaten path places to hike, kayak, bike, swim and explore. Florida Rambler was founded in 2010 by Bonnie and fellow journalist Bob Rountree, two long-time Florida residents who have spent decades exploring the Florida outdoors. Their articles have been published in the Sun Sentinel, the Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel, The Guardian and Visit Florida.