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12 heavenly campgrounds for stargazing in Florida

The most heavenly campgrounds for stargazing in Florida have dark skies in lonely places, well away from the ambient light of populated areas, and it’s a better experience if you can camp overnight under the stars.

Skies are darkest with the “new moon,” which actually means no moonglow. When the moon is not visible, you experience the darkest skies, allowing the galaxies to shine.

No matter the moon’s phase, a near-dark sky can be achieved by timing your observations between lunar appearances, between moonsets and the moonrise. Maybe not enough for serious amateur astronomers, but probably enough for casual stargazers.


12 campgrounds for stargazing in Florida

There are two parks in Florida boasting certification as “dark sky parks” by the International Dark Sky Association: Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, about 30 miles north of Lake Okeechobee, and the Big Cypress National Preserve, adjacent to Everglades National Park.

Certification aside, Florida is blessed with millions of acres of wilderness and remote reaches with dark skies. Our list focuses on dark skies where you can camp.


Night Sky Map. This link will take you to www.timeanddate.com/astronomy/night/ where today’s map of your local night sky will be displayed with viewing times for visible planets and constellations, depending on your web browser’s location settings.

Final New Moon of 2023: Dec. 12


2024 New Moons for darkest skies

January 11, 2024New Snow Moon
February 9, 2024New Worm Moon
March 10, 2024New Pink Moon
April 8, 2024New Flower Moon
May 7, 2024New Strawberry Moon
June 6, 2024New Buck Moon
July 5, 2024New Sturgeon Moon
August 4, 2024New Blue Moon
September 2, 2024New Harvest Moon
October 2, 2024New Hunter’s Moon
November 1, 2024New Beaver Moon
December 30, 2024New Cold Moon

Stargazing in Central Florida

Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park (A Dark Sky Park)

stargazing in florida dark skies at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park
The night sky in the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve is ideal for stargazing. (Photo courtesy Dick Scott, rcscottphotography.com)

With 54,000 acres of prairie surrounded by vast cattle ranches and almost 30 miles from the nearest town, suburban light pollution does not exist, making the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve an ideal campground for stargazing.

If you’re not camping, you need a permit to enter the park after it closes at sunset. (Phone: (863) 462-5360 for details.)

Kissimmee Prairie’s three campgrounds are clustered in the middle of the park. The family campground has 16 RV/tent sites. There are 14 RV sites in the equestrian campground (with unshaded paddocks for the horses), and five astronomy pads for tent campers, known as the “red light district.”

Red lighting at your campsite is the norm in all three campgrounds, a colorful though somewhat eerie scene after nightfall.

Kissimmee Prairie Preserve was recognized as Florida’s first “Dark Sky Place” by International Dark Sky Association in 2016.

Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, 33104 N.W. 192nd Ave., Okeechobee FL 34972. Phone: 863-462-5360. For campground reservations up to 11 months in advance, go to reserve.floridastateparks.org

Read more about Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park


Withlacoochee River Park

A favorite of the St. Petersburg Astronomy Club, Withlacoochee River Park in Pasco County is a popular destination for stargazers and photographers. Around the new moon, expect plenty of activity in the park’s Activity Field. On February’s New Moon, the club reserves the entire park for its Annual Star Party.

All 15 RV sites have water and electric hookups (dump station nearby). Nightly rate is $25. There are 7 primitive tent sites with vehicle parking, no hookups, for $15/night, and another 8 hike-in sites. The park also has two primitive cabins ($40/night).

When making campground reservations at one of the 23 sites, check first with park rangers at (352) 567-0264 to see if the Activity Field is booked. The field is reserved for astronomy viewing on New Moon Weekends. Reservations are not necessary unless you’re booking a campsite.

Withlacoochee River Park, 12449 Withlacoochee Blvd
Dade City, FL 33525-1014. Phone: 352-567-0264. Reserve your site online at PascoCountyFL.net or in person at park office with cash or check (no credit cards). Campers must be registered and set up prior to closing time, which changes with the season.

Read more about Kayaking on the Withlachoochee River


Ocala National Forest, Hopkins Prairie Campground

An island of shady oaks amid sweeping grasslands, the Hopkins Prairie Campground is a seasonal destination for campers looking to get off the beaten path. Hopkins Prairie sits along the Florida Trail with fishing and birding along miles of prairie shoreline.

All 21 sites are well-shaded in an oak hammock surrounded by grasslands, affording most sites a view of the prairie and phenomenal views of the night sky. The campground has vault toilets and a shared hand pump for drinking water.

Hopkins Prairie Campground is open seasonally from October through June for $12 per night (cash), and no reservations are required.

Another excellent option is the Farles Prairie Recreation Area, but there’s no campground, just dispersed camping outside its perimeter. Hikers pitch tents along trails outside the recreation area, along the rim overlooking the prairie or the lake.

While Hopkins Prairies and Farles Prairie are recognized as a prime stargazing sites for amateur astronomers and photographers, you can hardly go wrong anywhere in the forest with a clear view of the sky.

Ocala National Forest, Hopkins Prairie Campground. GPS Coordinates Latitude: 29° 4′ 44.0000″ N | Longitude: 81° 34′ 48.0000″ W. The campground is managed by Adventure Ocala.

Read more about Camping in Ocala National Forest


Chiefland Astronomy Village

& Manatee Springs State Park

chiefland astronomy village
Cygnus constellation of the Milky Way, photographed from Chiefland Astronomy Village in January 2023. (Photo courtesy Jay Rosen / Astro Aperture)

Stargazing events have long been held at the Chiefland Astronomical Village, a few miles south of Manatee Springs State Park, leading the International Dark Sky Association to encourage Manatee Springs State Park to apply for recognition as a Dark Sky Park.

Chiefland Astronomical Village is a privately owned dark-sky site in northwest Florida. The observation field is open 365 days a year to members, who pay a $30 fee for annual membership. Camping is permitted with a donation of $15 per night for tents and $30 for RV’s with a 30-amp hookup. Red lighting is mandatory when camping here.

Every month around the new moon, a three-day star party is held in the open field with a Spring Picnic on the new moon in April (April 26, 2023) and Fall Astrofest on the new moon in November.

For contact information, membership and payment details, go to Google Docs.

If you’re looking for less-restrictive alternatives (red lights not required) with more recreational options, book a campsite at Manatee Springs State Park on the Suwannee River, offering kayaking and canoeing and other boating options. This state park also has a developed swimming area, 8.5 miles of nature trails, and a connector to the 32-mile Nature Coast State Trail for bicycles.

During the cooler months, manatees can be seen snuggling up to the spring run.

Manatee Springs State Park has 80 woodsy, well-spaced campsites, some just for tent campers, some for RVs, with electric and water at each site. Sites are $20 per night plus a one-time booking fee of $6.70. As of March 2023, utilities were still included in the base rate. However, this is may change. Other state parks are already adding a $7 daily utility fee.

Read more about Manatee Springs and nearby Fanning Springs

Chiefland Astronomy Village,  5310 NW 52 Ct, Chiefland, FL 32626. Contact:  [email protected]

Manatee Springs is 14 miles from Chiefland Astronomy Village. | Map with directions

Manatee Springs State Park, 11650 N.W. 115 St., Chiefland FL 32626. Phone: (352) 493-6072. Reserve campsites up to 11 months in advance at reserve.floridastateparks.org


Interactive Moon Phases. This link will take you to www.timeanddate.com/moon/phases/ where you will see charts of moon phases for your location (the default). You will also have an option to enter other locations.


Stargazing in North Florida

St. George Island State Park

st george island state park stargazing dark skies
St. George Island State Park has applied for status as a Dark Sky Park. (Photo courtesy Florida State Parks)

St. George Island is a barrier island protecting Apalachicola Bay, and the campground at St. George Island State Park is all the way at the island’s eastern end, a healthy distance from the island’s population and off a barren coast.

No lights here, except the campfires, and you can get away from them by crossing the dunes to the beach, where the heavens shine with abandon after sunset.

“The park offers the best viewing of the night sky in the region,” according to the park’s web site, “and staff are working toward a designation as a Dark Sky park with the International Dark Sky Association.”

An observation platform built by volunteers is perfect for stargazing, but you can find a good spot almost anywhere on this pristine, dune-wrapped beach.

The campground has 60 sites with water and 50-amp electric. Nightly rate is $24 plus a daily $7 utility fee and a one-time $6.70 booking fee. Max trailer length is 43 feet.

St. George Island State Park, 1900 E. Gulf Beach Drive, St. George Island FL 32328. Phone: 850-927-2111. Book campground reservations online at reserve.floridastateparks.org

Read more about St. George Island


Ochlockonee River State Park

Ochlockonee River State Park
Wide open skies at Ochlockonee River State Park (CC 3.0) Photo by Ebyabe.

Isolated by surrounding forests and significant wildlife refuges, Ochlockonee River State Park anchors the middle of a desolate wilderness corner of the Panhandle free of light pollution, about 45 miles south of Tallahassee.

Buffered against civilization by the Apalachicola National Forest, the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge and Tate’s Hell State Forest, Ochlockonee not only offers the ideal night sky for stargazing, but it’s also a magnet for migrating wildlife.

Recreation opportunities include camping, boating and fishing, kayak and canoe trails, bicycling and hiking on multi-use trails. It’s also a notable birding destination.

The campground has 30 sites with 50-amp electric, water hookups, fire ring, picnic table and clothesline. No sewer hookups, but a dump station is nearby, along with restrooms with hot showers, an outside sink for washing dishes, and water fountains.

Ochlockonee River State Park, 429 State Park Road, Sopchoppy FL 32358. For reservations, visit the Florida State Parks reservations website or call 800-326-3521 or TDD 888-433-0287.

Related Story: St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge


Torreya State Park

Campground observation deck at Torreya State Park
Campground observation deck provides stunning views of the Apalachicola River Valley, making it ideal for observing the stars at night. (Photo by Bob Rountree)

Your campsite is closer to the sky at Torreya State Park, where the campground rises on a high bluff above the Apalachicola River, a seemingly endless view in the daytime, and a grand stage for the northern sky at night.

I felt like I was in another place and time when I camped there.

An added bonus, you are in what some say is the real Garden of Eden. Other legends have it where the world’s wildlife boarded Noah’s Ark. Or you can just chalk all that talk up to Florida Tourism.

Any way you cut it, Torreya State Park is a premier destination for stargazers. The nearest town of any consequence is Bristol, population 845, about 14 miles away. Most everything else around the park’s bluff is dense forest.

The park’s 29 campsites are well-suited for both tents and recreation vehicles, and there’s a yurt available for nightly rentals of $40. Full facility campsites are $16 a night plus a daily $7 utility fee, tax and a one-time $6.70 reservation fee.

Torreya State Park, 2576 N.W. Torreya Park Road, Bristol FL 32321. Phone: 850-643-2674. Book your campground reservations up to 11 months in advance online at reserve.floridastateparks.org.

Read more about Torreya State Park


International Dark Sky Week is celebrated April 15-23, 2023.

Stargazing in Florida’s Big Bend

Shell Mound Boat Ramp, Levy County

Shell Mound Campground at Cedar Key
Shell Mound Campground (Photo by Bob Rountree)

The Shell Mound Boat Ramp is in a remote corner of Levy County, overlooking desolate and dark Suwannee Bay. Campers there are most likely anglers, but the new moon is not prime time for fishing, so you will probably encounter fellow stargazers.

Should you get a high tide during a new moon, you can kayak out from the ramp a bit for a clearer view of the night sky. Just don’t get lost in the flats of the bay. Low tide is a bit risky, given the frequent shoals and shallow waters on the flats.

Water and electric sites for two people are $25, electric-only sites are $20 and tent sites are $10, including tax. Cash only. No reservations. Cedar Key is the closest town, about 9 miles.

Shell Mound Campground, 17650 SW 78th Place, Cedar Key, FL 32625. Phone: (352) 221-4466. No reservations required.

Related story: Shell Mound and other camping near Cedar Key


Shired Island, Dixie County

stargazing shired island 2 12 heavenly campgrounds for stargazing in Florida
Shired Island. (Photo by Marc Barrison (CC-By-SA 2.0 Some Rights reserved)

Another favorite for dark sky enthusiasts, Shired Island, is deep in the isolated saltwater marshes of Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge on Florida’s Big Bend. A short hike from the campground or paddle off-shore, for the best views of the night sky.

The campground offers 12 hookup spots for RV’ers, with or without electricity, first come, first served. Tent campers are welcome. No reservations. An employee of the parks department comes around to collect the $20 camping fee in the morning.

Weekdays are best. The local party crowd arrives on weekends for a bit of backcountry carousing.

Shired Island Park Campground, 21354 County Rd 349, Old Town, FL 32680.


Stargazing in South Florida

Big Cypress National Preserve (A Dark Sky Park)

stargazing bigcypress stars dougdietrch 1 12 heavenly campgrounds for stargazing in Florida
The Milky Way, as seen from the Big Cypress Preserve. (Photo courtesy Doug Dietrich. All rights reserved.)

Big Cypress National Preserve is a wilderness. Arguably, any of its 5 campgrounds are ideal for experiencing dark skies on the new moon.

“The Preserve is bordered by the wet freshwater prairie of Everglades National Park to the south, and other federal and State of Florida lands to the west,” the association notes in its designation.

The two campgrounds I recommend for the best stargazing are Midway (open all year) and Burns Lake (seasonal).

Midway Campground. (Open all year) The Midway Campground is the most developed Big Cypress campground with water, electric hookups and restrooms. The 26 RV sites with electric are $30/night, and the 10 tent sites are $24/night. Midway is 3 miles from the visitor center, where stargazing events are held monthly from December until March.

Burns Lake Campground (Seasonal). Burns Lake has 10 RV and five tent sites,. The campground is only open from Aug. 15 until April 15. There are no electric hookups (no lights) and no water, so bring your own everything. The sites are out in the open with plenty of separation, making it an ideal bivouac for stargazing. Burns Lake is 13 miles from the visitor center.

From December until March, park rangers host monthly Starpark events at the Kirby Storter Nathaniel P. Reed Visitor Center, southern end of Seagrape Drive, east of SR 29 between MM 73 and 74 on US 41.

Read more about Camping in the Big Cypress National Preserve


Dry Tortugas National Park

fort jefferson stars dry tortugas stargazing
A thousand stars in your eyes at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas. (Photo by Gabe Usry)

The skies don’t get much darker in Florida than the Dry Tortugas, a remote island 70 miles west of Key West, but getting out there for an overnight camp could be a challenge.

The trick is nailing a reservation for the 2 1/2-hour ferry ride aboard the Yankee Freedom, which was already booked booked solid through April 2024 when we checked in February 2023.

Your best bet is to check the ferry’s availability calendar frequently for cancellations. We found occasional one-night openings, but none lined up with the new moon calendar. (See the calendar below for 2024 new moons). That’s not to say the skies don’t sparkle outside the new moon.

The fare for the ferry is $220 round trip ($240 if you bring a kayak) and includes park admission but not the $15 nightly camping fee (2023), which you pay in cash when you arrive (exact change required). You must bring everything with you, including water, and you have to carry out everything you bring.

For details, visit Dry Tortugas National Park web site

Read more about Camping at the Dry Tortugas National Park



Stargazing like a Pro (Video)

Stargazing video courtesy South Florida PBS.

Helpful Hints: Red Light Camping

"Red light" campers in the family campground.
“Red light” campers at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve. (Photo by Bob Rountree)

In order to see faint stars, our eyes needs to adapt to darkness, and white light interferes with your night sight. Red lighting preserves night vision and complements night-sky photography.

Amateur astronomers use red lighting at their campsites and on astronomy pads to mitigate light pollution, leaving enough light to see without disrupting the experience.

Wildlife observation is another benefit of red lighting because it doesn’t alarm animals.

As a courtesy to others and to enhance your own stargazing experience, especially in the days before and after a new moon, add red lighting to your camping gear.

Red lighting gear for astronomy camping

Lanterns

Flashlights

Note: Product links go to Amazon. If you make a purchase by following the above links, Florida Rambler may receive a modest commission, which helps support our mission to bring you quality content about outdoor recreation in Florida.


Dark Sky behavior

You don’t just roll up to a star party with your headlights on and radio blaring. Arrive early and quietly to set up your chairs, your cameras and telescopes. Camp there if you can — with red lighting in your gear box.

Of course, you can experience dark skies in other places besides the campgrounds we have described in this article. You might want to try tent camping on dozens of starlit islands in Florida.



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