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With a plethora of camping choices in this beautiful state, here’s a take on the best of the best.
By Brett Ballantini - Friday, September 30, 2016
With more than 160 state parks in Florida, there’s no definitive list of camping hot spots. And because the state boasts one of the best park systems in the country, you truly can’t go wrong camping in any of those locations. However, our informal survey yielded these as the hottest spots to pitch a tent and take in nature.
Anastasia State Park
Anastasia boasts four miles of pristine beach and incredible canoeing, kayaking, surfing and fishing. Paddlers can navigate the park’s tidal salt marsh (Salt Run), while hikers can explore a nicely shaded nature trail. To catch your breath afterward, stand anywhere near the middle of the beach and it seems like the surf and sand run on forever.
Bahia Honda State Park
Big Pine Key
This one is a haul (12 miles south of Marathon) but well worth the effort, because when you arrive, you’re in paradise. Undeniably deep blue waters, tropical breezes and endless sunshine could convince campers that they’ve been transported to a Virgin Island getaway—only one with the amenities of two boat ramps and three different campsites. Obviously, the beaches and snorkeling are not only as good as you’ll find in the state but the entire country. The coral reefs off the Keys are accessible, as well.
Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park
Florida’s oldest standing structure, the Cape Florida Light (built in 1825 and reconstructed in 1846) is a highlight. This park was also once a stop on the Underground Railroad. In recreational terms, Cape Florida boasts a mile of sandy Atlantic beachfront. Visitors can bike or kayak, and the seawall along Biscayne Bay provides amazing fishing. Tours of the lighthouse are available, and there are two Cuban restaurants on the grounds as well. Overnight boat camping is available in No Name Harbor.
Blue Spring State Park
Not just a fun campsite, it’s also a designated manatee refuge! Blue Spring is the winter home of a growing number of West Indian manatees. Stretching more than 2,600 acres, Blue Spring also includes the largest spring on the St. John’s River. During designated swimming months, visitors scuba or swim in crystal-clear, 73-degree water. The St. John’s River also offers canoeing, fishing and boating. In addition to a full-facility campground, Blue Spring hosts the historic Thursby House, built in 1872, and three covered pavilions for picnicking.
Caladesi Island State Park
Not only is Caladesi Island a spectacular Gulf Coast beach, it’s a rarity in that it has been kept completely natural. Swimming, sunbathing and beachcombing are musts here. Saltwater fishing is available by boat or off shore. Two three-mile trails, one for hikers and another for kayakers, are available. Overnight boat camping is available, and access to the island is only available by boat or ferry.
Cayo Costa State Park
This is a great gulf-view campsite and is only accessible by boat or ferry. Cayo Costa is incredibly private (offering nine miles of deserted beach) and surrounded by water. Tent sites can accommodate up to eight; public restrooms, showers and potable water are available. If you want fishing, kayaking, snorkeling or swimming to be part of your camping experience, you can’t beat Cayo Costa.
Falling Waters State Park
You won’t find many waterfalls in Florida, but you will at Falling Waters: a 73-foot limestone cliff that spills water into a huge sinkhole. (The sinkhole itself is a 100-foot deep, 20-foot wide pit.) The water’s final destination is unknown. Falling Waters also boasts a butterfly garden and offers a lake for swimming. Campsites are nestled among the shady pines of this North Florida getaway.
Florida Caverns State Park
The standout characteristic of Florida Caverns is right there in the name: The park boasts dry (air-filled) caves and is the only park in Florida to offer cave tours. You’ll see limestone stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, draperies and flowstones. Outside of the caves, there’s the Chipola River and Blue Hole Spring to offer boating, canoeing and fishing. Another rarity: Florida Caverns boasts a nine-hole, New Deal-era golf course.
Fort Clinch State Park
The centerpiece of Fort Clinch is its namesake, a well-maintained 19th century U.S. fort. Troops occupied Fort Clinch during the Civil War and the Spanish-American War, although they never saw combat. Unsurprisingly, Fort Clinch is one of the oldest state parks in Florida. The park boasts a six-mile hiking/biking trail as well as superb fishing and swimming. There are two separate campsites, one at the beach and the other near the Amelia River.
Fort De Soto County Park
Fort De Soto is a huge Pinellas County park, boasting 238 campsites and full services. The park is made up of five offshore keys. True to its name, Fort De Soto is a historical park, and on its grounds crossed Spanish explorers, Native Americans and Civil War soldiers. It’s very family-friendly, with washers and dryers, electricity, fresh water, picnic tables and grills, restrooms, showers, and even a camp play area and store. Families can enjoy more than seven miles of waterfront, including sand dunes, nature trails, a paved bike trail, a canoe trail and two fishing piers.
Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area
Not many parks are named after folk singers, but this is one. And at Gamble Rogers, you can enjoy the music of the waters of the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean, which means there are tons of boating options available. The 34-site campground is full-service and abuts the Atlantic Ocean.
Grayton Beach State Park
Santa Rosa Beach
If a magical sunset is an integral part of your camping experience, there’s no better spot in the country than Grayton Beach. But before the sun drops, hit one of the park’s nature trails, taking you through terrain that seems ripped right from a rain forest. There are more than four miles of trails for cyclists and hikers, while hitting the water in a canoe or kayak will lead you to a salt marsh, Western Lake.
Little Manatee River State Park
The Little Manatee River, named an Outstanding Florida Water, runs for four and a half miles through the park, through 11 unique natural communities. The river, and its expertly maintained natural areas, makes Little Manatee a true treasure for nature lovers. The park features the Oxbow Nature Trail for hiking, as well as canoeing and horseback riding options.
Long Key State Park
In Long Key, your tent abuts the Atlantic Ocean itself. There are 60 waterfront campsites, with the ocean as close as 100 feet away. That means you are mere steps from catching a fish for your dinner—you can’t get one fresher than that! Picnic tables and grills are part of each campsite. The highlight of Long Key’s nature trails is a special trail for kayakers that traverses a shallow lagoon.
Ocala National Forest
The southernmost forest in the continental United States is also the world’s largest contiguous sand pine scrub forest, hence the nickname “Big Scrub.” Ocala’s 75-mile portion of the 1,300-mile Florida National Scenic Trail is breathtaking, comprising 360,000 acres on which to hike. More than 600 lakes, rivers and springs are on the property, including three first-magnitude springs in which visitors can dive, snorkel and swim year-round.
Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park
In 1971, Paynes Prairie became the first Florida state preserve and is now a National Natural Landmark. There is an extraordinary variety of animal life at the park, including 270 bird species, wild horses, bison and alligators. Visitors can map out their preferred hiking/horseback riding/bicycling trail (of eight total) from the panoramic view atop a 50-foot high observation tower. Feel free to fish on Lake Wauburg, although gasoline motors are not allowed.
Sebastian Inlet State Park
This Treasure Coast park boasts top-tier fishing and surfing on three miles of beach. Kayaks and canoes can navigate the Indian River Lagoon. Best of all, campsites are mere minutes’ walking distance from the beach.
St. Andrews State Park
Panama City Beach
Despite its lineage as a former military reservation, St. Andrews’ boasts sugar white sands and emerald green waters. Almost two miles of beach can be enjoyed on both the Gulf of Mexico and Grand Lagoon. Obviously, water sports are big here, including canoeing, kayaking, swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving. There are ample opportunities for bird watching and fishing as well.
(800) 233-5140 Ext. 5141
T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park
Another campsite that is also considered a top U.S. beach-going (and bird-watching) destination, T.H. Stone offers double-water access to both the Gulf of Mexico and St. Joseph Bay. The peninsula has recorded sightings of around 250 bird species. T.H. Stone is divided into two areas, totaling 119 campsites: Gulf Breeze (open-air and accommodating to large campers) and Shady Pines (smaller and more secluded).
Torreya State Park
Torreya is named for a rare species of tree that grows on the bluffs along the Apalachicola River. In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps created the park, which is now a great spot for camping, hiking, bird-watching (more than 100 species have been recorded at Torreya) and picnicking. Heavily forested, the park offers 16 miles of hiking trails and 29 campsites.
Particularly in the winter months and on all weekends, each of Florida’s parks may fill to capacity. It’s strongly recommended that visitors call ahead to make campsite reservations.
Once you’ve picked a spot to take in nature, be sure you’ve got the latest camping gear. We’ve got you covered.
BioLite Campstove with Portable Grill
Make fire with a snap of the fingers—and that cooking heat charges the battery pack. Then, the battery pack can charge your USB devices! Talk about a multitasker.
CamelBak All-Clear Bottle
Dirty water gets cleaned in one minute. A USB plug is needed to recharge, but each full charge cleans 80 bottles.
NOAA weather/AM/FM radio with an LED flashlight. Rugged and splash proof, the radio is also capable of charging your other devices using a hand crank or solar panels.
The Quatix ($400) is a wristwatch that provides hands-free navigation with a built-in GPS, compass, thermometer, altimeter and barometer. Connects wirelessly to smartphones and heart rate monitors and can be recharged via USB. And for a GPS that’s nearly a smartphone, get the Monterra($650), with Android and Google Play apps, Wi-Fi, 3-D maps, camera and a touch screen.
JakPak Waterproof Jacket
This do-all jacket converts to a sleeping bag and a tent.
LifeProof Braven BRV-1
These waterproof Bluetooth speakers are built tough for the outdoors.
Lumix TS5 Tough
This camera is dustproof, shockproof, freeze proof and waterproof with Wi-Fi capability to wirelessly transfer content.
Meet Earl Survival Tablet
This multifaceted tablet acts as a GPS, weather sensor, AM/FM/SW/LW radio, Bluetooth 4.0, walkie-talkie (20-mile radius), barometer, thermometer and compass. Plus it’s solar charging and features Android 4.4 technology. The best part? The excellent battery life.
This solar lantern capable of lighting 15 square feet with 80 lumens.
Bagged pressure shower operates by foot pedal, with water warmed by the sun.
Olympus OM-D E-M5
You can’t preserve memories better than with this, a weatherproof camera that takes 1080p video and 16.1- megapixel photos.
A lithium-ion headlamp with a light sensor to automatically shine the amount of light you need for map reading or hiking.
The Sawyer Squeeze is a bagged water filtration system for hikes and climbs.
Sony Digital Reading Binoculars
No mere binoculars with 25x magnification, these also record video in H-D and 3-D modes.
Victorinox Expedition Kit
This 41-function, multi-tool kit features an LED light, thermometer, barometer, altimeter and alarm clock.
This contact headset boasts waterproof earphones and a built-in microphone in case you prefer music to the sounds of nature.
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