The Best Campsites in Central and South Florida
The temperate seasons in Florida, in addition to the plethora of natural settings available, means individuals campgrounds in Central Florida always have something unique to offer. Florida’s focus on tourism allows funding for campsites that other states may not get, meaning both the scenery and the accommodations are equally tempting. Lastly, proximity to popular family attractions make the state one of the best places to go camping. Some of the best are listed below
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Best Campsites in Central Florida
Blue Spring Campground
Blue Spring Campground in Orange City is a designated manatee refuge. Because of the year-round 72-degree weather allowing the Blue Spring Run to be a haven for manatees, water-related activities are closed between Nov. 15 to March 1 each year.
Electricity is available at all campsites, along with grills and access to a bath house, restrooms and a boat ramp. Pets are welcome and both canoes and 2-bedroom cabins are available for rent. The campground offers fishing, hiking on a four mile trail, snorkeling, scuba diving and boat tours in Blue Spring Run and the St. Johns River.
Highlands Hammock State Park
Highlands Hammock State Park in Sebring is one of Florida’s oldest state parks and is best known for its marriage of conveniences (some paved trails, a recreation hall, a restaurant, playgrounds and the Civilian Conservation Corps Museum) with pure nature. Some of the wildlife that can be seen at Highlands Hammock State Park include:white-tail deer, alligators, white ibis, gopher tortoises, Florida scrub jays, bald eagles, wild turkeys, bobcats, Florida scrub-lizards, red shouldered hawks, barred owls, pileated woodpeckers and golden silk spiders.
The park provides equestrian camping and camping with access to electricity as well as primitive camp sites. Ranger-guided programs and social activities are offered during the winter months. Pets are welcome and tours are available for small groups.
Hillsborough River State Park
The Hillsborough River State Park in Zephyrhills is very family-friendly with a swimming pool, two playgrounds, a restaurant and a youth tent to help keep children entertained. Fort Foster is open for tours and houses exhibits and artifacts describing the Seminole Indian Wars.
A primitive camping site is available for outdoor enthusiasts, as well as rented bicycles or even canoes to explore the rapids. However, The Best in Tent Camping in Florida points out that the campground is popular with RVs. Electricity, showers and toilets are available and campers are free to bring their pets. More than 7 miles of hiking trails exist and bass, bream and catfish can all be caught in the Hillsborough River.
Little Manatee River Campground
It’s not just pets that are welcome at Little Manatee River Campground in Wimauma, but 12 miles of horse trails are available for riding, and four campsites are specifically designed for equestrian camping.
The park offers not just the typical comforts of a campground like showers, bathrooms and electricity but a clothes washer and dryer are available for registered campers. Bass, bream and catfish can be caught in Little Manatee River and campers can also enjoy hiking, canoeing and kayaking as well as some planned activities throughout the year.
There are a total of 13 campgrounds and state parks in Central Florida and all of them offer a unique alternative to the commercialism of the area’s theme parks and other tourist traps. However, the campsites in South Florida usually allowing camping on the water and campsites in North Florida are known for their diversity. When camping with children, be sure to plan some activities that don’t require any additional purchases and helps kids capture the memories of the great outdoors.
Central Florida’s Ocala National Forest
Well, Florida camping provides an economical way for vacationers and locals to enjoy a break without breaking the bank, and Central Florida, featuring the Ocala National Forest and the St. Johns River, offers one of the state’s most popular camping destinations.
Tucked along State Road 40 just five miles west of State Road 19, Juniper Springs Recreation Area is a favorite of many a camper. In fact, the park is a regular home for several families who pull into the park in their RVs late each fall with intentions of staying until spring.
Surrounded by the old-growth pine and scrub of the 500-square-mile Ocala National Forest and dozens and lakes and ponds, Juniper Springs takes visitors right out of the city and transplants them into a serene setting. Ocala National Forest earned its designation in 1908, when President Teddy Roosevelt made it the country’s first national forest east of the Mississippi River.
Lounging around the campfire and backpacking through the woodlands, though, aren’t the only ways to enjoy Juniper Springs. Rather, it’s bustling with activity year-round. The fun begins with its swimming pool, which is fed by the crystal-clear waters of Juniper Creek. The pool, with limestone walls and a sandy bottom, varies in depth from 4-18 feet, the latter of which is enough to allow the daring to make various dives into the water, which maintains a 72-degree temperature year-round.
Each day, eight million gallons of water are dumped into the pool, which releases its flow a little at a time. Nearby picnic shelters provide space for gatherings, and small groups can dine on picnic lunches at tables placed just beyond the edge of the pool. A small grocery store provides supplies for campers and day visitors.
Camping Facilities at Juniper Springs
Those who choose to spend the night have a few options. The park features 79 campsites, which 19 designated as tent-only lots. Several pull-through sites allow larger RVs to maneuver the campground, which often fills with long-term campers during the fall and winter season.
According to the park rangers, the campground was built in 1930s. It features three loops, and many of the lots are nestled in shady spots under long-leaf pine and sabal palms. Public showers and restrooms are available, and the park has a waste station, too.
Of course, some tent campers have a second option. Rather than paying for one of the spots in the campground, some folks opt to hike out from Juniper Springs along the Florida National Scenic Trail, a 1,400-mile trail from the Florida Panhandle to South Florida, and camp for free in the forest. The trail runs through Juniper Springs and connects to the Juniper Wilderness area, where motorized vehicles are banned and few sounds can be heard to remind one of the busy world beyond the forest.
Juniper Springs is also popular among canoeists, who take advantage of a 7-mile run on Juniper Creek, which dumps into a larger lake. The park’s staff operate a shuttle to move people and their canoes back to Juniper Springs. Canoes are available for rent at Juniper Springs.
At times, Juniper Springs is so busy that its campgrounds are sold out. In such cases, there are a few alternatives that offer nearly equivalent opportunities for camping and recreation. Among other top campgrounds in Central Floirda are Blue Spring State Park near Orange City, Wekiwa Springs State Park near Apopka, Alexander Springs near Altoona and Hontoon Island State Park near DeLand.
Best Campsites in South Florida
South Florida is most well known for its sunshine and sandy beaches, so it’s no wonder that many of the state parks and campgrounds in the area have a water-based focus. The area’s large tourist population allows for larger-than-average recreational funding, meaning campgrounds in the area are well maintained.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo is most well know, obviously, for its 70 square nautical miles of coral reefs and marine life. Many of the park’s activities are based upon exploration and enjoyment of the coral reefs – for instance, visitors can see the reefs through a glass-bottom boat tour or get up close and personal through scuba diving and snorkeling on one of the two beaches or the tropical lagoon. Additionally, campers can create their own boat tours through canoeing and kayaking.
For campers who want a break from the outdoors while still learning about the area’s marine life, a 30,000-gallon saltwater aquarium is just one of the attractions in the park’s Visitor Center. The Visitor’s Center also has exhibits about the various biological communities the park supports as well as a theater and several more smaller aquariums.
Children and history lovers may be motivated to find the remains of an historic Spanish shipwreck about 100 feet offshore. Two different hiking trails give a taste of the various ecosystems that exist within southern Florida. The Mangrove Trail highlights the area’s estuaries and the Wild Tamarind Trail focuses on the area’s hammock population.
Concessions, grills, electricity, showers and restrooms make the area friendly toward novice campers while having enough activities and natural beauty to attract more experienced travelers as well.
Long Key State Park
Long Key State Park in Long Key is a boating and fishing paradise with breezy, ocean-front views for each of the regular campsites, according to The Best in Tent Camping in Florida. However, cheap, primitive camping sites are located in a mangrove thicket and have “little to no breeze.”
A chain of lagoons offers a popular canoeing and kayaking – it’s no wonder the island was a turn of the century fishing resort. Bonefish are easily caught and other sport fishers will have year-round luck in this part of the Keys.
Two hiking trails round out the activity offerings. Lastly, the park offers guided tours and ranger-led activities on a weekly basis. Showers and picnic tables are available and leashed pets are allowed in some areas of the park.
Jonathan Dickinson State Park
Jonathan Dickinson State Park in Hobe Sound is one of the best places in the state to see the natural versatility of Florida. More than a dozen different ecosystems thrive there, including sand pine scrubs, mangroves and river in the Loxahatchee River. Wildlife that can be seen in the park includes deers, raccoons, foxes, otters, bobcats, alligators, turtles, gopher tortoises, manatees, eastern indigo snakes, snook, snapper, largemouth bass, and other freshwater and saltwater fish throughout the Loxahatchee River, Florida scrub-jays and more than 140 other bird species.
A different type of educational experience available at Jonathan Dickinson is exploring the 1930s homestead of Florida pioneer Trapper Nelson. The visitor center has a variety of interactive displays and laboratory projects that teach children (and adults) about the natural and cultural resources in the area.
Concessions, boat tours, rentals, cabins, and various camping facilities are all present within the park, making Jonathan Dickinson a full-featured camping destination.
Florida’s temperate seasons and marriage of natural beauty with family-friendly attractions make it a popular tourist and vacation destination. There are several different campgrounds in South Florida, but families visiting Florida may be more interested in looking at campgrounds in Central Florida, closer to the well-known attractions in that area. Similarly, northern Florida has the largest concentration of campgrounds and parks in the state, and the most diverse.
Either way, families traveling with children should be sure to look up activities to keep young campers busy.