What could be better than spending the day at your favorite Florida beach?
Spending the night, perhaps? Have you ever been lying out on your beach blanket watching the sun set and the first stars come out, and dreamed about spending the night right there on the beach?
Make your dream a reality. According to Marilyn Moore, author of Florida Camping: The Complete Guide to Tent and Recreational Vehicle (RV) Camping, Florida has over 900 campgrounds with more than 100,000 campsites. Some of the best and most popular campgrounds are located at the beach.
Most beach campsites are located in the slightly sheltered area behind the sand dunes. Camping right out on the beach near the waves is not usually permitted for safety reasons and to protect wildlife like sea turtles and nesting birds.
The season and your choice of shelter both play a big part in choosing your beach campground. Tent campers are more sensitive to weather conditions than RV campers that have access to heaters and air-conditioning. Some campgrounds cater more to RV campers than to tent campers, but Florida State park campgrounds generally make room for both.
Whichever camping rig you bring, you'll find a beach campground to accommodate you, and many will even accommodate your pet. Most campgrounds offer sites that are ADA accessible.
During the winter months, south Florida and the Florida Keys are in high demand with campers. Humidity is lower, breezes are refreshing, and bugs are at a minimum. Beaches in the Florida Keys are exceptional, and the water is clear and very shallow, making it more suitable for wading than for swimming. A mask and snorkel is a must, since the shallow waters are filled with beautiful live shells, fish, grasses, and other interesting marine life.
For your convenience, the Overseas Highway has a series of mile markers on the roadside indicating the distance to Key West, located at mile marker zero. Mile-markers are often used when giving directions.
Long Key State Park - Located at mile marker 67.5 on Long Key, this campground offers 60 campsites right on the Atlantic Ocean which are used by both tents and RV's. The island and beach are narrow, but the water is absolutely gorgeous. The offshore coral reefs block the open ocean swells, resulting in calm, shallow water.
Curry Hammock State Park - Located at mile marker 56.2 on Little Crawl Key (ocean side), Curry Hammock offers 28 campsites situated approximately 100 feet from the Atlantic Ocean. The 1,200-foot, sandy beach is perfect for sunbathing, launching a kayak or building sandcastles.
Bahia Honda State Park, located at mile marker 37, is one of the most scenic parks in Florida. Lush coconut palms against a backdrop of white sand and clear tropical waters make this park's campground one of the most popular in the state. As a bonus, the beaches in the park are widely considered the best beaches in the Florida Keys. Three campgrounds with a total of 80 campsites cater to both tents and RVs. Three duplex cabins are also available if you don't want to “rough-it.”
Biscayne National Park - It's amazing that such an undeveloped and scenic group of islands exists so close to the city of Miami. Although most of the park is underwater, there are two islands of note – Elliot Key and Boca Chita Key – where camping is permitted. There are no cars, roads or bridges to these islands, so you'll either need your own boat or you'll have arrange transportation. Transportation can be arranged with Biscayne Underwater Park, Inc.
Elliott Key is the larger island and is forested with tropical hardwoods. It also has flush toilets, cold showers and drinking water available. Boca Chita Key has saltwater flush toilets, but no fresh water on the island.
Camping on these sub-tropical islands is for experienced campers. Mosquitoes and no-see-ums can sometimes be an issue, especially during the summer months. The beaches are small and tend to be rocky, but if you want to get away from it all in a beautiful place, and especially if you like fishing and snorkeling, this is the ticket. A valid Florida saltwater fishing license is necessary to fish.
Sebastian Inlet State Park – Camp at the most famous surfing spot in Florida, located off famous A1A. Even if you're not a surfer, it's fun to watch them riding some of the best waves in the state. The camping area isn't right on the beach, but it's close enough. The park spans both sides of Sebastian Inlet. The jetty, popular with fishermen and surfers, is on the north side of the inlet, the camping area is on the south side. With three miles of beautiful beaches, a boat ramp, and with the Indian River Lagoon for canoeing, kayaking, and fishing, you'll never run out of things to do here.
Canaveral National Seashore – Here you can camp right on the beach, above the high tide line, from November through April. The campsites are a quarter-mile walk from the parking area, and there are restrooms within walking distance of the campsites. There are 24 miles of undeveloped Atlantic beach here on Canaveral National Seashore and only two beach camping areas – one accommodates six people, and the other 15 – so don't expect a crowd. Fires are allowed in metal containers, except during dry periods, according to Laura Henning, Supervisory Park Ranger of Visitor Services. This place is a true gem if you really want to get away from it all.
Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area – Set up camp at Flagler Beach. The campsites are just behind the dunes, and so close to the water that it sounds like you are right in the surf. The 34 campsites, bordered by a variety of coastal plant life. All have electricity and water. There is little shade (coastal trees tend to be small) but almost constant sea breezes keep campers cool and chase away the bugs. This is beach camping at its finest!
Several other campgrounds on Florida's Atlantic Coast that will put you close to the beach are:
- Fort Clinch State Park (Fernandina Beach)
- Anastasia Island State Park (St. Augustine)
- Little Talbot Island State Park (Jacksonville)
Known for its placid Gulf waters, white sand beaches covered in sea shells of all kinds, and its abundant bird life, the lower Gulf coast of Florida offers some really special beach camping. From a remote island accessible only by boat, to a full-service campground within minutes of downtown St. Petersburg, you'll want to look closely at what this area has to offer.
Cayo Costa Island State Park (La Costa Island) – Since there are no roads or bridges to this island, the Tropic Star ferries passengers to Cayo Costa State Park daily, leaving from Bokeelia on Pine Island. La Costa Island is a fairly large and mostly undeveloped island between North Captiva and Boca Grande. The camping area is right behind the small dunes and just steps from a fantastic crescent-shaped beach. Bring lots of batteries for your camera because you won't be able to stop taking pictures. Several six-person cabins are also available. None of the sites have electricity or water. Showers and flush toilets are available, as is drinking water. You may find that you have the beach practically all to yourself.
Red Coconut RV Resort – Want to step right out of your tent or RV and onto a white-sand beach? The first time I saw this place I couldn't believe it. I was walking on Fort Myers Beach and encountered RVs right under the coconut palms on the beach! This park definitely caters to RVs and packs them in tight. There are friendly campers here that return year after year, forming a little beach community. It's close to all the conveniences of Fort Myers Beach and is on a trolley stop. It's also close to traffic noise. If you don't have an RV, there are rentals available.
Fort De Soto County Park – Chosen by Dr. Beach as the number one beach in the nation in 2005, in 2011 it was named America’s best family beach by the editors of Parents, and America’s Top Beach for 2009 by TripAdvisor.com, Fort De Soto Park also has a beautiful campground. Many of the campsites are located on the calm backwater, with the award-winning Gulf beach just a short drive, or paddle, away. Mature trees provide thick shade over most of the campsites. The breeze coming off the water is heavenly. Both tents and RVs are accommodated and the sites have electricity and water. Bike and kayak rentals, two fishing piers and a real historical fort make this a prime spot to set up camp and hit the beach!
The summer months bring campers to the pure white sand beaches and clear emerald green waters of northwest Florida, which may be a bit cool during the winter months for beach camping. Campgrounds in this part of the state are busiest from March through August and on holiday weekends. Where south Florida has palms, northwest Florida has pine trees—lots and lots of pine trees.
This is one of the quietest and least developed areas in the state and it is a pleasure to drive along Highway 98, which closely parallels the coast.
St. George Island State Park – Just offshore from Apalachicola is St. George Island, home to a magnificent State park on its eastern end. If nine miles of white-sand beaches sounds tempting to you, perhaps you should reserve one of the 60 campsites that offer electric, water and a central dump station. The campsites are located between the Bay and the Gulf and situated under a canopy of Pines. Campsites are about a half-mile from the beach. The park also offers primitive camping and a group camp area. The primitive camp is located at the end of a two-and-a-half mile trail (also accessible by canoe or kayak). There are no facilities or water at the primitive camp, while the group camp is designed for organized groups and offers a restroom and cold showers. Fishing and shelling is exceptional at the park. With a special permit and an additional fee, fishermen can access East Pass. Common catches from the beach or bay include redfish, mackerel, trout, whiting, flounder and more.
St. Joseph Peninsula State Park – This park's 10 miles of secluded beaches with tall dunes near Port St. Joe are favored by nesting Loggerhead turtles and beachcombers looking for a quiet beach. The park has two camping areas with a total of 119 campsites with water and electric service. Both are only a short walk to the beach. Gulf Breeze camping area is more open to the sea breeze, but lacks shade. Shady Pines camping area is appropriately named with ample shade provided by large pines, oak and palm trees. The park also offers eight fully furnished cabins with air conditioning and heat that can sleep up to six people. The cabins have two queen beds in an open loft and a futon.
Two other great parks you'll want to consider with campsites near the beach are St. Andrews State Park and Grayton Beach State Park. St. Andrews is at the east end of Panama City Beach. At any one of the 176 campsites, you can get away from it all without being too far away.
Grayton Beach State Park is a bit more remote, situated about halfway between Panama City Beach and Destin, south of U.S. Highway 98. In addition to an award-winning beach, this park has a campground that gets high marks for privacy between campsites. Some campsites overlook a lake. Cabins are available as well.
Plan ahead and make reservations. During the slower times of the year (winter in northwest Florida, and summer in the rest of the state), you may be able to get by without reservations on weekdays, but it’s better not to take the chance.
To get a campsite during the busy season and on all weekends and holidays (yes, even Christmas!), you'll definitely need to make reservations months in advance.
Florida State Parks have a reservation system set up through Reserve America. It's a lot like making a hotel reservation. You can visit the official State Park website at www.floridastateparks.org. You'll see a link that says "Make A Reservation." Just click and book! You can also go directly to the Reserve America website at www.reserveamerica.com.