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 as the sun sets 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 RV Camping, Florida has over 900 campgrounds with more than 100,000 campsites. Some of the best and most popular of those campgrounds are located at the beach.
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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, such as 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 who 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.
South Florida and the Keys
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. Florida Keys beaches tend to have water that’s clear and shallow, making it more suitable for wading than for swimming. A mask and snorkel are musts, because the waters are filled with beautiful live shells, fish, grasses, and other interesting marine life.
For travelers’ 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, the Park offers 28 campsites situated only about 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. And its beaches are widely considered the best in the Florida Keys. Three campgrounds with a total of 80 campsites cater to both tents and RV’s. 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 to arrange transportation. Transportation can be arranged with Biscayne Underwater Park.
Elliott Key is the larger island and is forested with tropical hardwoods. It features flush toilets, cold showers and drinking water. 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.
Central and Northern Atlantic Coast
Sebastian Inlet State Park – Thanks to the Park, you can camp at the most famous surfing spot in Florida, located right off 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 the Indian River Lagoon for canoeing, kayaking, and fishing, you'll never run out of things to do.
Canaveral National Seashore – You can camp right on the beach in this pristine paradise, 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. The park boasts 24 miles of undeveloped Atlantic beach 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. If you really want to get away from it all, this place has your stakes written all over it.
Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area – Located at Flagler Beach, the Recreation Area’s campsites are just behind the dunes -- and so close to the water that it sounds like you're right in the surf. The 34 campsites, bordered by a variety of coastal plant life, all offer electricity and water. Shade is scarce, but almost constant sea breezes keep campers cool and chase away bugs. This is beach camping at its finest!
North Beach Camp Resort, located along the serene Atlantic Ocean coast in St. Augustine, offers a variety of outdoor activities to enjoy while camping between the Ocean and the North River.
Several other campgrounds on Florida's Atlantic Coast that will put you close to the beach are:
Southwest Florida's Gulf Coast
Known for placid Gulf waters, white sand beaches and abundant bird life, the lower Gulf coast of Florida features 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 onto a white-sand beach? Located on Fort Myers Beach, this palm fringed Resort caters to RV’s. Many campers return to its shores 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 –There’s hardly an award this park hasn’t won. Dr. Beach chose it 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 TripAdvisor named it America’s Top Beach in 2009. Its beautiful campground is also noteworthy. Many of its campsites are situated on the calm backwater, with the beach just a short drive or paddle away. Mature trees provide thick shade over most of the campsites, and the breeze coming off the water is heavenly. Both tents and RV’s are accommodated and the sites have electricity and water. The Park also offers bike and kayak rentals, two fishing piers and a historical fort.
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.
It offers primitive camping, with some minor sand-hiking, on its far eastern edge. Sugar-white sand, rolling sand dunes and wetlands make up the landscape of this peaceful camping destination.
Just across the bridge from Perdido Key you’ll find Big Lagoon State Park, which separates the mainland from Perdido Key and the Gulf of Mexico. It boasts 655 acres, including beaches, shallow bays, nature trails and open woodlands. The Park is a haven for nature lovers, and offers kayaking, hiking, fishing, birding and more. Its 75 camping spots are equipped with water and electricity, and accommodate both RV’s and tents.
Fort Pickens is another of Pensacola’s delectable offerings. Part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, on the west end of Pensacola Beach, it features a historic fort. It also features miles of sugar-sand beach – and its camping locations are located just across the street from it. Its 200 camping sites include tent camping and RV camping areas for RV’s up to 50 feet. The sites include water, electricity and picnic tables.
St. George Island State Park – Just offshore from Apalachicola, you’ll find St. George Island, home to a magnificent State park on its eastern end. If nine miles of white-sand beaches sounds tempting to you, consider reserving one of its 60 campsites. The campsites, located between the Bay and Gulf, are about a half-mile from the beach. They’re nestled under a canopy of pines, and offer electric, water and a central dump station. 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, and is 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 are favored by nesting Loggerhead turtles -- and beachcombers looking for a soul-soothing escape. Located near Port St. Joe, the park boasts two camping areas with a total of 119 campsites. The sites are complete with water and electric, and both are only a short hike 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.
Camp Gulf in Destin offers an assortment of RV sites - from open beachfront sites with a view of the Gulf to tree shaded, grassy sites. Every RV Site is within walking distance to the Gulf of Mexico's emerald hued waters.
Emerald Beach RV Park, located half way between Pensacola and Destin on Santa Rosa Sound, is one of the closest RV Parks to the Gulf.
Two other stunning parks 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, snuggled roughly 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.
Campers that plan ahead are happy campers! Making reservations is a must. 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.
And to snag a campsite during the busy season and on all weekends and holidays, you'll need to make reservations months in advance.