By Kevin Mims

There’s no better place than Florida for year-round camping, whether you’re parked off a beach enjoying a sunset, sitting around a campfire in the forest, or sleeping footsteps away from a freshwater spring.

And there’s no more comfortable—or family-friendly—way to camp than in an RV. 

If you’re new to RV camping and don’t know where to begin, here's how to get started, with some useful tips and tricks...

Renting an RV: Why, Where, How

There are lots of reasons why you might choose to rent an RV. Maybe you’re new to the world of RV camping and you’re not ready to purchase one of your own. Maybe you’d like to try out a few different types and see which you like best before committing to buying one. Or maybe you just won’t use it often enough to justify a big purchase. Whatever the reason, it’s easy to find an RV to rent for your Florida vacation. And if you’re someone who's interested in RV camping but you don’t feel comfortable driving a motorhome or pulling a travel trailer, fear not: there are RVs available and parked at fantastic campsites just waiting for you to rent them.

The first thing you need to know is where to rent. In recent years, RV rental services like Outdoorsy have become more and more popular. There’s Cruise America, which has been around since 1972, RV ShareHipcamp, and Airbnb, where you can find rental campers that are already set up at a campsite and ready to use—no driving required. Rentals come in all shapes, sizes, and classes, brand new, decades old, and everything in between. Some of the coolest vintage campers you’ll ever see are available as rentals.

Buying and Servicing an RV

RV retailers Camping WorldLazy Days, and Giant Recreation World have Florida locations that not only sell campers but service them as well. Many of them also have stores where you can pick up any RV or camping essentials you might be missing.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to RVing.

- Kevin Mims

Find your Fit: Choosing the Right Rig

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to RVing, which is why there are so many different types, shapes, and sizes of RVs on the market. If you’re not familiar with the different classes of recreational vehicles, here basic information about some of the most common types:

Class A: These are larger, bus-like, often luxury-style motorhomes. They typically have a bathroom with toilet and shower and plenty of water storage. These motorhomes can comfortably sleep an entire family.

Class B: Camper vans range from more economical class Bs to high-end luxury motorhomes in a compact package. Some class B vans have a compact toilet/shower combination, but bathroom facilities are much less common with this type of vehicle than with class A and class C motorhomes, and class Bs have a smaller capacity for freshwater and wastewater storage than the other two classes of motorhomes.

Class C: The last category of motorhome is typically closer in size and layout to a class A motorhome. An easy way to spot the difference between the two is the overcab area of the class C, which is usually used as an additional sleeping area.

Travel trailer: This category includes towable campers such as fifth wheels, toy haulers, and pop-ups and can range from as small as 10 feet or less in length to more than 40 feet or more.

Nearly all campers, no matter which kind, have at least a small kitchen or equipment for light cooking. Larger RVs usually have full kitchens, which sometimes include an oven and microwave.

When choosing an RV to buy or rent, one of the most important considerations is size: How many people will be traveling with you? Will you want to have guests over during your travels, such as grandkids sleeping over? If so, you’ll need a little more room and additional sleeping quarters. On the flip side, maybe you don’t need that much room inside and you’re planning on spending time in cities without big places to park and pull a camper through or you just want to be a little more flexible about where you can stay. If that’s the case, a more compact camper, such as a class B van, might be what you need.

Get Technical with Apps and More

We all know technology can be a big help when it comes to travel, and this is especially true with RVing. Here’s a list to help you make the most of your Florida RV camping experience...

1. The VISIT FLORIDA app (AppleGoogle) for trip planning, creating itineraries, and looking up activities, attractions, and events.

2. The Allstays Camp and RV app, which has a database of more than 30,000 campgrounds, information on where to overnight park, where to find RV dealers and service centers, locations of rest stops, dump stations, .

3. Campendium app for tips on where to camp, cell service reports, and information on city, county, state, and national park campgrounds.

4. The Florida Pocket Maps app, where you can download maps for state and national parks, record your hiking routes, check the weather, and get park news and alerts.

5. Apps for theme parks, such as Universal OrlandoLEGOLAND, and Walt Disney World Resorts, to help you plan your visit, find places to eat, and reduce your wait times for attractions.

6. The Florida Trail Association app for maps and information on the roughly 1,500-mile Florida National Scenic Trail.

7. Look up the locales you’re visiting in the app store. St. Augustine (AppleGoogle), Orlando, and many other areas have their own apps for visitors.

8. Food-finding apps like ZomatoYelp, and OpenTable.

9. Listen to the Florida Travel Podcast to learn about Florida destinations to add to your list.

10. Wildlife apps to help you find and identify Florida’s flora and fauna: Audubon Bird GuideFlorida Fish and Wildlife Conservation CommissionFlorida WildflowersiNaturalist.

You can camp at sites like this one at Bahia Honda State Park.

- Lauren Tjaden

Where and When to Camp in Your RV

1. Book early. Reservations at many of the most popular parks in Florida can be hard to come by if you don’t book well ahead of time. Luckily, reservations at Florida’s state parks can be made up to 11 months in advance

2. Save money on camping rates in the summer. Private RV campgrounds tend to charge more in the winter than in the summer. About the time the temperatures start to lower in the fall is when camping rates at private parks tend to increase, and they don’t come down again until March or April. The exception to this rule is Northwest Florida, where the summer is the high season and rates tend to be lower in winter.

3. For outdoor recreation, consider the seasons. 

  • Summer: Though some destinations offer tubing year-round, summer is the best time for availability when it comes to shuttles and rentals. This is also the time of year for bioluminescent paddling and scalloping.
  • Winter: If you want to see manatees, shoot for cold days between November and March. The best place to camp and see manatees in the same place is Blue Spring State Park in Orange City. Winter is also the best time of year for birding, and the annual Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival takes place in January.

4. Check for cancellations. If you want a spot at a state park campground that’s completely booked, all hope is not lost. Hang around and check with the park office before closing time to see about cancellations and no-shows. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and snag a campsite after all.

5. Join a club. If you’re going to travel for an extended period of time, buying a membership with discount clubs such as Good Sam and Passport America can save you money on campsites.

6. Avoid the crowds. This one might seem obvious, but weekdays tend to be less crowded just about everywhere than weekends and holidays. If you can, plan to visit the more popular places on your itinerary on weekdays.

Bonus: Where to Camp in Florida for Free

If you want to forgo electricity and water hookups, venture off the beaten path and boondock in nature at one of Florida’s many locations that allow you to camp for free. Although there is no charge, most of them do require a reservation.

1. Dinner Island Ranch Wildlife Management Area southwest of Clewiston has two campgrounds: Hammock Camp, which has 17 campsites, including one ADA-accessible RV site, and ten sites that allow small RVs and a vault toilet; and Kowechobe Camp, 20 sites that allow RVs. A free permit is required.

2. Hampton Tract of the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve offers free RV camping with a reservation.

3. Cypress Creek Preserve in Pasco County has free RV campsites as well as 19 miles of marked trails, including paved trails suitable for skating, and 14 miles of multiuse trails where horseback riding is allowed. Fishing on Cypress Creek is possible during periods of high water. A permit is required for camping.

4. DuPuis Management Area is a 22,000-acre South Florida Water Management District property in Palm Beach and Martin Counties that features wet prairie, pine flatwoods, and cypress domes. The property has 22 miles of hiking trails, a nature center with interpretive displays and butterfly garden, and fishing pier. Camp for free with a permit.

5. Lake Panasoffkee Wildlife Management Area has 18 miles of multiuse trails, equestrian camping facilities, and offers free campsites with a permit.

6. Gardner Landing within the Apalachicola Wildlife and Environmental Area in Northwest Florida has a limited number of campsites that are free to use with a reservation. 

7. The Serenova Tract of the Southwest Florida Water Management District has primitive and equestrian campsites available that are free with a permit. The property has lakes for fishing and multiuse trails for bicycling, hiking, and equestrian activities.

8. The Southwest Florida Water Management District’s Alston Tract, part of the Upper Hillsborough Preserve, has free campsites and 16 miles of multiuse trails. A permit for camping is required.



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