The Best RV Camping in Florida
How to navigate every aspect of RV camping in Florida, from the best deals and times of the year to those ever so scenic state parks and the top RV park resorts.
Retirees have been pulling into Florida for decades now, and what’s not to love? Nearly every day promises a sky painted blue, the temperature rarely drops below the 60s (in the southern part of the state) and public and private RV parks are in no short supply. So it’s of little wonder that the rest of us are cluing into all of the reasons to play snowbird and find our slice of that sunshine all winter long.
While the state is certainly known as a great place to retire, if you think that only the 65+ crowd can find something to do here, it’s time to press reset and discover everything Florida has to offer. Cities like Miami offer a nightlife and fine arts scenes rarely matched in the Southeast, and others like St. Augustine are riddled with a hipper, slower pace of life where hippie drum circles play a background tune to history buffs interested in exploring the story of the United States’ oldest city. Speaking of kids, everyone knows that Walt Disney World calls Florida home, the state is home to a plethora of amusement parks aimed at families with kids of all ages, around 19 in Orlando alone (depending on how you count).
Don’t love getting lost in the crowds? Florida is home to three national parks, over 160 state parks, and if pristine beaches and natural springs aren’t enough for you, imagine swimming with manatees (but don’t touch!), watching an alligator yawn his afternoon away, or spotting one of 350+ species of birds (many of which are the most beautifully exotic things you’ll ever see in the United States) that flock to the Sunshine State annually.
When to Visit Florida
It doesn’t take a guide book to tell you that Florida is popular in the colder months and, often, excruciatingly humid and hot the rest of the year. On the other hand, Florida is a big state (the 4th largest by area, actually), and what we’ve been shown by CSI: Miami (or Miami Ink, depending on your generation) isn’t exactly representative of the state as a whole.
So while the southern half of the state typically stays in the 60s, even through long winter nights, the northern half will be happy to make sure the lower end of your thermometer is still in working order, should you find yourself showing up to the party a little too late or wanting to leave before spring has fully bloomed.
Let’s loop the peninsula that is the 27th State of these United States of America and see if we can find when, where and how to do Florida for RVers.
If low key is what you’re looking for, dial your GPS in to Apalachicola
If you’re approaching Florida from the West, you very well may find the Panhandle region first on your list of stops. This is where you’ll be introduced to the sandy white beaches that sugar coat the majority of the state’s Gulf Coast. Toss your flip flops aside and worry about where you left them a few weeks later, this stretch of the coast is going to be a bit different, and a little more laid back, than what you’ll experience on the Atlantic side of the state.
Development is really beginning to show in the Panhandle, as more and more spring breakers, vacation goers and RVers alike realize that you don’t have to make the entire 590 mile drive from the Georgia border to Key West just to have a good time. Luckily for us, Florida’s amazing state park system has ensured there’ll be plenty of room to stretch out your awning throughout the state, and the Panhandle is no exception.
If low key is what you’re looking for, dial your GPS in to Apalachicola, a small town with a fun-to-say name that plays equally on the charming hospitality side of southern tradition and the kitschy souvenir gaudiness that your grandmother has come to know and love. When you’re finished sipping iced tea on long wrap around porches and bumping elbows with the other tourists, head over to St. George Island State Park, for what is possibly the most stunning of all of Florida’s state parks. A dramatic violet sunset filling the gaps between thick bald cypress tree skylines and an all you can eat buffet of the calmer, quieter side of life in this corner of the nation await.
If your tent poles lean a bit more toward the glamping spectrum, wheel your big rig over to Topsail Hill Preserve State Park for what may be the most lavish public campground you’ll ever have the fortune in which to spend your fortune. If exploring the more western corner of the Panhandle was on your agenda, such as the popular chalky sands of Destin, stick a pin in Henderson Beach State Park.
The “Springs” of Florida
As your wheels turn you farther into the state, you’ll be welcomed by a stretch of lonesome highway unlike most of the rest of Florida. Something about the span of land between the Panhandle and Tampa has largely flown off the radar when it comes to the ever growing sprawl that is development in the nation’s second-fastest growing state.
In this swath of forest and swampland live a collection of springs and rivers that make for some of the most enjoyable relaxation the Sunshine State has to offer.
If you’re making a seasonal migration into Florida to wile away your winter, you may find yourself in a prime location at just the right moment in time as you pass by Manatee Springs State Park, where the large aquatic creatures for which the park was named can be seen swimming upstream looking for warmer water as autumn turns into winter. If you’ve never seen a “sea cow,” they’re an impressive site, and though swimming with them is expressly forbidden, the park offers bridges and platforms to watch these gentle giants do their thing.
An hour’s drive southeast will land you in Rainbow Springs State Park, where you can rent kayaks and paddle your way up a crystal clear body of water as you watch the birds dry their wings on the edge of the river, countless fish school their way beneath you, and maybe even catch an alligator while you’re at it. After paddling to the spring’s source, point your vessel south and enjoy the easy float back downstream.
If you’re not the aquatic type, but still want to experience one of Florida’s “Springs,” give Silver Springs State Park a visit, where activities like canoeing and glass bottom boat tours take center stage even as hiking trails offer land lovers a way to tour the park without getting their feet wet.
The Gulf Coast of Florida
As our loop leads us south along the Gulf Coast of Florida, the availability of natural landscapes that state parks afford begins to thin out as cities like Tampa and St. Petersburg reach their suburban fingers out over the terrain. That doesn’t mean you need to fill up the tank and barrel through this region though.
The St. Petersburg-Madeira Beach KOA makes for a great basecamp while exploring this city with a vibrant downtown that plays host to music festivals, museums, farmers markets and truly “Florida” experiences like a dinner date on a short cruise around the Gulf. This is also one of those KOAs that cater to children as much as adults, to there’s plenty for the whole family to do, from ice cream socials to card games.
Sun N Fun RV Park, about an hour south down your trail, will set you up for more family fun just outside of Sarasota, Florida. Splash in the pool, take a family bike ride, or hop in the tow car and explore the quaint little seaside town of Siesta Key.
Natural settings aren’t completely out of the realm of possibility, though, Myakka River State Park is less than an hour from the coast and promises both hiking and a better than average shot at seeing an alligator, if that’s still on your list of must sees on your particular voyage.
The big cities now in our rearview mirror (or backup cameras), Florida’s busy streets once again fade to lonelier highways as we head into Big Cypress and the adjoining Everglades National Park.
From here south, you’ll find reservations are almost a necessity, whether you want to stay in the state parks or any of the decent private RV parks, particularly during the winter months when you’ll quickly discover you weren’t the only RVer with the idea to escape the cold. Collier-Seminole State Park is one of the rare few exceptions to this rule, particularly if you travel with a smaller rig. The place still gets crowded, so calling ahead is always a good idea, but once you’re in, you’ve got a gorgeous place to call home and a great respite from adventures into Big Cypress, south to Chokoloskee Island or back out to Marco Island and upscale Naples.
If you’re a birder, there is no better place in the United States to take up your hobby and call it an afternoon spying roseate spoonbill, wood storks or even the elusive pink flamingo than Big Cypress National Preserve. Feeling slightly less adventurous? Trail Lakes Campground in the middle of Big Cypress gives you the amenities of a big private RV park, but with plenty of largish sized spots (though it’s not technically “full hookups”, they do have a dump station). When lazy afternoons in your camping chairs spent beneath sprawling palms and strangler figs grows tiresome, head on into the campground store and learn about the legendary skunk ape—Florida’s take on Big Foot—or pay a few bucks to visit the small zoo they have stashed away in the back where you can feed the macaws or even pet a baby alligator.
The nearby Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge may also sound alluring, but few of the remaining big cats that were once abundant in this state are interested in being seen by humans today. Still, nature’s wonders abound as you continue south into Everglades National Park itself. Flamingo Campground is a popular spot, the drive to the park alone will afford you abundant views of the local wildlife…but along with the hovering osprey, great blue heron and rarer sights like crocodiles (check the marina near the Flamingo Visitors Center, where they appear regularly), manatee (also to be seen at the visitors center) and previously mentioned, elusive panthers, comes a fleet of mosquitos, maybe the thickest concentration in the entire US. Even in the winter months these little biters can make it so uncomfortable to camp here that the rangers cancel evening talks, but if you are brave enough to take the chance, you’ll be rewarded with what’s left of one of the world’s most unique ecosystems.
When it comes to the end of the road, Key West takes it literally. The once bohemian town at the bottom of the US has perhaps seen its heyday, but while we couldn’t imagine Hemingway finding quite the same inspiration here today, there’s still a lot to love about the Florida Keys.
The state parks here, in particular.
They offer oceanside respite from the hustle and booze soaked bustle of the small towns that dot every key from Largo to Kokomo (no really, it’s down here somewhere, you just have to have the right map!)
John Pennekamp State Park is perhaps the crown jewel of the state parks calling the Florida Keys their home, but for the absolute most stunning setup—think being parked directly on the water of an island paradise—we vote for Bahia Honda State Park. Both tend to fill up eleven months prior, which leaves many a would-be fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants traveler frustrated when they show up and are told nothing will be available until the temperatures reach back into the high 90s, so prepare as far in advance as you can.
If nothing opens up, Sunshine Key RV Resort offers reasonable (for Florida, anyway) rates in a community RV park setting. Expect the staff to try and get you to sign up for their discount programs (which, if you stay in resort style RV parks regularly, is a pretty good deal), and there are quite a few longterm residents or seasonal campers, but the place is kept very tidy and the locals know how to decorate for Christmas in Florida! Situated directly on the water–occupying its own entire key actually–and directly across from Bahia Honda, it’s the next best thing to state park camping in this neck of the Sunshine State.
Note that, even if you’ve got a Florida State Parks annual pass, there’s a small surcharge in Monroe County—which encompasses all of the keys—to visit the state parks here.
Great Places to RV Near Orlando, Florida
If getting your picture taken with Mickey Mouse or high-fiving Spiderman are on your Floridian Bucket List, then you’ll no doubt end up spending a good deal of time around Orlando, a.k.a. the Theme Park Capital of the World.
If you’re looking to call a quiet campground home after long days on Space Mountain, Lake Louisa and Wekiwa State Parks are both within a half hour’s drive from Disney and the rest of the magic. The former offers big spots and plenty of opportunities to get out on the water, and is thick with large live oak and bald cypress trees. Wekiwa is best known for its swimming area, where the water remains consistently 72° Fahrenheit year round. Both parks are more or less surrounded by the suburbs, Wekiwa so much that you might find it astonishing that a state park could live in the area you drive through to get there, but both also end up feeling wonderfully remote. Modern amenities and big amusement park fun just down the road, a quiet place to sleep come the setting sun.
Not interested in quiet? If you just want to keep the fun going non-stop, take a peek at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort. Expect to pay the big bucks to stay basically in the middle of Walt Disney World, the Magic Kingdom and Epcot Center, but on the other hand, you’re saving money over the resort hotel rooms and the time it takes to drive in and out of the park every day. Your best bet is probably to hop on public transportation and be smack dab inside of the parks proper in about 30 minutes from your campsite.
As you leave the state’s more southerly realms and head north toward the Georgia border, the scenery will change a bit. Towering palms give way to palmettos, the jungle vibe of Florida recedes and we begin to see the pine tree and hardwood forests we’re used to in these United States.
Just because you’ve left the hottest spots (both literally and by sheer number of people) in the Sunshine State, doesn’t mean you’ve left the best it has to offer.
O’Leno State Park is a quiet campground with secluded sites that offers a final chance to hike trails along a boggy river laden with alligators. This water eventually disappears underground, only to reemerge over three miles away at a different state park. Pavilions, bridges and other structures built by the CCC are abundant here, and the park has a real summer camp vibe all around.
For some of the cheapest, and most scenic, RV camping Florida has to offer, take a drive (and pack enough to eat for awhile, it’s a bit remote) out to Salt Springs Recreation Area at the northern end of Ocala National Forest. Of course, this is Florida, so even though you’ve found yourself a more traditional style of forestland in the Sunshine State, they’ll always throw you a curve ball. In this case, it’s full-hookups, for around $20!
Not ready to leave the beach just yet? Little Talbot Island is a final slice of paradise before you leave the state, and—particularly for smaller RVs—offers secluded spots with plenty of hiking, biking or just strolling along the beach available.
The Best Free Camping in Florida
Florida has a relative abundance of free camping, you just have to know where to look.
From the panhandle to the Atlantic, the Everglades to the white sands of the Gulf side of the state, you can camp for free in a multitude of settings, nearly all with the promise of that precious Florida sunshine. The Southwest Florida Water Management District has at least twelve free spots to camp, mostly situated north of Tampa and West of Orlando. The state’s Department of Fish & Wildlife add another seven free spots, scattered across Florida, and then a handful of county parks, national forests and parking lots (from Walmarts to casinos) fill the state in nicely with ample free camping for those who are interested.
Blow the Budget! Florida’s High End RV Parks
You may have noticed we’re leaning heavily on Florida’s State Parks in this article. No, they’re not the only option, but to be completely honest, the vast majority of private RV parks in the state are overpriced and under-kept. The state has been playing host to RVers for as long as RVs have been rolling down the road, and many of the parks show their age, even if they don’t reflect said age in the price. They can be tight quarters, and just as hard to get into as the more southerly state parks. So when given the choice between low cost and big spots in a natural setting or bumping slide outs with your neighbor for $50+ a night, we tend to lean like a coconut palm toward the state park offerings.
That said, if you’re looking to go all out and want simply the best of the best that Florida’s private resorts have to offer, start with Aztec RV Resort just outside of the bustling nightlife haven of Fort Lauderdale. Be sure to bring your nearly new Class A RV (nothing but the best is permitted) and don’t be afraid to pop the bubbly as you and your fellow campers enjoy this private paradise beneath royal palms in one of the most desirable locations the Sunshine State has to offer. The price? If you have to ask, it’s too much…
Want something a little more low key? Bluewater Key RV Park, a short drive from Key West, is a park where each spot is privately owned—but rented out to temporary campers by their owners. Sites can easily run $150 or more, but you’re paying for privacy, maybe your own tiki hut, and to be right on the water. Plus, location, location, location…and if Key West is your destination, this swanky resort will leave you a short drive to all of the t-shirt sales you could ever hope to find.
A little further north, on Key Largo, Point of View RV Park promises a beachside pool, pristinely manicured landscaping, and life in the heart of one of the most visited of Florida’s Keys. Expect a nightly bill of $130 or more, but as one camper put it, “You get what you pay for.”
Not looking to blow the budget? If you stick to the state parks and due a little preplanning (usually months in advance), you can expect $20 – $30 price tags per night for what is one of the nation’s best state park systems. There are other opportunities to save money in Florida; while the state is known for pricey boardwalks, restaurants and amusement parks, there is also a thriving community of latinos from around Central America and the Caribbean who have come to the state and made it their home. These neighborhoods can offer cheap restaurants and even more affordable food carts that not only keep more of your money in your pocket, but practically allow you to experience other countries’ cultures without even needing a passport.
Not to mention that, once you’re down here, going anywhere until March or May is going to mean freezing your lug nuts off, so if you take it nice and slow, imagine all the cash you’ll save on gas.
Assuming you don’t end up spending it all on bug spray that is!