Florida is a great place for road trips and camping. Especially during the colder months, this Sunshine State is the perfect place to explore. More often than not, staying in commercial campgrounds can quickly add up and poke a hole in your holiday budget, but thankfully Florida offers a plethora of options where you can camp for free.
You can camp for free in Florida on several public lands. A few of the most popular locations are Deep Creek Preserve, Dupuis Management Area, Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area, and Hickory Hammock Wildlife Management Area.
Florida has innumerable options when it comes to docking your RV for the night without cost. There are ample free places to stay at, and you do not have to burn a hole in your pocket every time you need to park for the night. Keep on reading to find out more about these places and what they have to offer.
Free Camping on Public Lands in Florida
Florida is rich in flora and fauna, and the camping sites here provide access to this rich natural habitat that is rare to come across in most of the other states. Free camping in Florida can be a varied experience, from palm-shaded waterfronts to valley glades surrounded by pine trees.
However, setting a reservation is always important. Remember to call ahead before you roll up to a national forest with the intent to spend the night there.
Certain places like the Cobb Hunt Camp in Osceola National Forest tend to be busy during the hunting season. So, if you plan to go there during peak season, it is better to call and reserve a place beforehand.
There are over 50 places where you can camp for free in Florida’s public lands. Some of these places may require you to get a permit beforehand, but procuring one is fairly simple, and almost as easy as visiting a website or making a phone call.
Recommended Free and Budget Friendly Camping Destinations in Florida
Deep Creek Preserve
About half of the Deep Creek Preserve’s property consists of pine flatwoods, freshwater marshes, and wet prairies. The landscape is dotted with a series of streams braided with the land and tend to overflow into the Deep Creek during high tide. It is an exquisite place that can be reached via a paddling trail. Make sure to go in at the time of high tide so that there is enough water to navigate.
DuPuis Management Area
This wild area is interspersed with ponds and pine flatwoods and has a very hot climate almost all year round. Apart from camping, the area offers hiking trails and seasonal hunting as well. DuPuis is a far away place from the city and makes for an excellent spot for stargazing.
This campground is separated into two areas: equestrian and non-equestrian. In order to camp in the equestrian campground, a minimum of one horse is required for every user. If you do not have a horse, you can head over to the non-equestrian area of the camping ground.
Hickory Hammock Wildlife Management Area
With lots of wild animals like the white-tailed deer, swallow-tailed kites, and wild turkey, the Hickory Hammock is an interesting stretch of land on the Florida National Scenic Trail. This place teems with armadillos and baby barn owls.
The entrance is on Highway 98 and the trail runs for 8 miles through oak and palm trees and green pastures. The place has a primitive drive-in campsite. You can hit the water to explore nearby places like Vero Beach, Fort Pierce, and Port St. Lucie.
The RV Campgrounds in the Ocala National Forest allows for free and dispersed camping at several different designated areas. Alexander Springs recreation area is one such place where free camping is allowed. There are also developed campgrounds available that are well equipped with basic facilities.
Some of these camping grounds offer basic facilities like a dump station, swimming options, hiking, and even scuba diving.
In the Ocala National Forest, another campsite, Eureka, also allows for free and dispersed RV camping, like Altoona. Free camping is allowed near the Grassy Pond Recreation Area at Eureka.
Kenansville has three designated areas for RV camping. These locations are also great for fishing, hiking, and wildlife viewing. It is always better to check the availability of parking and camping spots for the night before going there.
For free primitive camping, the area around Big Cypress National Preserve near Naples is a great idea. Most of these campgrounds do not have the basic facilities and encourage a more primitive camping style. Some of these campsites are open all year round, while others have limited dates of operation.
The Holey Land Wildlife Management Area in Okeelanta offers free and dispersed RV camping during the weekends. So, if you are looking at a weekend getaway, you can consider this place to put up your feet and camp a couple of nights here. Of course, it is better to call ahead and check on the parking slots available before heading out for the weekend.
This place near the Osceola National Forest offers free and primitive camping all year round. The RV camping grounds provide a great option for those who want to get away from the city noise and rest awhile camping in the wild.
The Baptist Lake area near Pittman has a designated camping ground. This remote camping site does not have any facilities, but it makes up for it by providing numerous outdoor recreation prospects to the ones camping in the area.
The Bull Creek camping ground has over 16,000 acres of land with facilities for campsite docking. It has a parking area for round 25 RVs with concrete pads and complete hook-up facilities, restaurants, electrical charging points, and picnic tables.
Cayo Costa State Park
The Cayo Costa State Park is surrounded by water on all sides. It is accessible by ferry or a private boat, making it a splendid choice if you are looking to be cut off from the mainland area. You can park your RV in the mainland area and take a boat inland.
With miles of deserted beach all to yourself, you will be far away from the madding crowd. There are lots of activities to do, from swimming to fishing to snorkeling. The area allocated for each tent site is large enough to accommodate up to eight people. There are basic facilities available too. Showers and toilets are accessible in the area.
Along the statewide National Scenic Trail, there are a lot of primitive camping locations. Most of them do not have any facilities, but they are free camping grounds, and some of these sites have portable toilets. It is an escape into the wilderness and worth the trip, even though you may have to carry your supplies for the trip, as there are no restaurants nearby.
Some of these locations are on the Florida Trail, including state parks, state forests, and water management district lands. Some of these locations are within the city. All you will have to do is park your car or RV and then walk up to the campsite.
Potts Preserve In Central Florida
Potts Preserve is located near the Withlacoochee River. It is a free camp site that commands a stunning view of the protected lands below. This Preserve plays a pivotal part in the protection of this region’s groundwater and habitats.
It is a fairly large area that allows you to go on exploratory trips around the region. There are hiking trails alongside the river. If you are headed there during the wet season, it is advisable to carry waterproof boots.
Camping in one of these sites also opens up the probability of viewing a few rare birds and animals, like the elusive Florida scrub-jays, in their natural habitats.
This place is flooded with campsites. The Manatee Springs State Park in Chiefland has various outdoor recreation activities complete with water and electrical charging points. Of the many outdoor activities, some are fishing, scuba diving, wildlife viewing, and hiking.
The Falling Waters state park has around 24 free campsites with water and electric hook up and other basic facilities. It is one of the most scenic places you could camp in with a view of age-old trees dominating the landscape and interspersed with sinkholes and Florida’s highest waterfall.
This place is also equipped with basic facilities and water and electric hook up systems. There are also RV dump sites here. Fishing and hiking are possible on the banks of Lake Okeechobee. The Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail, also known in its abbreviated form LOST, is a scenic route to take for a hike.
Everglades National Park
Everglades National Park place offers camping grounds that are suitable for RV camping within the park’s premises. There are many opportunities to view the local wildlife that are residents of this sub-tropical region.
Numerous outdoor recreation options are also available here. Like the Lone Pine Key Campground and Flamingo Campground, some of the camping grounds offer more than a hundred campsites complete with basic facilities.
In the Northeastern part of Florida, Fernandina Beach has RV camping areas available at Fort Clinch State Park. With more than 50 campsites with water and electric hook up facilities and a dumping station, some of the camping sites here are free and fully equipped. Call in advance to check on the availability of camping spots.
A little further on in Jacksonville, the Jennings State Forest also has primitive tent camping at designated campgrounds.
Grayton Beach State Park
The Grayton Beach State Park is known for its spectacular sunsets. It is surrounded by emerald green water and nature trails. After an exhausting day in the sun and the sand, you can sit in a quiet corner of the vast coastal forest to watch the sun go down.
There are also options for hiking, cycling, and kayaking near this campground. Some of the campsites, charge a nominal fee of $25, and you are required to book 11 months in advance.
Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area
This campsite is named after the Florida folk singer, Gamble Rogers. It is a gorgeous campsite that has access to the Intracoastal Waterway as well as the Atlantic Ocean. There are a lot of options for water-based activities around here as the place is surrounded by water. Boating, canoeing, and kayaking are common activities around here.
This is a full-service campground and has a minimum payment of $26 as a nightly rate, which is cheaper than a motel.
The Alafia River State Park in Lithia is located in a reclaimed quarry and offers a fascinating spot for the off-road bicycling experience. The camping ground has close to 30 campsites hooked up with basic facilities like water and electricity and has an RV dump station and restroom facilities.
The golden rule is to always call in advance to check for the availability of parking spots before you head out there for the night.
Located in Glades County, Ortona has fishing piers and RV camping sites in the Ortona South campground. The site is fully equipped with a dump station, showers, restrooms, and even washer and dryers. There are prehistoric mounds and canoe canals that were constructed by Native Americans. This place is great for discovering these primitive mounds or charting a hiking trail along the Caloosahatchee River.
The Walmart store in Panama City allows for overnight camping for one night. There is only one Walmart in Panama City, so it will be fairly easy to locate it. You do not even need to ask permission to park your RV and stay here for a night, but beware of the fact that this parking lot is frequented by loud people and so you will be well advised to bring in earplugs with you.
St. Andrews State Park has camping grounds in the Lower Grand Lagoon area. This place is hooked up with water and electric facilities and is available by reservation at a nominal charge.
A simple annual membership at Harvest Hosts will allow you free RV camping at more than 1500 sites across the US. The membership fee is very nominal at $80 per year.
The RV camping grounds allow parking and camping in wineries, breweries, farms, museums, golf courses, etc. You not only get to camp at very, very low prices, but you also get to experience the farm life and the industry practices of the businesses where you camp.
In this video, you will see an RV Blogger discuss the upsides to having a Harvest Host membership. They talk about what Harvest Host is, how the membership works, and even provides a discount for the viewers:
Check These Websites for More Free Camping Options
There are a host of links below that you can check to know the camping rules and find general news on how to get free RV camping sites across the federal public lands in Florida:
- US Forest Service (USFS) – You will find information on RV camping rules and further information about dispersed camping and tips on finding free RV camping sites.
- National Park Service (NPS) – Here you will find general information on RV camping in various US National Parks, including those in and around Florida. The National Parks provide some of the best places for RV camping with a scenic backdrop.
- US Army Corp of Engineers (USACE/COE) – The USACE is better known as COE, and it manages the water recreation areas throughout the USA. You can find current information on the COE home page about RV camping and any associated rules around these water-based recreation areas.
- US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) – You will find information on this page about the specific places in the National Wildlife Refuges in Florida where free camping is allowed. But, note that not all refugees will allow camping. So, visit the page to check out the current list of refuges where camping is allowed.
For even more free camping options, you can key in the area you are traveling to in the Campendium website and check out your options.
Florida has become a very popular destination for campers. The unlimited options to choose from when it comes to camp grounds make this state pocket book friendly. Be wary though, when snowbirds flock to the camp grounds in droves, it may become quite challenging to find a place to park your RV.
It is always good to have a backup plan for such unforeseen scenarios. Many websites, such as Freecampsites.net, prove to be useful resources in finding a free campsite.
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Erick is a freelance writer and outdoor enthusiast. Growing up in Nairobi Kenya and now calling Glasgow, United Kingdom home. Sipping on homemade spiced swahili tea and enjoying a good book is his idea of bliss.
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