Best Places For Beach Camping In Florida
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There can be few places better to spend the night in a tent than overlooking one of Florida’s extraordinary beaches. The state boasts the longest coastline in the contiguous United States: 825 miles of its 1350 mile long shore consists of sand.
But, impressive though that sounds, the figure doesn’t even include the state’s many barrier islands. Numerous beachfront campgrounds provide you with the opportunity to fall asleep to the sound of waves gently lapping the shore.
If that sounds just dreamy, here are our picks for the fifteen best places for camping on the beach in Florida.
Fort Pickens Campground
You’ll need to reserve well in advance to be sure of securing a spot at this popular campground – it’s one of the busiest not just in Florida, but in the country as a whole.
As part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, there’s plenty to do here, whether your attention is focused on its gorgeous white sandy, clear water beaches or the area’s history. The fort that gives the place its name was built in the early 19th century to protect Pensacola Bay from the British.
Pensacola’s the nearest town, though you’ll want to carry in supplies as the nearest store is a 15 mile drive away. Tent campers and RV hook ups are both catered for; if you’re keen to avoid the big vans, grab a pitch in Loop B where it’s strictly canvas only.
The site is open year-round, but if you plan to visit in the height of summer it’s good to know that some parts of the campground are shadier than others, thanks to dappled cover from live oaks and screening by tall pines.
Turtle Beach Campground
This Sarasota County campground was established in 1921. It’s located about five miles south of the main village area of Siesta Key, convenient for those all important restaurants, bars and ice cream parlors, not to mention the sugar-soft sands that fare well in contests for America’s best beach.
In peak season, they even throw in a free tourist shuttle to get you around. With just 39 spaces for RVs and tents, the site feels intimate, yet it’s not short of facilities. WiFi, full hook-ups, a picnic area, restrooms, hot showers and coin-operated washers and dryers are all provided.
Most importantly, this campground boasts direct beach access, a rarity in this area. The name’s appropriate too: between May and October loggerhead and green turtles haul up onto the sand to nest.
North Beach Camp Resort
This campground is a stone’s throw from St Augustine on Florida’s Atlantic Coast and is also handy for Jacksonville.
Accommodating guests in tents, cabins and RVs, this place sits on a barrier island bounded by the saltwater Tolomato River and the ocean.
North Beach Camp Resort occupies a pretty tranche of woodland, shaded by mossy oaks and palmettos. It’s a laid back kind of place, perfect for families and couples seeking privacy.
Stroll over to the beach for a swim or try your hand at surf fishing as you cast off while standing in the shallows. If the wind’s up, it’s also a great place to try surfing.
But though the biggest draw of all is simply to relax, you should drag yourself out of bed at least once during your stay to witness a fabulous sunrise.
Little Talbot Island State Park
This simple barrier island in north east Florida is relatively untouched. Pristine beaches and lush forest draw visitors keen to explore the area’s natural beauty and diverse ecosystem.
Sea turtles nest here from May to October, but you’ll also spot pelicans, gopher tortoises and passing dolphins. Tidal creeks border the site and can be explored by kayak.
Campers can also walk the four mile Dune Ridge Trail, characterized by mature woodland and ancient dune ridges. Magnolia, loblolly pines, cedar, palmetto and spicy bay trees stand alongside live oaks dripping with Spanish moss in a scene that’s hardly changed over the centuries.
As you approach the sea, dunes transition to beach as you pass sea oats and cacti; nature’s driftwood sculptures are a reminder that even the tallest trees can fall victim to the mighty ocean. Camp here, though, and you’ll nestle within the dunes, protected by a cocoon of trees.
DeSoto Park Campground
This waterfront campground on St Christopher Key is an easy half-hour drive from the glorious sand of St Pete Beach. Yet, this location is far more secluded, particularly if you select a pitch that’s surrounded by vegetation.
That said, the De Soto Park campground has 236 sites and a wide range of facilities including grills, picnic tables, laundry, showers, play areas and a shop. Water and electricity are provided at this family-friendly place and you can bring your pet.
On Mullet Key, less than an hour away on foot, you’ll find Battery Laidley and Battery Bigelow, the remains of Fort DeSoto; a small museum provides context. It’s also possible to secure a permit for primitive camping on nearby Shell Key.
Within its southern zone, campers are free to choose where to pitch their tent. In contrast to DeSoto Park, there are no facilities, and you’re expected to bring everything you need in and out by boat, but if you’re keen to be right on the beach, this is one place you can achieve it.
Little Crawl Key
This gem in the Florida Keys is situated just five miles from Marathon in a secluded spot away from the highway. Curry Hammock State Park’s site is small, but if you’re keen to find somewhere peaceful then this is it.
Though some of the pitches are on hard surfaces, choose one with a tent pad if you’re planning to sleep under canvas.
Rent a kayak and loop Deer Key or head out to an offshore sandbar. Slide silently through the mangroves to see jellyfish, crabs, rays, manatees and other marine life.
Alternatively, take a walk and explore your immediate surroundings on foot. Hike over ancient, fossilized coral that’s now covered with tropical hardwood hammock forest.
After night falls, hang out beside the oceanside firepit. The dark sky is ideal for stargazing – ask a ranger for a star chart and see what you can identify.
Long Key State Park
Another highlight of the Florida Keys is this storied state park. After Henry Flagler had finished building his railroad to Key West in the early years of the 20th century, he repurposed the workers’ accommodation as a fishing camp.
Both the railroad and the camp buildings were wiped out by the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, but today, there’s a campground again.
Ocean-facing sites lure today’s visitors for similar reasons as those who came a century ago: to enjoy the view and perhaps fish for a while.
You’ll be able to explore by kayak as well as on foot, or make the most of the clear, shallow water for swimming and snorkeling. 2017’s Hurricane Irma, like her earlier counterpart, impacted facilities, but hike-in, tent-only options are still possible.
Located near Destin on Florida’s Emerald Coast in the Florida panhandle, Miramar Beach is the ideal spot for water sports, swimming and snorkeling.
The same family has owned Camping on the Gulf for decades – after all, if you know you’re onto a good thing, why change it?
Originally, there was just a single beach cottage here. Now a favorite with RV owners and campers alike, it has been welcoming guests since 1968. If you’re keen to spend your vacation under canvas, it offers glamping tents: Mahi Mahi, Red Snapper and Blue Marlin are the largest.
Unsurprisingly, however, the oceanfront pitches are most in demand. Gaze out at a turquoise sea topped by a cloudless sky and it’s not hard to see why: you might even catch a glimpse of a pod of dolphins. The sunsets are fabulous. Sink your toes into the fine white sand and enjoy the view until it’s stolen by the night.
This Everglades campground was once home to Fort Poinsett, which sat on Cape Sable at the southernmost point of the US mainland. You won’t see the structure today: it was a casualty of the 1935 Labor Day hurricane.
What you will find, as you arrive by kayak, canoe or power boat, is a pristine wild beach formed of shells and sand. You’ll need a permit to camp here, of course, but the sunsets and sunrises that you’ll see from this part of the state make all that administrative effort worthwhile.
Don’t forget your bug spray, as the area’s mosquitoes and sandflies can be problematic. Likewise, there are raccoons here that’ll pinch anything edible you leave lying around.
So, be mindful of how you store food and water, though it’s a small price to pay to experience this breathtaking wilderness. The Middle Cape and Northwest Cape campsites enjoy a similar coastal position; the latter’s the least visited of the trio.
To reach this island campsite, you’ll need to travel by boat from Pine Island. Don’t let the convoluted journey put you off, though: this is a wonderful place to camp.
You’ll pitch in a designated campground close to small sand dunes that lead to a photogenic crescent-shaped beach and the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
The shoreline where the Calusa Indians once fished is now a place where vacationers swim, snorkel and search for shells.
Rent a kayak or stand up paddle board to explore more of the island’s undeveloped coastline; it’s common to see manatees, alligators, sea turtles, porpoises and other marine species. Birdwatchers will be in their element, though even a casual stroll along the beach or a fishing trip is rewarding in a place as lovely as this.
You’ll find this tempting site in the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge. These islets stretch for more than a hundred miles from Marco Island south, scattered along the south west Florida coastline as if someone’s edged the shore with lace ribbon.
Like the Everglades National Park, this is a protected area, but here you won’t need a backcountry permit to pitch a tent overnight.
Instead, you get to choose where to lay your head on the island’s wild beaches – most visitors prefer the south east – though you might need to take your chances with mosquitoes and biting midges known as no-see-ums.
Access is by kayak, so plan ahead and make sure you are fully briefed on the weather, tides and currents to avoid getting into trouble. An up-to-date nautical map and GPS are essential as the many islands can look very similar to an untrained eye. Avoid summer, when Panther Key is off-limits to protect nesting birds and sea turtles.
Biscayne National Park
You’ll need a boat to reach the two campgrounds in Biscayne National Park, found on the islands of Elliott Key and Boca Chita Key.
Of the two, beach camping on Elliott Key offers more in the way of facilities, with flush toilets, cold showers and drinking water, although visitors are advised to bring water too in case the system goes down.
Boca Chita Key is more rustic; there’s no fresh water but there are at least saltwater flush toilets. Nevertheless, the sea views from the grassy camping area and the site’s picnic tables more than compensates.
For those with a Florida salt water fishing license, angling is permitted from certain locations. To fill your time, swim or snorkel – so long as you’re outside the boat harbors – or perhaps take a walk on one of the pretty trails that meander through the tropical vegetation.
The longest is a 14 mile out and back path that extends right across Elliott Key.
Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area At Flagler Beach
This small campground, named after storytelling folk singer and local hero Gamble Rogers, forms part of a state park squeezed right up against the Atlantic Ocean. It boasts 34 spaces nestled within the dunes, ideally placed to take advantage of the water.
Stay here and you could spend your days swimming in the surf while squadrons of pelicans cruise overhead on the hunt for fish. Inland, beside the river, or from the shoreline, you can fish for whiting, flounder and trout.
Pitch up from May to September and you might also catch a glimpse of loggerhead, green and leatherback turtles that migrate here.
There’s also a butterfly garden attracting species such as the distinctive Monarch butterfly, the the Gulf fritillary with its bright orange wings or the more delicate coloring of the white peacock.
Atlantic Beach Campground
Atlantic Beach campground forms part of Fort Clinch State Park. This campground is as far north as you’ll get before you cross the state line into Georgia.
Stand and look across and you’ll be facing the same way as a row of cannons, a big clue to the area’s strategic importance during the Civil War. Today, the fort’s a museum that’s a must for anyone with an interest in that era of history.
With just 21 RV and six tent sites, you’ll need to reserve well ahead to camp here, but if you’re lucky enough to secure a spot, the only thing separating you from the ocean and beach will be the breathtaking sand dunes that form a natural windbreak.
Live oaks provide shade for human visitors and local wildlife. As you hike or bike in the area, keep an eye out for gopher tortoises and more than a hundred species of birds including buntings, woodpeckers, sandpipers and hawks. On foot, take a stroll along the beach to look for shells or fossilized sharks’ teeth.
Canaveral National Seashore
Camping here is permitted with a permit that you have to secure in advance. Numbers are strictly limited, but if you’re keen to camp in what the National Park Service claims to be “the longest stretch of undeveloped Atlantic coastline in Florida” you’ll make those plans work no matter what the obstacles.
Overnighting at one of the fourteen islands on Mosquito Lagoon is a pretty basic affair. You’ll need to bring your own water and firewood, keep your food where the raccoons can’t get at it and liberally apply bug spray.
When you leave, you’ll need to haul out your own rubbish, and leave the backcountry site as you found it. But the rewards are great, not least the chance to experience a paradisiacal corner of the Sunshine State. Camping right on the beach in the Canaveral National Seashore is a privilege and sure to be a memory you’ll treasure.
Ready For Beach Camping In Florida?
Of course, the fifteen beach campgrounds that made our shortlist aren’t the only ones that Florida has to offer. And for every campground that’s right on the sand, there’s a handful more that are merely minutes inland.
Given Florida’s warm, sunny weather, you’d expect nothing less. Deciding you want to visit is the easy part. With so much choice, however, figuring out which campground to book first might be a little trickier.