Guide to Camping in Florida State Parks

Florida has an incredibly diverse system of state parks, and its campgrounds are no exception. From forests and forts to beaches and springs, there are some amazing opportunities for camping in Florida State Parks.

This guide will focus on tent camping in Florida State Park campsites. Some of these tips may carry over into RV camping, cabins, primitive camping, and/or non-Florida State Park sites. 

I’ve lived in Florida my entire life and I’ve camped in many different ways in many different places. When I was a kid, my family used to go primitive camping (no access to electricity, water, or bathrooms) a lot. I’ve been to Girl Scout camp, summer camp, and backyard camping. As an adult, I prefer camping in Florida State Parks, where I have electricity, water, access to my vehicle, and the bathhouse is just a short walk away.

For those new to camping, or those just looking for some new tips and tricks, this is our complete Florida Lives Guide to Camping in Florida State Parks.

Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park

Camping in Florida State Parks – General Info & Rules

Many Florida State Parks have the same rules and similar amenities. Check online for any specific information for the park you’ll be staying at.

  • Most campsites can accommodate up to 8 people, 2 tents, and 2 vehicles. Children under 6 years old do not count towards the total occupancy.
  • Check-In time for campsites is at 3pm and Check-Out is at 1pm.
  • If you plan to arrive after sunset, call the park before 5 p.m. local time for the gate combination.
  • Park admission is included with your camping reservation, and you may enter the park at any time throughout the day, even before check-in.
  • Campsites or cabins not reserved or occupied may be rented to walk-in visitors on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • Full-facility campsites for tents and RVs include water, electricity, a grill or grill grate, and picnic table, along with centralized showers, restrooms and dump station.
  • Quiet time is from 11pm – 7am nightly
  • If you have additional vehicles, they usually can be parked in overflow parking areas. Ask the ranger upon check-in where the designated area is.
  • Pets must remain confined or on a 6-ft leash at all times, even in the campsite. Many campsites do not allow pets to be left at the campsite unattended.
  • Fire wood should be purchased locally or directly from the park in order to avoid infestation of pests from other regions, like the emerald ash borer beetle. Fire wood is usually available for purchase from the ranger station or concessions store in most parks.
  • Campsite prices vary from $16 to $42 a night depending on the park. A 50% discount on base campsite fees is available to Florida residents who are 65 years of age or older, Florida residents possessing a current Social Security disability award certificate or a 100% disability award certificate from the federal government, and families operating a licensed family foster home.
  • In most cases, the maximum length of a camping or cabin stay is 14 consecutive nights, or 56 total nights in one park within a 6-month period.

More reservation information can be found here.

Little Manatee River State Park

Booking a Campsite

Campsites can be booked from the Florida State Parks website or by calling toll free 1-800-326-3521 or TDD 888-433-0287 between 8am and 8pm Eastern time.

Currently, campsites can be booked up to 11 months in advance on a rolling basis starting at 8am each day.  New starting in January 2024, Florida Residents will be able to book campsites 11 months in advance, while non-Florida residents will need to wait until 10 months out.

Some of the more popular campsites will definitely need to be booked quite far in advance for weekend availability. I’d recommend booking as early as possible if you’re looking to book a specific park or a specific date.

Choosing the Right Campsite

It can sometimes be hard to tell which campsite will be best for your needs. Are you looking for a site with the most privacy? Maybe one with the longest parking area for your rig? Or maybe one closest to the bathhouse or playground. While you may be able to check some of these factors beforehand, really the best way to tell what a campsite will be like is to scope it out in advance. Of course, this is not always possible if you don’t live near the park. These are some of the ways I use to determine if a campsite will meet my needs.

Check the available descriptions, photos, and maps when looking at campsites on the booking site. You’ll find details like this for each campsite:

Pay attention to the max vehicle length if you’re bringing an RV or large vehicle. Also, if you see a gravel “Drive Way Surface” that likely means you’ll have a gravel site and you’ll want to bring an extra tarp for your tent and some kind of air mattress or pad to sleep on.

The map will show you the general layout of the campsite. You can try to determine how close certain campsites are to each other, or how close you’ll be the bathhouse. If you’re booking two or more campsites, you can see which ones are closer together from the map.

I also like to look at where they offer pretty useful pictures of most campsites!

I’ve camped at Silver Springs State Park, Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park, Manatee Springs State Park, and Anastasia State Park.

When Is the Best Time of Year for Camping in Florida State Parks?

Florida weather is “mild” year-round, so technically you can camp in any season if you’re prepared. Of course, some seasons might be a better camping experience than others.

The summer is typically extremely hot, humid, and rainy. This doesn’t make for a great camping experience in my opinion. If you have access to electricity, you can bring fans to keep cool in your tent because the tents can get very hot and stuffy. Especially when you have to keep all the window flaps closed due to rain. 

Winters can get quite cold in North Florida, so check the weather in advance and be prepared for the possibility of a near- or below-freezing night if you plan a winter camping trip. I’ve camped in 40-degree weather before and it was not exactly pleasant either. But there are sleeping bags and gear rated for much colder weather, if you are prepared to spend the extra money for it. Wintertime in central or south Florida will likely be more mild.

That leaves the Fall and Spring as the superior times of year for camping in Florida State Parks. The weather is typically enjoyable during these seasons, it’s not usually as rainy, and the crowds will be a little bit lower. 

Holiday weekends (especially Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Labor Day) will likely be extra busy. So avoid those weekends if you’re looking for a bit more peace and quiet.

Anastasia State Park

How Many Nights to Camp

I prefer to camp two nights usually. I think that’s enough time to fully explore the park, have plenty of down time to relax at the campsite, and it’s doable for most people with work and/or school schedules. As a light sleeper, I usually find after 2 nights of not sleeping great that I’m ready to go home! If this will be your first time camping, I’d still recommend 2 nights just so you can get a feel for it. With just one night, you’d set up your camp around 3pm, and have to break it down less than 24 hours later for checkout. Of course, if you’re inclined to stay for more nights, absolutely go for it!

Choosing Your Tent & Gear

Some considerations when choosing a tent are how many people do you need to fit, how much head room do you need, your budget, and how much space do you have for transportation and/or storage of the tent. My preference for 2 people camping is a 6-person tent. I also like to be able to stand up inside the tent, so having a tall one is a must for me! For a family of 4, I’d recommend at least a 6-person tent, but an 8-person would be super roomy and easily accommodate everyone’s stuff.

We have the 6-person Coleman SkyDome Tent with screen porch and we really like it! It’s very spacious for at least 4 people plus all our gear! The screen porch is perfect for taking shoes on/off, storing our cooler, or just sitting inside at dusk when the mosquitos are the worst. This tent is really quick to set up, easy to store, and has held up really well for us.

Depending on the level of comfort you’d like to have, you may also want an air mattress, sleeping bags, and/or sheets and blankets . We usually take our regular pillows from the bed. We have a set of older sheets we keep with our camping gear. If the weather is mild, I’d recommend bringing a light blanket in case it’s too warm for a sleeping bag.

We also like to bring a folding table to use for extra space for cooking. Each site does have a picnic table, but having the extra table space has been a game changer for us.

For first time campers, I recommend getting “starter gear” aka stuff you don’t need to invest too much money on. This may mean a smaller tent, borrowing things from friends and family, or buying secondhand. That way if you decide camping isn’t your cup of tea, you haven’t spent a lot of money on the best gear. If you decide you love camping, you can always upgrade later on as budget allows.

My Camping Gear Recommendations

These are the products I use and love!

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Cooking & Camp Food

Camp food is one of those things that takes some practice to master. We’ve learned that prepping in advance is a game changer. What takes just a few minutes of extra prep in your own kitchen can save a whole bunch of time and stress when you get to camp. Think pre-cutting veggies for meals and storing them in a container in the cooler, make-ahead chilled sides like pasta salad or potato salad, putting meat to marinate in ziploc bags, prepping snacks like grapes, carrot sticks, or cheese cubes in containers.

Cooler organization is important to make sure everything stays appropriately cold and doesn’t get soggy. Storing things in air tight containers or ziploc freezer bags will ensure they won’t get water-logged once your ice starts to melt. We try to bring as little as possible that needs to stay chilled so we don’t have to keep a ton of stuff in the cooler.

Some easy meals we’ve had great success with:

  • Burritos (breakfast, lunch, or dinner!) – make and assemble at home, wrap in tin foil, and they’re ready to throw onto a low fire!
  • Anything on a stick – precooked sausage, hot dogs, marshmallows, etc.
  • Anything where you just add hot water- instant mashed potatoes, instant rice sides, soup mixes, hot chocolate mix, ramen, oatmeal, etc.
  • Mountain Pies: get a mountain pie maker, two slices of bread, and add any fillings you want! Some of our favorites are pizza (pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, pepperoni, toppings); PB&]; Elvis (peanut butter, marshmallow, sliced banana, chocolate); grilled cheese; cherry or apple pie filling.
  • Breakfast Ideas:
    • carton of liquid eggs in a cast iron pan mixed with diced potatoes, peppers, onions, and fully-cooked sausage (all the diced veggies can be prepped in advance for a dump-and-go breakfast)
    • pancakes – grab a “just add water” box mix, cook in a pan, then add toppings and syrup.
  • Lunch & Dinner Ideas:
    • grilled meat – just throw it onto the grill! For sides, wrap potatoes in foil and put into the coals and mix a bagged salad.
    • foil packs – add ground beef (or turkey), seasonings, and veggies of choice (I recommend some combination of green beans, onions, bell peppers, zucchini, mushrooms, and/or sliced potatoes) in a square of tin foil, wrap tightly, and place into hot coals.
    • chili mac – (my personal fave!) get a box of mac and cheese, boil your pasta, and add the cheese + a can of chili.

Alcohol at Campsites: Typically most Florida State Parks do not allow alcohol. However, registered campers are allowed to bring alcohol to their campsites. The alcohol may not leave the campsite, and please avoid glass containers. 

My Camp Cooking Recommendations

These are the products I use and love!

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Miscellaneous Tips & Tricks

  • Check out what the park has to offer in advance and bring your own gear to save on rental costs. Are there bike trails? Bring your bikes! A kayaking trail? Bring your kayaks or SUP.
  • Don’t forget about lighting your campsite at night. You’ll want 1 or 2 bright lanterns for lighting, flashlights or smaller lanterns for your tent and getting around. And we find headlights to be extremely helpful for cooking, walking to the bathhouse, and any other night time activities. If you want to get fancy, you could also bring electric lights or string lights to hang around the campsite. 
  • If you’ve never set up a tent before, you may want to practice with your tent in your backyard or living room before camping. It’ll help to make the process go more smoothly once you’re actually at the campsite.
  • If at all possible, try to get your tent set up before it gets dark! I can say from personal experience, it is so much harder to get your campsite set up in the dark, even for an experienced camper.
  • Don’t leave food or trash unattended at your campsite, especially at night. The raccoons will get into it. We’ve even had a soft-sided cooler ripped into by raccoons. It’s best to keep all food stuff in your car or a hard-sided cooler or bin when not in use. If you’re camping in bear country (like Ocala National Forest area), there will be more specific rules to follow for food storage such as using a bear locker.

Packing List of Easy-to-Forget Things

  • Dish soap + sponge
  • Small broom + dustpan for sweeping out tent
  • Table cloth for picnic table
  • Oven mitt for handling foil/hot pans out of the fire
  • Long tongs for cooking over the fire
  • Cooking utensils
  • Plates + silverware + cups (we like an insulated cup like Yeti to keep drinks cold longer!)
  • Paper towels
  • Shower shoes
  • Bug spray or Thermacell for camp
  • Extra batteries
  • Lighter
  • Extension cord (if your site has electricity)

Checklist for Camping in Florida State Parks

Now available in my Etsy Shop! This printable checklist is the perfect way to keep track of all your camping adventures at Florida State Parks! Print out the checklist, and hang it on the wall or take it on the go to check off your camping trips! You will receive all three colors with your purchase.

The information in this post was accurate at the time of publishing to the best of the author’s knowledge. If you are planning to visit any of the sites mentioned in this post, we recommend checking the most up-to-date information on their respective websites.

2 thoughts on “Guide to Camping in Florida State Parks”

  1. This is a well written article. I’ve seen some that appeared to be written by someone on the Florida State payroll. I’ve visited 47 of the 51 Florida State Parks with RV camping, so I appreciate your information to campers. By the end of July 2024 I will have been to all of them .
    There are many unwritten rules I hope all campers check out. I won’t list them but one rookie mistake RVers and tent campers make. Whenever possible turn off your lights and light strings as a courtesy to other campers. It’s miserable when you wake in the middle of the night thinking the sun is coming up and in reality it’s 2am. It also makes seeing the stars difficult if you’re into astrology.

    1. Thanks so much for the kind words, Dennis! That’s amazing that you’ve camped at so many of the Florida State Parks! And that’s a great point about the unwritten rules. There is definitely an etiquette to camping and sharing nature with the others around you.

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