While South Florida is known for its breathtaking beaches and amazing nightlife, getting away from the fast-paced, city life is sometimes a necessity. Luckily, ocean front views aren’t the only ones that the state has to offer.
With a strong dedication to the land it’s built on and the wildlife that populates its natural areas, South Florida parks offer some great camping. Whether you prefer the postcard-worthy, crystalline waters or want something a little more rugged, you’re sure to come across it after just a few hours in the car. And, whether you’re looking for a family fun trip or want to be one with Mother Nature, there’s bound to be endless action. Check out these three must-visit South Florida campgrounds.
Entrance Fee: Free
Price per Night: $10 – $30
Best Time to Visit: Winter (Reservation necessary)
If South Beach, Miami isn’t for you, just 45 miles west, you might find a reprieve. As the northernmost stop on this list, Big Cypress offers the most intense experience out of these three South Florida campgrounds. But, even if you’re a new camper, that shouldn’t deter you.
Hidden across bumpy, backcountry roads, this is the closest you’ll get to true, wild, Midwest-style camping. The open campsites offer you room for large groups all while maintaining a homey feel for campers staying for long periods of time. There, you’ll also have your own fire pit, making cooking easy; however, there is no running water, so the outhouse will have to do.
There’s no shortage of hiking trails either. Miles of dirt roads – some of which are four-wheel-friendly – stretch alongside swampy water where you’re more than likely to see gators sunning themselves. But, while the dinosaur-esque creatures welcome you into their home, don’t overlook the beautiful flora that grows. Over 30 species of delicate orchids inhabit the area and offer an almost comical contrast to the resilient red mangroves.
Overall, this is the place to be if you want to immerse yourself in all of the unique flora and fauna that South Florida has to offer.
Entrance Fee: $8 – $25
Price per Night: $20 – $30
Best Time to Visit: Winter (Reservation suggested)
At the southernmost tip of Everglades National Park lies Flamingo. As a rite of passage for many South Florida travelers, Flamingo offers easy-to-access backcountry camping for tent and RV campers. But that’s not the only allure of this site.
The true adventure begins the second you enter the park. With multiple stopping points on your 38-mile trek from the visitor’s center, there are seemingly endless cypress domes that beg to be investigated. The animals are also a sight to be seen, as it’s not uncommon to spy the ground’s namesake – a flamingo – or even a gator. Kayak or hike your way through – either way, be sure to get out and explore. The culture among the wildlife is what makes the trip worth it.
Once you set up camp, you’ll have a fire pit, which not only serves as a way to stay warm – yes, it can get chilly at night in South Florida – and cook your food, but offers a little bit of refuge from mosquitos. And as one of the darkest spots in the continental United States, Flamingo’s open lands offer near-perfect views of the Milky Way when in season. The immenseness of the sky above, mixed with the calming whir of insects makes this the ideal getaway for the camper looking for a low-key trip.
Entrance Fee: $2 – $8 (plus $.50/person surcharge)
Price per Night: $36 (plus $6.70 reservation fee)
Best Time to Visit: Winter & Spring (Reservation necessary)
For ocean loving campers and families, Bahia Honda is a dream location. About 45 minutes north of Key West and 10 minutes south of Marathon, in Big Pine Key is the state park that truly has something for everyone. Swimming, kayaking, fishing, scuba diving and more, you’re bound to have an active, fun and amazingly beautiful stay.
On the east side of the road is where you’ll access the park. To your right, you’ll have a visitor’s center where you can rent gear for daily activities. Additionally, there is a beach with a perfect view of the old Bahia Honda Rail Bridge, giving you a little piece of history as you make your own memories.
To the left, are your campsites and more beaches. If you’re lucky enough (and book way far in advance), you’ll score a site just a stone’s throw away from the water. And while you can’t sleep on the beach, no site is more than a three-minute walk away, meaning you’ll have the sound of gentle waves to rock you to sleep under canopy trees and very dark skies. Not to mention, there are cabins on the far west side of the park.
A big plus for families and new campers are the facilities. Running water (there’s a spout at each campsite) and showers that are cleaned daily make this hotspot a true luxury. Just be sure to watch for the food-stealing raccoons!
Author’s Favorite Travel Gear
Nikon D7100: When camping in South Florida, you see an array of landscapes and wildlife that you’ll want to remember forever. Though a little pricey, a great DSLR can capture amazing long exposures, like the ones you’ll want to take during Milky Way season.
Manfrotto Compact Tripod: When shooting long exposures, you’ll need something sturdy and low to the ground to mount it on, especially when wind is whipping off the water. Just be prepared for it to get a little bit of water and sand in it.
Black Diamond Storm Headlamp: In the Everglades specifically, you’ll be visiting some of the darkest spots in the United States. Don’t ruin your night vision by blinding yourself and others with bright flashlights. Instead, opt for a red light headlamp for ease.