Florida Winter Camping

gamble2 As a native Floridian, I’m in a good position to jump on targets of opportunity that pop up over the winter here, and I just snagged three nights at one of the most coveted camping locations in the Sunshine State – Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreational Area.

Here’s a photo of our setup at the next door site last year. A person could be happy here 😉

This is a tiny oceanfront park just north of Daytona Beach, administered by the state park system, and they use the ReserveAmerica system to allow people to make online reservations. With 34 spots and millions of visitors to Florida every winter, they’re usually booked solid, but people cancel and things happen, and lo and behold there were three nights in a row at a beautiful spot next weekend when I checked the reservation website, so I pounced right on that baby.

The ReserveAmerica website is here, and if you aren’t registered already you should be, and at recreation.gov as well.  Both of these sites are used by state park and federal systems to make campsites available online. You can search by area – all campsites near a particular city – which is way better than some of the less user-friendly reservation systems.  State park camping fees here in Florida are $30ish a night, half off for resident seniors, so I can afford $46 or so for three nights of oceanfront camping right after New Years.  The next available night at this particular campsite is August, to give you an idea of the demand.

Here we are at the day stay area at St George. With a Class B, you can do this, returning to the campground at dusk. Try it in a big rig and they'd bounce you back  to the campground posthaste.
Here we are at the day stay area at St George. With a Class B, you can do this, returning to the campground at dusk. Try it in a big rig and they’d bounce you back to the campground posthaste.

Florida state parks that I like besides Gamble Rogers are Julian Bruce on St George Island over southwest of Tallahassee on the Gulf, and St. Joseph Peninsula State Park a little further west, approaching Panama City. Neither have the beachfront camping like Gamble Rogers, but you’re still close enough to hear the surf at night, and with a Class B you just go down to the oceanfront day stay area and hang out all day.   These two parks are also much easier to get reservations for.

Come back to the Gulf Coast, Mike. All that white sand is waiting for you ;-)
The beach at St. Joe. Come back to the Gulf Coast, Mike. All that white sand is waiting for you 😉

The blindingly white gulf beaches are what had Mike Wendland mooning over how wonderful it would be to spend forever there – until he went to Colorado and fell in love with the mountains. Oh well, I am sure a month or two of Michigan winter weather will reawaken his fond memories of toes in the sand down by the Gulf. I’ll throw a photo of the beach at St Joseph Peninsula State Park in to jog his memory. As you can tell, I’m partial to beach camping – there are plenty of inland state parks, but I seldom visit them.

I really don’t have much experience trying to camp in South Florida in the winter, but the laws of supply and demand dictate that it’s going to be a lot harder than it is up in the part of the state where I live. Commercial campgrounds are pricey, state and county parks are full, and if you go to the Keys, expect to pay hotel money for a campsite – if you can get one.

I did have good luck snagging a spot for a few days at a St Pete county park out on the tip of the sandspit at the mouth of Tampa Bay, Fort De Soto, and it was $35-40ish.

I know winter camping in Florida is everyone’s dream, but that’s a problem, when “everyone” includes a good proportion of Florida’s 45 million annual visitors who arrive by car or RV.  I have a low tolerance for crowds anyway, so you won’t find me down there in South Florida often.

88 thoughts on “Florida Winter Camping”

  1. Thanks for the info. We have reservations at one campground on the Gulf side but have discovered that you need to make plans a year in advance. That’s way too hard for us to do. So, we are going to take our chances and try the drive-up method. If we don’t have any luck, oh well. This is our first year as “snowbirds” and we’re learning lots of things! Camo Ken has a 10# bass on his bucket list; that’s our focus this winter. Thanks again.

  2. Thanks for the FL camping ideas. We are headed there in late Jan to spend Feb in FL. We have often make this CA to FL trip and always enjoy it. Love visiting friends, relatives and birding along the way. A couple of parks we like is the St. Joseph Peninsula SP that you mentioned , Manatee Springs SP near Chiefland, DeSota (you mentioned it) and Anastasia SP.

    Now we have a few more to try!!

  3. Jerry Glenn Hartwig

    “I know winter camping in Florida is everyone’s dream, “. Um – sorry, but no. Like the B though… We travelled for years in a B until we felt the need for a bit more space. Enjoyed the article.

  4. You cannot stress enough — MAKE RESERVATIONS EARLY … there are sites in Florida that are book a year in advance — specially for winter dates. If you drive to Florida from December to mid-February, you’ll encounter endless caravans of campers and RVs from up north, headed to Florida. — MAKE RESERVATIONS EARLY

  5. One comment. You bust your buns getting all set up and everything is perfect but you only have this one vehicle. Then the wife says I forgot to get such and such!!! So you have to walk 4 miles to the nearest store?? There just does not seem to be a perfect answer. Should you pull a short Livinglite trailer or a Jeep? Or an electric bicycle attached to the back hitch?? Riding a bicycle in a rain storm really smacks!!!

  6. I think your stories are wonderful, but I would like to add a suggestion. Could you please add more photos of the vehicles and the surrounding areas. I am a wannabe Roadtreker and eagerly go I to reading these posts hoping for more pics of what I will someday be doing. Thanks

  7. I love your stories. would like to see more photos of the free sites you use. We are not sure if we want a roadtrek or small class A or C, just for security sleeping. Seems like a larger RV would be safer from someone trying to break-in.

  8. the top photo is Gamble Rogers, just north of Daytona. the gulf location photos have where they are in the captions. Class Bs are actually safer as far as breakins go – no flimsy doors and fiberglass stuff. i have never seen a class C door you couldn’t open with a screwdriver.

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