How to Find Amazing Boondocking in Florida
Florida is a very popular place to be in the winter months. Once the holidays are over, a flood of people enter the state. Many are in RVs. Due to the influx, and the high prices at most campgrounds, we wanted to find some boondocking alternatives.
It turns out that there are some great boondocking camp spots in Florida that are either free or cheap! Compared to a lot of the $50+/night places, these were great deals and got us out into the “Real Florida.”
What is Boondocking?
While it is nice to have full RV hookups with all the water and electricity you could every want, we and many others out there don’t need it every day of every stay. Many actually prefer boondocking as a way to get away from cramped RV parks, and as a way to save money – ESPECIALLY in Florida.
Boondocking is camping without hookups. This means you need to manage your own utilities, including supplying a power source, having fresh water, and taking care of your grey and black water (sewage) responsibly. It is extremely important to practice Leave No Trace so that you leave your campsite better than it was when you arrived.
Want to learn more? Check out this Boondocking 101 Guide.
Boondocking Spots We’ve Stayed At in Florida:
Location: Central Florida,south of Orlando, north of Okeechobee
Camping Info: Primitive camping is allowed at designated campsites only. A no-cost camping permit (reservation) is required from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and can be obtained by calling 352-732-1225. Campsites are available first-come, first-served.
There is also camping at the Prairie Lakes Unit just down the road. However, camping is not permitted at these sites during established hunts at Prairie Lakes, with the exception of the small game season.
This area was a little rough, and the spaces weren’t marked you just found a spot that suited. Not too many good places for big rigs, but we found one near the restrooms. Grass was tall, and watch out for any mounds. Otherwise it was quiet and was a perfect overnight spot after Orlando heading south.
Location: Southern Central Florida, south of Lake Okeechobee
Camping Info: Camp year-round at one of the two designated camping areas. Kowechobe Camp is an open field with easy access for trailers. Hammock Camp is located under an oak hammock with plenty of shade and a vault toilet. See aerial pictures below of the two camp areas. You will need to bring your own water.
Our Thoughts: We stayed at the Kowechobe Camp in the open field. It was a little soft, so we parked right in the middle where it looked like there had been a stabilized road at one point. Bring bug spray. The area has miles and miles of dirt roads for biking or driving. We saw many gators, birds, caracaras, and cows. The WMA is slowly reclaiming the land as ranching leases expire.
Read more about our time at Dinner Island Ranch WMA.
Location: Southwest Florida
Camping Info: There is no free camping in Picayune (pronounced pick-ah-yune). Camping is $10/night and includes the $2 day use fee – you do not need to pay both. There is a camp host on site. Please call the forest office at (239) 348-7557 or the Caloosahatchee District HQ at (239) 690-8000 if you have camping questions.
This is a popular equestrian area. There is no electricity, but water is available for tank fill up near the horse paddocks. No marked sites, but camp host will direct you and provide picnic tables and fire rings. It is about a 45 minute drive through the Golden Gate Community to get to Naples – no access directly to or from Alligator Alley, although you will drive over it to get there. You’ll take dirt roads following the signs to the camping area. Porta-potty available.
We really liked it here! The camp host was wonderful, and the ground was hard and grassy.
Picayune Strand is one of the largest restoration projects in Florida and is part of the larger Everglades Restoration project.
In 1985, the state of Florida set its sights on acquiring 19,000 parcels sold to buyers around the world in the mother of Florida swampland scams. The developer went bankrupt, leaving behind an eco-mess. Bulldozers and dredges had carved roads and canals out of the wilderness to build what was promoted as “The World’s Largest Subdivision,” cutting off water flows and slicing through wildlife habitat.
The restoration plan seeks to wipe the ill-fated project off the map, plugging 48 miles of canals, tearing out 260 miles of roads and building three pump stations to spread the water across the landscape and mimic the way water used to flow on its way to the Ten Thousand Islands.
Read more about our time at Picayune Strand State Forest.
Location: North Central Florida, N of Gainesville
Camping Info: River Rise Preserve State Park offers primitive equestrian camping off of US27. The area can accommodate up to 40 rigs, including tents, nightly. The area contains a 20-stall horse barn, available on a first come, first serve basis, a restroom with showers and two established fire circles. There are no electric or water hookups in this camping area. Well behaved, leashed pets are allowed in the camping area, but not on the trails.
Camping reservations can be made up to 60 days in advance. Walk-ins are welcome on a first come, first serve basis, and can pay camping fees by calling or visiting the O’Leno State Park ranger station. Fees for primitive equestrian camping are $5.00 (plus tax) per person, per night. Please contact the O’Leno State Park ranger station at (386) 454-1853 between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. for information, to pay fees, or to make a reservation.
- Equestrian area is off US 27 – not what your GPS will do if you type in “River Rise Preserve State Park.”
- This area is gated, so call ahead to the O’Leno State Park ranger station to pay and to get gate access code.
- Camp host at the time (Feb 2016) was not welcoming since we did not have a horse, but ranger station okayed.
- Decent bathrooms with running water, flush, and hot showers. Wash sink outside.
- O’Leno State Park nearby has good hiking and the River Sink – $5/car day use
- Campfire rings available and firewood is plentiful everywhere you look.
Location: Panhandle of Florida
Camping Info: Mack Landing is a quiet campground on a ridge above the Ochlockonee River, with spaces for campers, RVs, or tents. No hookups, but drinking water available to fill tanks. Non-flush restroom. Only $3 per night, self-service pay station. First-come, first-served. Host on site October-March. Open year round, quiet hours 10pm to 6am
Our Thoughts: GREAT place! Only a dozen or so sites under tall pine trees – perfect for slack-lining. The sites were large, had picnic tables and fire rings. Camp host said that on the weekends and in the winter it can get busy, but at the end of February it was starting to get too warm for most people to not have A/C.
How to Find Boondocking Places in Florida
Many Wildlife Management Areas allow primitive camping, as do some of the Water Management District Lands.
Boondocking in Florida Water Management Areas
Florida Water Management is broken up into five different zones, and some areas offer free dispersed camping. Here are the links to the camping information in each zone:
- Northwest Florida WMD
- Suwannee River WMD (have to look at each site individually to determine camping availability)
- St. Johns River WMD
- Southwest Florida WMD
- South Florida WMD
*Just be aware that some are not accessible by larger RVs and some do not allow pets.
Boondocking in Florida Wildlife Management Areas
Florida Wildlife Management Areas often offer camping for hunters and equestrians. With some exceptions, camping is generally very primitive and seasonal. Camping seasons, rules, permits, and fees vary from site to site. Some campgrounds within the wildlife management area system require that campers obtain free camping reservation permits prior to arrival. There are 5 regions of WMAs. You do have to click into each on to determine if camping is available:
In our experience these areas can be maintained or not, hosted or not, in a field or with real camping spaces.
Other Free Overnight Parking Spots
- Boondockers Welcome – “Be My Guest” RV Parking – $25/year membership that pays for itself!
- Harvest Hosts – RV Overnight Camping at 600+ Wineries, Breweries, Farms, and more!
- Walmarts – although call ahead or check the AllStays Walmart Finder to make sure Overnight Parking is allowed. Many places have county or city ordinances against it.
- Cracker Barrels – again, call ahead to make sure. We stayed at one in Gainesville and Destin, FL without a problem, but Naples wouldn’t allow it. Some will even let you stay multiple nights if you talk to the manager (and have breakfast with them a few times).
- Immokalee Casino – call ahead to get availability and the okay.
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