Want to save money while camping in Florida?
Then free camping is for you! Scattered across national forests, water management districts, equestrian camps, and more, the best free campsites in Florida are not only free, but they are also among the most beautiful and secluded in the state.
Here’s everything you need to know about free camping in Florida.
Best Free Camping in Florida
Although the West is arguably the best place for free camping in the United States, southeastern states like Florida actually have quite a few free campsites if you know where to look.
National forests are one of the best places for free camping in Florida – and pretty much anywhere else.
Of course, national forest camping has a pretty extensive set of rules and regulations. For dispersed camping, you’ll need to select a previously used primitive site, abide by all campfire restrictions, and stay no longer than 14 days at a time.
A few of the best national forests for free camping in Florida include:
- Apalachicola National Forest – A wide variety of free primitive campsites are located here. Harper’s Hunt Camp, Big Gully Landing, and Smith Creek Landing are a few of the most popular.
- Ocala National Forest – This is another Florida national forest with a selection of free campsites for tents, camper vans, and RVs. Davenport Landing is one of the best. It’s location near the Ocklawaha River makes it excellent for canoeing and kayaking.
- Osceola National Forest – Another national forest with excellent Florida dispersed camping. The best free campsites include Big Camp Hunt Camp and Sandhill Hunt Camp.
For more information about each free camping in Florida national forests, call the local ranger station for the national forest you wish to explore.
Water Management Districts
Another option for free camping in Florida is at one of several water management districts.
Spread out across most of Florida, these small sections of all but unspoiled wilderness often allow primitive dispersed camping in previously used campsites. Note that only tent camping is allowed in Florida’s WMDs – no RV or van camping. Furthermore, some campsites are walk-in, paddle-in, or reserved for equestrians only.
A few of the best water management districts for free camping in Florida include:
- Northwest Florida WMD – Several free campsites are located within this extensive WMD. Many are hike-in or paddle-in only. One of our favorites is Bear Hewitt Landing, a free campsite in Florida accessible by vehicles. It’s excellent location next to the Choctawhatchee River makes it popular among anglers.
- Suwanee River WMD – Located in north-central Florida, this WMD has several camping opportunities for campers, ATV enthusiasts, hikers, anglers, and equestrians alike. A handful of other campgrounds are paddle-in only and are reserved for kayakers and canoers.
- St. Johns River WMD – A multitude of free campsites are located here. However, the majority can only be reached by hiking, horseback riding, or paddling. The very primitive area also has several large group campsites, including the popular Bayard Conservation Area.
- Southwest Florida WMD – Free camping opportunities do exist in this WMD. However, it’s one of the most popular in the state so expect company. A ton of different options are available, although we’re particular to Deep Creek Preserve.
- South Florida WMD – The oldest and largest of Florida’s water management districts, this remains one of the best places for Florida free camping. A ton of different recreation opportunities are available here including birdwatching, hiking, biking, paddling, hunting, fishing, and more.
Although all managed under the same banner, each water management district has its own set of rules and regulations so read up on them before your visit.
Other Free Campgrounds
For most campers, a stay in a national forest or water management district is your best bet for free camping in Florida. However, a handful of other options do exist. These include:
- Hunt Camps – Most often part of national forests or water management districts, some Florida hunt camps are located separately. Hunt camps are often free. You don’t have to be hunting to camp in these.
- Equestrian Camps – Although not always free, many horse camps in Florida are indeed free (or very cheap). These are located in different areas throughout the state.
- Parking Lots – Many Walmarts, Bass Pro Shops, and casinos allow free overnight parking in their parking lots. However, you are restricted to sleeping in a self-contained vehicle at these. No tents allowed.
Of course, yet another option is stealth camping. Know that while stealth camping in Florida is often against the rules, it can be done in a pinch. Just make sure you arrive late and leave early, don’t spend time outside of your vehicle, stay very quiet, and always remain respectful of neighborhood residents and businesses.
Best Boondocking in Florida
Most of the free campsites outlined above are suitable for both tent camping and RV camping.
However, you should always search online for any current info regarding each campground before your trip. Many free campsites in Florida have dirt or gravel access roads that are rarely maintained and can become rough, especially after rain. In addition, some of these campsites aren’t sizable enough for large RVs to begin with.
When it comes to free RV camping in Florida, it’s best to have at least one alternative campsite as backup.
Like most free RV camping areas in other states, the free RV campsites in Florida are almost always set up for dry camping only. This style of camping, known as boondocking, means that you won’t have access to common RV hookups like water, sewer, and electric.
In fact, most free campsites in Florida are very primitive with few if any amenities. You’ll be lucky if there are vault toilets, picnic tables, or fire rings at these campsites, let alone potable water.
Boondocking in Florida requires a self-sufficient RV. Make sure you have the essentials required for water, food, and warmth. For short stays, you can probably get by with just a generator. For longer stays, you might consider a portable power device or even solar panels for your RV.
How to Find Free Campsites in Florida
As mentioned above, it’s best to have several free campsites lined up for each area of Florida you plan to explore.
This gives you an easy backup in case your first choice doesn’t meet expectations. Because of their remote and primitive nature, many free campsites have rough access roads, especially after heavy rain. Others can close without warning. Still others might have a fee introduced without mention online.
In addition to our selection of the best free camping in Florida outlined above, we encourage you to do your own research. Use online and print maps to scout out any national forests, water management districts, and equestrian camps in Florida.
Useful online tools for finding free camping include Campendium and my favorite, FreeCampsites.net. These all have features that enable you to narrow down your search to geographic area. Specify “free” on Campendium and The Dyrt to ensure paid campgrounds don’t appear in your search results.
Finally, word of mouth is always a fantastic way to track down free camping in Florida and elsewhere. If you’re already at one free campsite, ask other campers if they know of others located nearby. Oftentimes locals are happy to share their free camping secrets with friendly fellow travelers.
Gear You Need for Free Camping in Florida
Free camping requires pretty much the same gear as normal camping.
That said, because of its often-primitive nature, a few extra pieces of equipment are required whether you’re in a tent, a camper van, or an RV.
First, you’ll need all your normal camping gear like a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, camping stove, lanterns, and cooler.
Then, specifically for long-term dry camping, many campers often bring a portable power device, camping shower, and portable toilet. At the very least, you should know how to go to the bathroom in the woods as most free campsites in Florida don’t have bathroom facilities.
Finally, it’s essential you’re familiar with the leave no trace principles. Most importantly, pack out all of your garbage (including human waste) to leave your free campsite in even better condition than it was when you first arrived.
You now know where to find the best free campsites in Florida.
Now, we’d like to hear from you:
Have you gone free camping in Florida? Did you use a tent or an RV? Do you prefer national forests, water management areas, equestrian camps, or something different altogether?
Let us know in the comments below!
Interested in more luxurious camping? Check out the best places to go Glamping In Florida here.