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Choosing the Perfect Campsite

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schessl | Green Wave Forum News
Published Thursday, June 18, 2009

One of the most important decisions that you'll make while camping in Florida is choosing your campsite. You'll need proper planning and a bit of luck to find that perfect place. A good camp with nice scenery, adequate drainage and easy access will contribute greatly to your trip. Make a poor choice and face a river running through the tent during storms and mosquitoes, biting flies and a night with little sleep.

Anclote CampsiteBut don't fret - we're here with some tips to help you find that camping Shangri La.

In Florida there are essentially three kinds of camping: Commercial facilities, State Parks and Primitive Camping. We have everything from Fort Wilderness at DisneyWorld and KOA to full-hookup sites at Silver River State Park to chickees and beach camping in the Everglades. What you look for in a campsite is different depending on where you are camping.


Choosing campsites at commercial facilities and state parks is easier since you are generally restricted to predesignated areas and depending upon season, a limited supply of sites. Be sure to reserve your site as early as possible as if you wait until the weekend before your trip you may be out of luck or limited to a choice of one or two less than idea sites. This is especially important during the snowbird season (October to April).

Here are some more helpful tips for camping in established commercial areas and state parks:

  • Reserve your site early. Oh, did I mention that already?
  • If you brought your kayak or canoe, select a site nearest to the water.
  • Speaking of water - does the site have a water faucet and electricity?
  • For some people selecting a spot near the restrooms is helpful, but for others this might not be desirable. Usually there is lots of traffic of people coming and "going" at all hours. That said, having a restroom within a reasonable distance is good.
  • Don't pick a site near garbage dumpsters. In Florida it gets hot and they get smelly.
  • Most parks have designated sites for RVs and tents. Putting a tent in an RV area leads to frustration with listening to AC units running non-stop, dealing with exhaust smell and a seriously hard ground (packed down due to heavy equipment).
  • Pick a site that works for your sized group and camping equipment. If you are tent camping it is usually easier to move your tent vs. trying to back an RV into a too tight of an area.
  • What is the maximum occupancy of the site?
  • Is there enough space to park your car?
  • How close are recreational facilities such as swimming pools and playgrounds?
  • Does the site have a picnic table or will you need to bring a table and chairs for food preparation and seating?
  • Is there a metal fire ring?
  • Does the park have firewood available or do you need to bring your own? Most parks do not allow collecting of firewood.
  • For those with pets that are going camping, check the park's pet restrictions.


With primitive camping, also known as backpacking or wilderness camping, you have different issues; such as is it legal to camp here, do I need a permit, what is the access like (usually no roads), where can I get help if I need it, is water available, etc. Be sure to scout your future site on a pre-camping trip or find someone familiar with the area. Ask "Can I camp here?" Do this even if you have camped at this location in the past as sometimes sites are closed due to environmental abuse, bird-nesting seasons and other legal reasons.

Here are more primitive camping tips to make your time in the woods enjoyable:

  • Look for a scenic spot that has good water access, particularly if you are kayak or canoe camping. No one likes to leave his or her boat hundreds of yards from the campsite.
  • Saltwater trip? Watch the tides. You might pull into that perfect little beach in the Everglades at high tide, just to find out that it is a 1/4 mile drag through mud at low tide. BTW, the Everglades has designated spots that require permits and yes, they do have long slogs through the mud too.
  • For privacy, pick a spot away from other campers.
  • Be environment friendly. Pitch your tent on bare ground or sand. Do not put it in tall grass or fragile areas. Besides, grass is where the bugs like to hide.
  • Select a site that gets direct sunlight in the morning. Yes, even if you like to sleep late. The sun will speed drying of your tent, clothes and other items so you don't have to pack a bunch of wet gear.
  • Camp at established sites when possible. Re-use a former site and fire ring to lessen the impact on the environment.
  • Avoid low-lying areas as they collect rainwater and mosquitoes.
  • Pitch your tent someplace where you can get a nice breeze to keep the bugs down.
  • Don't camp under leaning trees or trees with limbs that look like they can fall easily.
  • Avoid pitching your tent under a single tree or small clumps of trees as they are easy targets for lightning during a storm.
  • Camping in the trees? Find a spot where all trees are about the same height to avoid the lightning issue.
  • Choose a level site that has good drainage in case of rainstorms.
  • If you are on a slight slope, pitch your tent with the back of the tent uphill and the opening downhill. That way you can sleep with your head at the back of the tent and feet near at the doorway.
  • Check on fire restrictions before leaving home and always bring a stove even if fires are permitted.
  • Check on the nearest "restroom". If you don't know what a cathole is, look it up on Wikipedia and learn to make them before going potty.

There you have it, a few good tips on choosing the perfect campsite whether you are camping at Disney, a Florida State Park or in the wild.

If you have tips of your own be sure to add them in the comments area below.

Last update Tuesday, August 06, 2013

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Cmt Choosing the Perfect CampsiteLogin to Post   
You are in the public comment zone. What follows is not from Green Wave Forum; it comes from other people and we don't vouch for it.
bellavita777 on 8/6/2013 11:59pm
I am new to kayaking in would one determine if it is legal or permissible to camp on specific small islands or other primitive sites? I have been googling this for about a week now and have had a little luck locating primitive style islands but zero luck with learning where or how to obtain the proper permit or permissions. Ive even contacted FWC to see if i could obtain permission through them and they said the islands i inquired about wasn't part of the sites they issue permits for or have any info. about. Any advice would be much appreciated! :)
riverrat352 on 5/2/2012 8:33am
After you pick the spot where you'll be setting up your tent police the area thoroughly for branches, twigs, nuts, pine cones etc. (I get down on all fours for this) Next spread ground cloth or tent out and lay down on it for a minute.(you'll find things you missed this way) If any thing feels uncomfortable this is the time to fix it . This small step will make for a much more comfortable night, waking up at two a.m. and realizing you're laying on a hickory nut or some such simillar item aint no fun.
quincypair on 3/6/2012 9:23am
For Florida state residents who are over 65 and disabled vets (check on the status of disability) the rates for state parks are 50% off -- a tremendous value. Check also camping opportunities at Florida Forestry and Wildlife Preserve lands, Water Management Districts, National Forest, Corps of Engineering lands, in addition to Federal parks. The Federal government sites have discounts with similar senior cards. We've found the state park sites to be consistently excellent, individual site usually edged by
shrubs, high grass, trees quite adequate for privacy. As tent campers (October through early April) in North Florida, we've had no problem with noise from RV's and trailers. We're probably more noisy than those enclosed campers because we're talking around the fire pit (all full service state parks have fire pits, picnic table, potable water and electricity) at night. During March spring breaks and summer, there will be the sound of children (and who wants to ask them to tone down their excitement?) even up to 11pm. The Florida state park system is one of our gems and we need to remain vigilant to keep it that way.
redfish18 on 8/8/2009 12:05pm
Checking the tides is a great tip. When we saltwater camp I'd rather leave at noon and have an outgoing tide to paddle 2-3 hours to our campsite than leave at 8am and paddle 4-5 hours against the tide!