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Top 10 Florida State Parks – Kayak/Canoe/Camp

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schessl | Green Wave Forum News
Published Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I can hear the howls already - you didn't include Caladesi Island, Fort Clinch, Lovers Key or any one of the other 150 Florida State Parks missing from your list. Yes, it's true; they are not on this list for one reason or another. Most likely the park does not allow camping, dropping the list to a more manageable 50 to 60 parks.

So, how did I carefully pick ten out of Florida's 160+ state parks? My selection criteria: (1) must allow tent camping, (2) must have water access for kayak and canoe paddlers and (3) must offer something for non-paddlers to enjoy.

Without further ado, here is the Top 10 Florida State Parks for kayak / canoe / campers.

#1 John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

#1 Pennekamp State Park

Nearest City: Key Largo

Campsites   Beach  
47 sites   Beach  

P.O. Box 487 Key Largo, FL
Phone 305-451-1202

Directions: From Miami, take the Florida Turnpike south to US 1. Follow to Key Largo. Look for the State Park entrance on your left at Mile Marker 102.5.

We start with the first underwater park in the U.S., John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. This jewel of the Florida park system covers 70 square miles and is ideal for camping, canoeing, kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving and exploring. Easy access to the only living coral reef in the continental U.S. makes this park incredibly popular so reserve your campsite early. For non-paddlers, the glass bottom boat Spirit of Pennekampwill take you over the reefs for viewing of parrotfish, angelfish, snappers, barracuda and an occasional wayward shark. Kayakers can explore mangrove straits or venture 1 to 3 miles into the Atlantic for snorkeling on shallow reefs.

#2 Myakka River State Park

#2 Myakka River State Park

Nearest City: Sarasota

Campsites Cabins    
70 sites 5 cabins    

13208 S.R. 72 Sarasota, FL
Phone 941-361-6511

Directions: Myakka River State Park is located 9 miles east of I-75 in Sarasota on S.R. 72.

If you are looking to experience nature on a grand scale, Myakka River State Park is it. One of the largest of all Florida State Parks, Myakka is home to hundreds of species of animals. Paddlers get to explore the Myakka River, a designated Wild and Scenic River, flowing for 58 miles through wetlands, dry prairies and pinelands. Those preferring to stay dry can walk along the treetops on the Canopy Walk, bike and hike, take a tram tour or even take a ride on the world's largest airboat. Full-service and primitive campgrounds and five palm log cabins are available for overnight stays.

#3 Cayo Costa State Park

#3 Cayo Costa State Park

Nearest City: Fort Myers

Campsites Cabins Beach Water Access
30 sites 12 cabins Beach Access

P.O. Box 1150 Boca Grande, FL
Phone 941-964-0375

Directions: Cayo Costa State Park is on an island located south of Boca Grande and west of Pine Island and Fort Myers. It is only accessible by private boat or passenger ferry.

Cayo Costa, meaning "key of the coast" in Spanish, is one of the largest undeveloped barrier islands in Florida. The summers are hot and camping relatively primitive - with no electricity on the island you can forget about air-conditioned cabins. But what you won't forget is what Cayo Costa has - and that is 9 miles of beautiful beaches, 5.5 miles of hiking and biking trails, pine forests and mangrove estuaries. Dolphin are plentiful and manatee can be spotted on regular basis. Cayo Costa probably has the best shelling in the state park system so bring a bag for treasures from the sea.

#4 Grayton Beach State Park

#4 Grayton Beach State Park

Nearest City: Destin

Campsites Cabins Beach  
27 sites 30 cabins Beach  

357 Main Park Road Santa Rosa Beach, FL
Phone 850-231-4210

Directions: The park is located between Panama City and Destin. Take Hwy 98 in Destin east to CR 283. Go south for 1.5 miles and turn left on CR 30A. Go 1/2 mile to park entrance.

Emerald green waters, a mile of sugar-white beach and some of the only coastal dune lakes in the world make Grayton Beach State Park a place that you have to visit. This 2000-acre park features tent and RV camping, hiking trails, swimming and 30 two bedroom vacation cabins. Ready for something entirely different? Grayton Beach is made from very fine, round white pieces of quartz. As you walk on it, it squeaks and locals call it "Singing Sand". For paddlers, Grayton Beach is one of the few places where freshwater coastal dune lakes meet with saltwater. A 20-foot sliver of sand is all that separates the two.

#5 Anastasia State Park

#5 Anastasia State Park

Nearest City: St. Augustine

Campsites   Beach  
124 sites   Beach  

1340-A A1A South St. Augustine, Florida 32080
Phone 904-461-2033

Directions: From I-95 take Exit 318 east for 5 miles. Turn right onto U.S. 1 and proceed south. Turn left onto King Street and continue over the Bridge of Lions, now Anastasia Blvd (A1A). Go about 1.5 miles.

Dive into history at Anastasia State Park, located on the Atlantic just south of St. Augustine. Here you will find miles of pristine beach, tidal salt marsh and upland hammocks to explore. Favorite activities are camping, swimming, fishing, beach hiking and wildlife viewing. The calm waters of the salt run make a great place to try your hand at canoe or kayak paddling or sail boarding. If you run out of things to do at the park, St. Augustine, the oldest city in the U.S., is within easy paddling or biking distance. The city features historic forts and buildings, a lighthouse, fine restaurants, shopping and every tourist amenity imaginable.

#6 Silver River State Park

#6 Silver River State Park

Nearest City: Ocala

Campsites Cabins    
53 sites 10 cabins    

1425 NE 58th Avenue Ocala, FL
Phone 352-236-7148

Directions: Located east of Ocala, 1 mile south of SR 40 on SR 35. From I-75, take Exit 352 onto SR 40 east, about 9 miles to SR 35.

Located in the center of the state, Silver River State Park is home to 10 distinct natural communities and dozens of freshwater springs, including the world's largest artesian spring. Paddlers will enjoy the scenic five mile long Silver River and its diverse wildlife including alligators, birds and even wild but non-native Rhesus monkeys. Those preferring walking to paddling can picnic, hike, bike and explore the pioneer cracker village and Silver River Museum and Environmental Center. For more diversions, Silver Springs and Wild Waters theme parks are nearby. The park has full facility camping and 10 luxury cabins for rent.

#7 Collier-Seminole State Park

#7 Collier-Seminole State Park

Nearest City: Naples

108 sites      

20200 E. Tamiami Trail Naples, FL
Phone 239-394-3397

Directions: On I-75, take Exit 101 (SR 951 / SR 84) and turn right. Follow 951 to US 41. Turn left on US 41 follow for 8 miles to the park (just past CR 92).

Sandwiched between the great mangrove swamp and the Everglades, Collier-Seminole State Park features both temperate and tropical plant communities including one of three original stands of royal palm trees in Florida. Wildlife abounds with hundreds of native bird, reptile and mammal species. A favorite water trail for paddlers, the Blackwater River originates in the park and meanders for several miles before making its way to Blackwater Bay and the Ten Thousand Islands. Non-paddlers will also enjoy Collier-Seminole as camping, biking, hiking, fishing and wildlife viewing are popular activities.

#8 Hillsborough River State Park

#8 Hillsborough River State Park

Nearest City: Tampa

100 sites      

15402 U.S. 301 North Thonotosassa, FL
Phone 813-987-6771

Directions: From I-75, northbound from Tampa take Fowler Ave Exit 265 east to Hwy 301. Go north for 9 miles. Park is on the left side.

Since 1938, Hillsborough River State Park has provided a home for wildlife and recreation for people. The park includes the Hillsborough River, a mecca for central Florida paddlers featuring abundant rosette spoonbills, heron, ibis and some rather large alligators. With easy access from the state park or downstream county parks, the Hillsborough River flows for over 50 miles through cypress swamps, pine flatwoods and marshes to Hillsborough Bay. Hikers will enjoy seven miles of trails and bikers can take to the easy Wetlands Restoration Trail. Sunning and swimming at the parks enormous pool is a favorite activity.

#9 Bahia Honda State Park

#9 Bahia Honda State Park

Nearest City: Key West

Campsites Cabins Beach  
80 sites 6 cabins Beach  

36850 Overseas Hwy. Big Pine Key, FL
Phone 305-872-2353

Directions: Bahia Honda is located 12 miles south of Marathon on US 1.

Now this is Florida! There are few places where you can watch the sunrise over the Atlantic and set over the Gulf of Mexico. There are even fewer where you can do both without ever leaving your campsite. Located 12 miles south of Marathon Key, Bahia Honda is not only good for tracking the sun but is popular for snorkeling, swimming, fishing and boating. This tropical island is perfect for soaking up the rays and enjoying balmy sea breezes year-round. Friends of the environment will just be giddy over Bahia Honda. The park has received both "Green Lodging" and "Clean Marina" designations and features a nature center where you can learn more about the island's unique plants and animals.

#10 Wekiwa Springs State Park

#10 Wekiwa Springs State Park

Nearest City: Apopka

60 sites      

1800 Wekiwa Circle Apopka, FL
Phone (407) 884 2008

Directions: Located approximately 20 minutes north of Orlando. Take I-4 Exit 94 (SR 434) west to Wekiwa Springs Road. Turn right on Wekiwa Springs Rd. Go 4 miles to the park entrance.

Close your eyes for a moment - not too long, otherwise you won't be able to finish reading this page. Imagine yourself floating down a crystal clear river just minutes from downtown Orlando. Birds chirp, otters splash playfully, wind blows lightly through the trees. Is this Walt Disney World? No, it's Wekiwa Springs State Park and the beautiful Wekiva River. Many a moon ago Timucuan Indians fished, hunted and lived here. Now you can share their home and picnic, swim, hike and canoe or kayak along the Wekiva River and popular Rock Springs Run. Bring your tent, hiking boots and bike. There is plenty to do.

About Florida State Parks:

Florida's state park system is one of the largest in the country with 160 parks, spanning more than 700,000 acres and featuring over 100 miles of sandy beach. Florida is the only two-time winner of the Gold Medal Awards from the National Recreation and Park Association.

Most Florida state parks are open from 8 a.m. until sundown 365 days a year.

Official website:

Call ReserveAmerica at (800) 326-3521 or visit for reservations at your favorite park.

About the Author

Who is this guy that thinks he can pick the Top 10 Florida State Parks for kayakers, canoeists and campers? Glad you asked. Ed is a kayaker and occasional biker, hiker and backpacker from the Tampa Bay area that over the past 10 years paddled 2,000+ miles on Florida waters and visited over 60 of the 160 parks.

Last update Tuesday, March 26, 2013

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Cmt Top 10 Florida State Parks – Kayak/...Login 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.
quincypair on 3/26/2013 5:36am
Florida State Parks are increasing becoming havens for RV's and even with gas as high as it is, the size still usually fills up a camp site. From a tent campers view, being hedged in between two large RV's is like camping on Wall street -- tall buildings around you. We wrote a letter to the state parks about the move to put small gravel on all the camping sites -- it does do havoc with your footprints, but with a good air mattress it doesn't compromise your sleep. They suggested a primitive camp site for tenters, e.g. if you tent camp you don't need electricity and water at site and toilet facilities. They don't get it. It costs less to have a tenter on a site than a RV -- how much electricity can a tent use? We find the Florida Forests, the National Forests, the Corps of Engineers and Water Management Districts offer much better tent camping experiences. And many are located right near or on paddling locations. The Florida Parks system has written off tenters it seems.
quincypair on 5/22/2012 11:47am
How about putting this on the monthly poll. What is your favorite camping park in Florida? Break it down by how the respondent is camping: RV, trailer, tent. Do not limit it to state parks, there are some forestry (state and US), municipal/county, water management, other federal (parks, reclamation, corps of engineers) and private sites which are also popular. Also inquire how many times a year that respondent camps.

I would question Myakka State Park in the summer, having gone there last June. The river was dry, and while we stayed in one of the palm log cabins, the camping sites were not comparable to many in the Panhandle. We paddled two days on the Lake, all the nearby riversa also being dry, and every other paddle, we rousted out another alligator. And we've never seen such a convention of buzzards as at Myakka Lake.
Unknown on 8/21/2009 4:00pm
Accuse me of picking a nit with swamprat, but Juniper Springs is not a Florida State Park, it is a Federal facility. Perhaps a second Canoe-Kayak Camping list is needed for "Non- Florida State Park" sites. Here, in addition to Juniper Springs, are a few I have visited, but never camped at .
Alexander Springs Recreation Area. Like Juniper, in the Ocala National Forest
Salt Springs Recreation Area, also in the ONA.
Island camping in the Mosquito Lagoon, Canaveral National Seashore.
Riverbreeze Park, in Oak Hill, a Volusia County site on the west side of Mosquito Lagoon.
Hog Island, on the Withlaccochee River in the Withlacoochee State Forest.
Campsites along the Econlockhatcee in the Little Big Econ State Forest.
Campsites, one next to a spring, along Blackwater Creek in the Seminole State Forest
Chassahowitzka Campground, a Citrus County site on the Chassahowitzka River.
All the above are government sites, county, state (State Forest, not State Park). and Federal.

There are private campgrounds with excellent water access. Blue Spring and Ginnie Spring on the Santa Fe, to name two

I'm sure those who actually camp can come up with dozens more. Bottom line, we sure have a lot of places to canoe/kayak camp in Florida.

Maybe some day I'll do it.
lynette422001 on 8/18/2009 4:53pm
I am with Yakdave. Wekiva Springs state park is outstanding. I do, however, plan to visit Three Rivers State Park.
swamprat on 8/5/2009 3:43pm
Juniper Springs in the Ocala National Forest is always a blast to paddle, plus the springs and campground are nice. Most people manage to go swimming while paddling the twisty run .
paddlesolo on 7/1/2009 6:24pm
I love Three Rivers State Park in Sneads because it is still like a state park would be maybe 40 or 50 years ago. It hasn't had a lot of money poured into it. The group primitive camping site has a bathroom with heated water for showers which is a plus. In the regular campground there are camping sites right on Lake Seminole, which is a great lake for kayaking.

Then there is Florida Caverns State Park where one can take a cave tour, and paddle on the Chipola River all in the same day.
A beautiful spot to see spring flowers.

Both of these sites have more seasonal change than Central and South Florida State Parks, so if you yearn for a more "northern" spring or fall, the panhandle of Florida is the place to be.
Unknown on 6/30/2009 7:16pm
I almost howled, as I scrolled down, thinking come on,come on... Wekiwa Springs has to be here. There it is, darn alphabetical order. Not being a camper, take my comments with a grain of salt, but at Wekiwa you don't have to camp in a packed site full of RV's away from the water. Padddlers have access to four remote, primitive sites on either the Wekiva River or Rock Springs Run.