Florida- Kayaking/Camping on the Cheap

I’m thinking of escaping from Wisconsin for a month or two in sunny Florida. I would be living out of my van and camping. My main goals are to get in plenty of paddling and hiking. My main concerns are cheap, alligators, and cheap.

I am looking for suggestions as to places to go for paddling and camping on the cheap. Any other thoughts on my master plan are appreciated.

Define cheap
It is hard to find really cheap places in Florida in the winter. Even the state parks are not cheap partly because they cater to the “camper” who wants a water pipe and an electric hook up at his/her site. Florida “campers” are less interested in camping, and more interested in being in a warm place, so extras are added, and the camping costs go up.

Here is the state park web site: http://www.floridastateparks.org/findapark.htm

Also check the Internet for state and national forests in Florida. A great book is The Best in Tent Camping: Florida by Johnny Molloy. He skips over crowded RV places, so it is selective rather than inclusive, but it helped me.

Get down to the Keys
Warmer, saltier (less Gator), and you won’t be the only one living out of a van. Plenty to see and do. Just be ready for a long drive - AFTER you hit the Florida State line.

Florida Bay Outfitters in in Key Largo at the upper end of the Keys (MM 104) is paddling central. Very likely to run into some regular posters there - and staff will have many ideas of where you can go. Nice to launch from there - restroom and shower available - and campsite (tent or whatever) very nearby. If it were me, I’d base out of that area. Hit various Keys and maybe part of the Everglades. Winter’s the time for that.

If you’re in the area on Feb 5&6 - you’ll meet a LOT of paddlers - and have a couple chances to race id so inclned. Demos going on too.


Check out the “Events” link.

On the cheap…
In the winter Maine is cheap…

Florida not so cheap…

Except for state parks expect to pay 30 to 50$ a nite for a tent site in the Keys, IF you can find one… Book ahead… GH

A Couple Ideas
Everglades National Park has a canoe trail that you could explore for a couple of weeks. They even have platforms to pitch your tent on. Or, for a day trip, there are several short scenic canoe trails at FLAMINGO, in the heart of the park. Check out their website for info. By the way, mosquitos are barely a problem in winter but come prepared. In summer, don’t even think about it!!!

Also, Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys.

Inland, I just loved BLUE SPRINGS STATE PARK. Lots of paddling AND snorkeling destinations in this area.

Yeah, just GOOGLE canoe, florida, and springs to find lots of nice places to paddle.

it could be cold…
even in the Everglades. So, make sure you take some warm stuff. I paddled in the Everglades last winter and I wished I had taken my drytop and for the camp, hat, gloves, more fleece, etc… I was there in December/January.

-have a great time if you go!


St. George Island
Appalachicola, Florida. Spent a week there a couple of months ago. Its got the Gulf and some excellent slow moving rivers. St. George Island State park has camping for $20 a night. There’s also Little St. George which has primitive camping for free! Also nearby is St. Joseph State Park which is nice also. See this article in Sea Kayaker magazine. http://www.seakayakermag.com/2003/03April/Apa/Apalachicola_01.htm

Northern Florida can be cold
At the end of March last year I camped in Suwannee River State Park. It was below 32 degrees at night, colder than eastern Virginia. I came home a week early. If you are going to Florida to be warm, you should go to southern Florida.

there’s a newly established paddling tra
on the west coast with paddlers only campsites which are free, I’ll look for the web link but you could try the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commision site, it’s there somewhere.

I have seen temps
I have seen advertised temps on internet weather sites in the teens & twenties, so be prepared accordingly.


Camping on the Cheap
Just like in state in the country, pull out your map and aim for the national forest first, most all offer free camping, second state forest followed by state parks. In some parts BLM land offer no frills no rules no fee camping but I am not aware of any BLM land in Florida. Southwest Florida offers a good many islands to camp on for free or minimal charge, especially the section between Marco Island and Everglades City, below Everglades City is a fee area if your near a someone wishing to collect a fee.

You will experince awesome weather and you could quite literally freeze to death, even as far south at the southern mainland so be prepared.


this is a must
I did not have time to read all the other repsonses to your post, so if this has already been said, I appologize. Last Holiday season I visited my son in FL who paddles with me out west alot in the summer. We tried to get into Blue Springs State Park (just N of Orlando) to see the manatees that congregate in the warm spring there. By 10 am in the morning the park was closed due to being too crowded, very popular. We were bummed.

We drove a little farther up the river to the next state park, sorry I can’t remember its name, but just follow the hiway NNE and you will see signs. Anyway, it is a rather long drive down roads that did not look that exciting. We pull into the tiny parking lot and it turned out you get to the park by a little foot ferry across an inlet to an island. We grabbed all our gear and hopped across to the park. When we checked in they told us we could rent a canoe and paddle up to Blue Springs the next morning. We did, of course. We were able to paddle into the inlet of the spring up to a line of markers that meant no further. There were at least 10 manatees right there, in crystal clear water, directly beneath our canoe. One juvenile that just couldn’t get enough of my son and I. It came up right next to the canoe lifting its head out of the water close enough to touch (but don’t!, not ethical). I will always remember that paddle. We followed a huge adult at least 1/3 of the paddle back to our campsight. You could only see its bubbles most of the way, but it would surface every so often and give us a look.

the only bummer? the rental was an old aluminum dented craft, not our Swift Dumoine!

Have fun, larry

Cheap Camping
Check out these websites for primitive camping. It is either very cheap or free. You will get what you pay for though. When they say no facilities, (water/bathrooms) they mean it. These areas may also be closed during hunting season.

National Forests in Florida http://www.fs.fed.us/r8/florida/

Florida State Forests http://www.fl-dof.com/state_forests/index.html

Florida’s Wildlife Management Area http://myfwc.com/recreation/index.html

Suwannee River Water Management District http://www.srwmd.state.fl.us/district+lands/recreation/activities/camping.htm


Here are some kayak/canoe trails to check out.

Florida’s Big Bend Gulf Coast http://myfwc.com/recreation/big_bend/paddling_trail.asp

Suwannee River Wilderness Trail http://www.floridastateparks.org/wilderness/default.asp

And my favorite Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge http://okefenokee.fws.gov/

web site
Check out http://www.southernpaddler.com/ . The forum moderator is the king of camping in Florida for pennies.

And it’s a cool little place. If you’re into freshwater fishing, you’ve hit a very nice spot -Sally & Frank (IV) and I camped up there in the Leesburg area a while back and had a wonderful time -Blue Sporings, Hontoon, a few others.

We caught a big bluegill (maybe a pound and a quarter) and had it as part of breakfast -it might’ve been the sweetist, freshest fish I’ve had in my life.

That was back before kayaking for us, but if we’d been [paddlers, that would’ve been a terrific place to

Paddle On!

-Frank in Miami