Florida has hundreds of RV sites, many of them free. (Photo: Streamlined Motor Homes image by K. Geijer from Fotolia.com )
Many a traveler hits the road in the winter, bound for the warm promise of the Sunshine State. Florida is a great place to bum around in an RV, especially during the colder months of the year when prime camping weather is hard to come by farther north. The trouble is, traveling by RV can be costly, especially if you end up staying in commercial campgrounds every night. Luckily, Florida offers an abundance of free RV camping options.
Free Camping on Public Land
Public lands offer arguably the best option for campers in search of a free RV site. Wildlife Management Areas and Water Management Areas – which are operated by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, respectively – offer hundreds of free RV campsites across the state. Both these organizations offer useful online resources for finding and reserving a campsite.
- Wildlife Management Areas: More than a dozen Wildlife Management Areas across the state of Florida offer free campsites. Many areas are open to RVs, while others are tents-only, and the accommodations are typically primitive. Some sites are available by reservation, but most are first-come, first-served. A free camping permit can be obtained by calling the regional office in which a specific Wildlife Management Area is located.
- Water Management Areas: Florida is divided into five regional Water Management Districts. Each district oversees numerous Water Management Areas, many of which offer free camping. You can use each district's website to explore options for specific campgrounds and recreation areas, including online reservations and a list of amenities in each area. Some Water Management Areas offer more developed camping facilities, including restrooms, showers and drinking water, while others are entirely primitive.
Florida's three National Forests (Ocala, Osceola and Apalachicola) offer free dispersed backcountry camping, a practice that is generally better suited to tent camping than RV-ing. It's not unheard of for RV campers to find a place to park for the night in a National Forest, but it's wise not to count on it. Florida's National Forests also offer paid RV campgrounds that include amenities like electrical hookups, dump stations, drinking water and restrooms.
Other Camping Options
Although it may not be the most scenic or glamorous option, some businesses allow RV campers to park in their parking lots overnight. Walmart is probably the best known, but Cracker Barrel is also known for being RV-friendly and has locations all over Florida. Keep in mind that, while these businesses are generally open to overnight RV parking, specific stores may have restrictions due to space availability or local ordinances.
If you plan on staying in the parking lot of a Walmart or other business, call ahead to make sure that particular store allows overnight RV parking. And although it's a fairly common practice to park overnight at interstate rest areas, Florida Department of Transportation rules technically limit rest area visits to three hours.
Know Before You Go
Florida is a popular destination for RV campers, especially in winter. Snowbirds flock to the state's parks and campgrounds in droves, which can make finding a free place to park your RV a real challenge. Always have a backup plan in case a free campsite you were looking for turns out to be full. Websites like Campendium and Freecampsites.net are useful resources for finding free campsites, but any information found there should be taken with a grain of salt. These sites are largely based on user-submitted information, so it's always wise to double-check before making concrete plans.
About the Author
Richard Corrigan has been a full-time freelance writer since 2009, and has always considered himself lucky to be able to combine his passion for travel with his love of writing. His work has appeared online on USA TODAY Travel, LIVESTRONG.com, AZCentral and 10Best.com.
Leaf Group is a USA TODAY content partner providing general travel information. Its content is produced independently of USA TODAY.
- Streamlined Motor Homes image by K. Geijer from Fotolia.com