Beachside camping on Florida's Gulf Coast

Amazing beach camping under the stars on Florida’s Gulf Coast

Susan Barnes

Pitch a tent (or pull up an RV) and be lulled to sleep by the sound of waves lapping onto the shore when you go beachside camping on Florida’s Gulf Coast – no white noise app necessary.

Photo credit: Destin-Fort Walton Beach, Florida

Destin

On the Emerald Coast along the Panhandle is Henderson Beach State Park, established for the preservation and protection of the area’s natural features, including the last remaining coastal scrub area in Destin. The park’s 60 campsites, which are pet-friendly, can be reserved up to 11 months in advance and accommodate tents or RVs with water, electricity, picnic tables and grills. Additional beachside camping amenities include heated and air conditioned restrooms with showers, and coin-operated washers and dryers. From the campsite, follow the boardwalk through 30-foot white sand dunes to the pristine, mile-long coastline where you can swim, fish and watch for wildlife such as dolphin and turtles. The park is also a stop for migrating monarch butterflies in the fall.

Photo credit: Florida State Parks

Santa Rosa Beach

Grayton Beach State Park, also on Florida’s Panhandle in South Walton, is considered “one of the nicest camping areas along the Gulf Coast,” and its mile-long beach was named number-one in Dr. Beach’s Top 10 U.S. Beaches 2020. Fifty-nine beachside camping sites, which can accommodate tents or RVs and are pet-friendly, come with electricity and water, and can be reserved up to 11 months in advance. If you’d rather not camp, 30 two-bedroom, one-bath duplex cabins are also available and feature heating and a/c, a kitchen, screened-in porch, outdoor grill, and a gas fireplace for Florida’s cooler winter temperatures. A 4.5-mile hiking and biking trail leads to the back waters of Western Lake, a 100-acre coastal dune lake popular for fishing (with a license) and paddling.

Photo credit: visitstpeteclearwater.com

Tierra Verde

Locals love to to set up camp at Fort De Soto Park, south of St. Pete Beach, and enjoy all of the outdoor activities the park has to offer: fishing, canoeing, kayaking and boating, not to mention its nearly three miles of white sand beaches; there’s even a dog beach! More than 230 campsites for tents or RVs can be reserved six months in advance; each includes electricity, water, charcoal grills and picnic tables. Modern restrooms with showers, laundry facilities and a camp store are nearby. Campers can also hop the ferry or kayak over to Shell Key Preserve, accessible only by watercraft, for primitive camping. Permits (free) are required to camp on Sand Key and remember, leave no trace!

Photo credit: Sarasota County Government

Siesta Key

Set up camp for up to 30 nights within 45 days at Turtle Beach Campground on Siesta Key outside of Sarasota, known for the powder-soft white sand and turquoise waters. Reservations for the 40-plus campsites, which accommodate tents and RVs, can be made up to 12 months in advance. Each beachside camping includes electricity, water, sewer and even free WiFi for those who need to stay connected; restrooms with showers and laundry are centrally located, and a picnic area with grills is available. From May through October, there’s a good chance campers could spot loggerhead and green sea turtles laying their eggs and even hatching on the beach at night. During this time, it’s “Lights Out for Sea Turtles!”

Photo © The Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau

Captiva

Accessible only by boat, ferry (Captiva Cruises from Captiva Island, Punta Gorda and Pine Island near Fort Myers; reservations required) or kayak, campers who stay at Cayo Costa State Park will feel they have the entire seven-mile-long island to themselves. Each of the 30 primitive tent beachside camping sites has its own picnic table, ground grill and access to potable water, and the nearby restrooms have cold showers and flush toilets. Other than that, campers are on their own to enjoy fishing, swimming, snorkeling, shelling, and walking and bicycling along the nature trails, not to mention the 9.5 miles of undisturbed beach. Wildlife spotted from the island may include manatees, dolphin, shorebirds and even sea turtles who nest on the island’s beaches.

Reservations at these campgrounds, aside from Fort De Soto Park and Turtle Beach Campground, can be made through ReserveAmerica (https://www.reserveamerica.com).

Stay up to date on changing travel conditions; please check with local and statewide authorities for the latest guidelines.

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