Free Winter Camping and Boondocking in Florida for Vans and RVs.

(Today we have a guest post from Marshall Ellgas who is one of my East Coast readers. Marshall is a  vandwelling snowbird who spends his winters camping for free in Florida, Since I have many East Coast readers, I thought you might find this helpful. Most of the camping is on Water Management Utility Company land who provide campgrounds as a free service. While they are free, you do have to make reservations at most of them and he gives you the link to do so. I’m going to mix in some of my photos with some of his) 

Warm sunshine, endless beaches, palm trees and friendly people make the State of Florida a wonderfully warm winter destination for people from all over the world. Florida has a little something special for everybody from the rich and famous to the middle class vacationing family and even the penny pinching senior. However, it’s the amazing vandweller that truly hits the winter lottery every year in Florida with all the FREE camping offered there.

The beach near Cape Canaveral, a few hours drive from my moms house.

The beach near Cape Canaveral, FL a few hours drive from my moms house.

From winters spent at the edge of chilly crispness in the panhandle to the warm golden sandy beaches of south Florida and all that the state has in between, Florida is a vandwellers paradise for the winter months thanks to the weather and all the free camps that abound.

Almost all these free camps are listed online. Some of the camps require permits and some don’t. Permitting can be done online in advance of your arrival so you can set your winter itinerary right to the day without skipping a beat. The stays at the camps go from five days to up to 30 days at each one. The administrators of the camps are easy to contact and will respond fairly quickly and in a friendly way to any questions posed about any camp in their particular area. They work hard on these camps and want people to come and enjoy them.

The campground at

The campground at Lake Panasoffkee

All feature a laid-back atmosphere in the warm sunshine. Some have a camp host and many do not have a host. Some are popular with a crowd and in others you will be the only one there. You will meet people from all over the world and from all economic ranges. You will meet tent campers, vandwellers and even the big luxury rigs depending on which camps you stay in and what part of winter you stay there.

Birds near one of the campgrounds.

Bat House and birds near one of the campgrounds.

It almost goes without saying that most of the camps have water available. However, some do not. It is primarily the most northern camps that do not have water. However, most of the camps in the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) and the camps in the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) do make water available and some even supply water at individual sites! Electricity is not available at any camp throughout the system.

Generally speaking, most camps in the system are out in the country. They are set in rural areas where the Florida fowl and fauna are there in plain sight for all to see and enjoy. It is very common to have to travel 10 to 15 miles to get to serious shopping, however, there is generally country stores and a Dollar General nearby. Expect to travel 15 to 25 miles to the nearest Walmart from most camps.

Hiking path near Hickory Hammock campground.

Hiking path near Hickory Hammock campground.

Florida has three winter weather regions and they all vary greatly:

  1. The northern part of Florida is generally pretty cold in the winter time. The leaves will be gone from most trees and you will not see a whole lot of palm trees. Temperatures in this area get cold during the day and at night.
  2. The central part of the state is a mix of fairly warm days, but chilly nights. However, when the cold fronts come it can easily drop into the 20’s at night.
  3. The south is perfect for the winter! Days of warm sunshine in the upper 70’s to low 80’s surrounded by beautiful coconut palms and starry nights in the mid 50’s make for perfect vandwelling conditions.

Coming into Florida on any of the three interstates will lead you to months of free fun. I-10 from the west offers loads of free panhandle dispersed camping in the Apalachicola National Forest right on the northern Gulf of Mexico and her warm beaches. When you tire of the great pine forests in that neck of the woods head over to one of the free camps listed in the recreation section of the Northwest Florida Water Management District. There are many to choose from and some do not even require advance permitting. Just show up and camp. Just click here for potential spots to enjoy a good time.

Sandhill cranes at one of the campgrounds.

Sandhill cranes at Yates Marsh campground.

If your arrival is the I-75 portal from Georgia into the northern middle of the state you will be in the Suwannee River Water Management District. Unfortunately, this water management district does not offer any camping opportunities, but from pristine spring fed rivers surrounded by jungle like forests this place is all yours with many free hiking trail and bird watching opportunities to choose from along with great dispersed camping in the Osceola National Forest (go here for more info on National Forests in Florida http://www.fs.usda.gov/florida). Just click here for many great spots as a wonderful way to begin your Florida winter.

For those making an entrance along I-95 you will be coming into the St. John’s River Water Management District. There are many camping and recreation activities to choose from. However, if you are here in this are to free camp it may be better to head over to the Osceola or Ocala National Forests as there is no camping in vehicles allowed. All the camping in this district is tent camping after a hike in to the designated areas.

Gator near one of the campgrounds.

Gator near one of the DuPuis Management Center Family campgrounds.

Once you have established yourself into the state and move south from the three upper water management districts mentioned above your choices now become one of two, South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) which basically comprises the central southeast coast of Florida or the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) which easily covers the central southwest coast of Florida.

Both districts offer lots of great free camping, but they each have different permitting process. We have found that permitting is easiest in the SFWMD. All permitting is done online and in advance of your stay, but in the SFWMD you get a reservation and gate combination sent directly to your email immediately after applying for your site. In the SWF WMD it may take up to 10 days to hear back on your application.

If you are planning on visiting the Ocala, Orlando and Tampa areas you would want to check out camps in the SWFWMD listed here. Should your journey take you further south in the great areas of Okeechobee, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie, Ft. Meyers or Naples you would start here. There are so many to choose from and some are real gems.

In addition to all the free camping listed above concerning the water management district sites other Florida agencies and counties also offer free camping. Check the individual county web pages you plan to visit and if I can remember correctly the Florida EPA also has free camping.

If you do not mind spending money on camping I strongly suggest you check out the Florida State Forestry Department. They offer camping with electricity and water for as low as $10/night for senior and disabled citizens. (Find a list of $10 Primitive Campsites here: http://www.freshfromflorida.com/Divisions-Offices/Florida-Forest-Service/Recreation/At-A-Glance-Guide)

Florida is a great place to be in the winter. It’s warm and inviting. Many East Coast fulltimers spend their winters there and you may see them several times over the months from camp to camp.  Many of them make a circuit out of all the camps based on the weather in particular months.

Do not forget about all the free dispersed camping in all the National Forests in Florida.

(Thanks Marshall for that helpful information!! I’m sure many people will be helped by it! These are all my photos:)

That's a Manatee.

That’s a Manatee.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Bob
About

I’ve been a full-time VanDweller for 12 years and I love it. I hope to never live in a house again!

76 comments on “Free Winter Camping and Boondocking in Florida for Vans and RVs.
  1. DougB says:

    I had no idea that boondocking in Florida was even a possibility! This is one awesome and helpful post. Thanks Marshall and Bob!
    DougB recently posted…Starting Out With a WhimperMy Profile

    • Bob Bob says:

      Doug, me neither! I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Florida with my mom and didn’t have a clue. It really is very good information to have. Thanks Marshall!!
      Bob

      • Marshall says:

        Thank you both. We have been vandwelling fulltime now for four years and winter exclusively in Florida. This is no joke we have tried and tested almost all these camps. Its amazing and great. Come on down and have some fun. Just be clean and polite. They put a lot of effort and money into these parks and really love it when people come and stay. Please be sure to sign the guest registers so they can see the camps are being used. Otherwise with budget cuts they may shut them down.

        • DougB says:

          Uh-oh. Being both clean and polite at the same time might be an issue. I’ll have to think about it…
          DougB recently posted…Starting Out With a WhimperMy Profile

          • Bob Bob says:

            Doug I know you well enough to know you are NOT kidding. But, I’ve got confidence in you, YOU CAN DO IT!!! Just keep trying!

            (And you know me well enough to know I am just kidding!! I doubt if you are even constitutionally capable of being anything but clean and polite!!)
            Bob

        • Bob Bob says:

          Thanks for sharing this information Marshall!! Lots of people say keep these places secret so you will always have them. I appreciate your generous spirit!
          Bob

      • Bob, Where would a good place to start. i bought a 1988 class c motorhome and want to come down for the summer from pa.

        • Bob Bob says:

          I’m assuming you mean where would you start by camping in the winter in Florida? This post has links to the campgrounds where you camp so the first thing to do is to read about the campsites, decided which ones would work best for you and then call or email them to get a permit. I think it’s pretty much automatic that you get it as long as they aren’t full.

          Summer is the off-season in Florida so I’m sure they are all empty now. I think most of the stay limits are pretty short so you will have to be thinking ahead and getting your permit lined up for the next one so you aren’t left with nothing.

          Once you are there you will start visiting with other campers and learn all the ins and out and other places to stay–after awhile it will be easy.
          Bob

      • Elle Rose says:

        Hey Bob, You Rock! Thank You!..trying to navigate around You-tube…not sure how to leave a direct msg…hope to get to your Meet & Greet in January..great msg regarding the RTR! Safe Travels

  2. Kevin says:

    Wow. Just wow This is a major revelation about Florida. Most have no idea there is free boon docking with a permit. Am a bird watcher so will need to map out the water district locations to follow migrations. Looks like way to become a boon docking snow bird, traveling from Florida to Carolina Mountains and back.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Absolutely right kevin! I haven’t been a fan of van or RV living on the East coast, but this changes that. The Blue Ridge mountains in the summer and Florida in the winter becomes a viable option.
      Bob

      • Rick says:

        Bob, what is in the Blue ridge mountains for boondocking? Thanks

        • Bob Bob says:

          Rick, there are many National Forests in the Blue Ridge and they almost all have some dispersed camping. In many of them you have to camp in designated sites, but it is still free.
          Bob.

      • LYDIA BROCKWAY says:

        THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SHARING THIS INFORMATION.
        I WAS JUST LOOKING UP ” CHEAPEST CAMPING IN FLORIDA ” WHEN I CAME ACROSS SOMETHING EVEN BETTER!!
        I TOO AM A VAN DWELLER…I CAN BE IN A HOUSE AND I WANT TO BE OUT THERE INSTEAD.
        MY TRAVELS ARE TRULY ENDLESS NOW THAT I HAVE THE GIFT YOU’VE GIVEN US 🙂

  3. Rick says:

    Wow I never knew there was free camping in Florida.
    This is the most fantastic news I e heard in a while.
    I’m so excited right now!!!! Thanks folks

  4. Joni says:

    Bob and Marshall;

    Great post! I used to live in Florida and knew of a very FEW places I could hide out in my van for run-aways but I spent much more time on private land (with permission)in the Ocala and Pensacola regions.

    Knowing this information now makes my upcoming journey to Florida, starting next month, open to a whole state full of places – thanks guys!!

    Joni

  5. mary says:

    Wow is right 🙂 I’ve lived in Florida forever, have been looking into fulltime RVing and never knew we had that much free camping here. Yay – thank you – I can probably get started sooner than I thought.

    • Marshall says:

      Mary, we live in Hudson when we are not on the road and we just found out this past spring there was a free camp just five miles from us! Many of these camps are empty or almost empty. With air you can stay year round for free!

    • Bob Bob says:

      Thanks to Marshall!! I love to hear that I have helped someone follow their dreams.
      Bob

  6. Wheelingit says:

    What an amazing resource! I knew about *some* of the dispersed camping the forests in FL, but had never heard of the water management campgrounds. Fabulous!! And free too! Wow!
    Nina
    Wheelingit recently posted…Fall Colors & Hidden Hot Springs (Oh, And A Naked Man Pic…) – Mammoth Lakes, CAMy Profile

    • Bob Bob says:

      Nina, lots of the utility companies lease Public land but part of their contract is that they must open some of the land and provide recreation opportunities to the public. This is part of that. I spent some time in free campgrounds in Ohio operated by the electric company, so Florida isn’t the only state that does it.
      Bob

  7. Cheryl says:

    Thanks so much for the valuable links and info! We leave New Hampshire in early November, destination Florida! I had no idea where we would stay but figured we would find a place once we got down there. Now I can do a little planning in advance. Now to find out how to become a resident…..

    • Bob Bob says:

      Cheryl, the Good Sam Club is located in Florida and they operate a well-know mail-forwarding service. They would be where I started looking into becoming a resident.
      Bob

  8. Thanks for this post! And, thanks to Vermont Chris for broadcasting. I didn’t realize boondocking in Florida was an option. Great to know!
    The Good Luck Duck recently posted…El -ahhh-phant Butte State ParkMy Profile

  9. Having lived in Pensacola for many years we knew about the state forest camping, but had never heard of the Water Management campsites. We just might have to try spending a winter in south FL one of these years!

  10. Al Christensen says:

    Keep in mind, hurricane season is approximately June to November. So it might be good to wait until true winter. (Though one of the advantages of van dwelling is you can easily bug out when bad weather threatens.)

  11. Gennifer says:

    So much great info in this post! I grew up in Florida and miss it dearly. I may have to spend next winter there now that I know where to camp!
    Gennifer recently posted…Ode to SpokaneMy Profile

  12. Toni says:

    Thanks Bob and Marshall for this information. After reading Marshall’s comments regarding the water districts in a previous post, I was thinking of spending some time this winter in Florida. I have a question about the Northwest District website. Under recreation they describe different areas of the district, but I couldn’t find the specific campsites. Is there another link that you know that has this? The other district sites had great information, including maps of the camps, which I printed. I think it’s really wonderful that you are willing to share where to boomdock. Maybe I’ll run into you in Florida sometime. Thanks again.

  13. Marshall says:

    Hi Toni. I think if you call the contact for that district they will send you a link.

  14. Marshall says:

    Thank you Bob for sharing this forum and allowing me to make this post. There are many out there who will hate me for what I have done here. I can think of a few right now. Too bad. To me that is all elitist BS. THE PEOPLE own these lands not just those who can find them or hear of them from others. They are meant to be used by all. Please be kind, keep your areas clean and respect the wildlife and others and your stay in these camps will not only be enjoyable, but it will be appreciated by those work hard to make these camps available to us and the hard working taxpayer who funds them. Thank you for letting me share this and God Bless you all on your journey!

  15. Curtis says:

    Amazing information on Florida Bob!

    Thank you Marshall for this information, I had no idea a person could winter in Florida for next to nothing.:)

    Started to get cold here in Kansas lately and I was wondering just last week about Florida.

  16. david says:

    Great information, as a future van dweller/boondocker, I’ll have some resources to tap into, really appreciate it!

    Thanks!

    • Bob Bob says:

      Thanks David. I know it wasn’t an exciting blog, but that information really will make a whole bunch of peoples lives a lot better. Hopefully you are one of them!
      Bob

  17. Cheryl says:

    Marshall, can you email me directly at cheryldepka@gmail.com so I can ask you for some advice on traveling in Florida. I don’t want to take up Bob’s blog space. Thanks!

  18. cathy says:

    Thx for ur info. We will start in woodbine, Ga. Stay for about 3 mo. Then work our way down, on coasta side, working in each place. For bucks to keep moving! Love you free spirits!

    • Bob Bob says:

      Cathy, I’m wishing you a great trip, lots of fun, jobs making big bucks, and a glowing heart bursting with joy!
      Bob

    • Joseph Carter says:

      My name is joe my wife and i have been liveing in our van and traveling around for 2months.you said u would start in woodbine ga..wlhere can i go from here savannah ga to find free camping
      Textme instead of email715-914-7697

      • Bob Bob says:

        Joesph, I’m sorry, but I know nothing at all about camping in Georiga except there are a lot of National Forests and I’m sure some of them allow dispersed camping. That’s where I would start if I were you, call the Ranger Stations and ask about dispersed camping.

  19. Marilyn Bethune says:

    Hi , y’all , my name is Marilyn. I have been reading and taking in your advice ‘ thank you it has opened my eyes to a lot I needed to know about. Just bought my first motor home. Used transtar…….young 62 retired freshly retired with hopes that I could have at least. A year off be four my children put me in an old folks home. They feel sure I have lost my mind. However they maybe right my first trip was to tybee island. Arrived about 12pm couldnt even pull over on side of road it. Was not allowed .can anyone relate give advise on this kind of cur stance.. going to Florida next. Thanks. Marilyn

    • Bob Bob says:

      Marily, I’m sure you will love the traveling life and you’re kids will be glad to see you so happy!

      I’m sorry, I know nothing about the east coast so I can’t help with a trip to Florida. I’d suggest you join my forum (click on “Forum” at the top of the page) and ask there. We have many members on the east coast and quite a few in Florida.
      Bob

  20. Ricardo Moura says:

    Please help me, I wonder if there is any free camping, going to key west in florida, my wife and I let the Aug. 27 until the 31st of August, we’ll take a tent two people to assemble the bed van, slept for the rest area on the road.
    If you know of any camping or rest area after passing miami please tell us, any information from you or someone else and welcome

  21. Lise says:

    Hi, question for the post author- is the $10 fee for state sites only for residents? Thanks. This post was so helpful.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Lise, I doubt the author is still reading comments so I don’t think he will answer. You know I am pretty sure he is a non-resident and just winters there, but it has been a long time so I could be wrong.

      He gives links to get more information so you can follow them and find a phone number and give them a call to be sure.
      Bob

  22. michelle says:

    I had planned to winter in Florida this year since I’ll be leaving the NE area late. (End of Nov). Howevever after researching last week, I was ready to change plans….it didn’t seem affordable.
    So many townships don’t allow overnights, etc.
    Thank you so very much for giving me this info. I am so happy to be able to
    re-rethink my trip. 🙂

  23. tyna says:

    My husband and I live in arkansas and just started vandwelling and are thinking of coming to Florida for the winter. Thank you all very much for these posts it has really helped me with the fears I have. we live on his disability and I am afraid of getting away from home and being broke and stranded. could use all the advice I can get.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Tyna, in some ways it’s hard to vandwell in Florida, but as you see in this post, it can be done! There are a surprising number of places to camp.

      I’d suggest you consider joining my forum. There are lots of very active, happy, full and part time RVers and vandwellers. And many in Florida! You’ll have lots of people to talk to there!

      On my website, at the top of the page, just click on forum and join if you want to post. Or go to this link:
      http://www.cheaprvliving.com/forums/

  24. Tyna says:

    Thanks for the advice,Bob. I will do that.

  25. I was wondering, they have a 7 day limit on stays/reservations. is that each site? can i reserve one then another? If not one district, than can i use one districts site, relocate to a site in another, than move back? Or is it seven days period?

    • Bob Bob says:

      Vanlifecrisis, I’ve never done it so I can’t answer your question. But on the forum MR Loo Reed does it so he will know. Post this question there and you will get your answer.
      Bob

  26. kelly burke says:

    just for vandwellers? what about tent dwellers? lol

    • Bob Bob says:

      Kelly, I’ve never camped there, but I’m sure it would be open to tent campers. Drop them an email and ask them. Bob

      • kelly burke says:

        thank you!! im actually living a busy life, and travel all over as a full time photographer. tired of “house” living. eventually want a camper or even to rent an rv full time. researching this lately. Wonderful camp ground i stay at often in the keys right before the seven mile bridge, planned on staying long term there starting next year. Then found out a resort bought them out and they will be closing.

  27. Roger Roy says:

    Hi Bob i have been watching your utube videos and enjoy them my wife and i will be starting our travels in florida to start next year hope to meet you somewhere along the way and get lots of advice we are new to your country but we are avid campers in canada hope you can help would loke to find out about your free camping sights we have limited funds but we get by getting ready to retire and would love to spend our winters in wark country again thank you

  28. Brenda Ryals says:

    We are planning on taking a few days to camp on the water in the panhandle before heading out west . ( any hope of finding free camper spots this soon for Dec. 2016b)?

    • Bob Bob says:

      Brenda, if you are asking me about Texas, then I’m sorry, I can;t help you at all. But, free camping in Texas is very sparse, about all of it is down on the Gulf Coast. If you are asking about the SouthWest, then yes, there is a huge abundance of free camping, super easy out here!

  29. xiaochi says:

    Hello – I am coming to florida in the winters for 3-6 months work at a small office. I cannot afford a room and love a bit of adventure at the same time. Can I really camp in my SUV for free at these free campgrounds? I will be working near Tampa.
    I would greatly appreciate if you can provide me a circuit of how I can plan this logistically? What are some of the hardships?
    Also, if my car is from Maine, will the camp authority or police object to my staying for long without changing number plates?
    I want to make it happen in the nature.. so excited..appreciate a detailed reply.

  30. xiaochi says:

    this forum seems to be dead…no one replies anymore

  31. Sean says:

    Thank you.
    But I notice that all SFW places are “tent only”
    Do they allow a van?

  32. Sean says:

    Ok, the vehicle camping is under the title called “equestrian camping”

    However, it should be noted that you can only stay for a total of 30 days a year.
    So that leaves about 3 more winter months of parking in FL.

  33. Ellen Rose says:

    Hi Bob, looking fwd to the day I can begin my journey of full time RVing. Meanwhile I’m learning so much from your site; “cheap RV Living”. In early December there is an event I’ll be attending in Broward County. Although I live in Palm Beach County,I thought it could be an ideal opportunity to try my hand at boondocking. My question to you is how would I find out where the free camp grounds are??? Any advise is greatly appreciated…Thx & safe travels, Always!!! Ellie’

  34. Teresa says:

    We r heading to Pensacola end of Jan for a family visit. After that where do u suggest we go to get this free camping and bird watching?. Very new at this and really want this to work as we sold everything and will behomeless. A bit nervous
    Thnks B&T

  35. xiaochi says:

    Hi – are there facilities to shower in the free camspsites of florida. how does one arrange for a shower in free camping sites? thanks

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