Florida can be an expensive place for full-time nomads. The winter months are when the snowbirds flock to the sunshine state and the price for a patch of grass to park on goes through the roof. Much of the state has city ordinances against overnighting in parking lots. This eliminates most Walmart parking lots, which for many travelers is the go-to boondocking spot. Do not fret fellow travelers as there are still ways to do cheap or even free camping in Florida and in many of the state’s most picturesque locals. There are two basic systems and they are known as Florida Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) and Water Management Districts (WMD).
WMA & WMD Are Florida’s BLMs
You might think of the WMA and WMD as Florida’s version of the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) areas found mostly in western states. Reservations are often required for WMA and WMD campgrounds although a specific site isn’t always reservable, so if you are looking to roll into a spot last minute many of these places will not be accessible. The government agencies do this for the simple reason of not wanting them to be overrun and abused. Most of the WMD areas have limitations of consecutive days that travelers can stay as well as yearly total limits.
Getting a Campsite
Some reservations for WMA and WMD sites can be made online but a lot are still made by phone. The websites vary depending on which government body is tasked with maintaining the area. Availability and camping seasons vary. A lot of the Wildlife Management Area sites are only available during hunting seasons and on weekends. Availability is very confusing and can be time-consuming to figure out. We have created this post as a resource to our fellow travelers to make the task of finding free camping in Florida easier. Some campsites are first-come, first-served while others are booked solid 3-months out so planning ahead is the key to free camping in Florida.
Amenities vary at each WMA and WMD campground. We haven’t stayed in them all but the ones we have stayed in usually either had a bathroom facility or a pit toilet. The camping spots for some were reservation specific with a site number attached and in others, the campground was a field full of picnic tables that more or less signified the different campsites. Some had running water with flushable toilets. One even had hot showers. None have had electrical hookups although those are available at a few WMD locations with a fee. A few campgrounds have had water and/or a dump station on the property but not at the individual sites. Most have had trash facilities, picnic tables, and fire rings.
Accessibility When Free Camping in Florida
Most of Florida’s WMA campgrounds were easy to get to with paved roads leading the entire way. Many of the WMD sites were at the end of sandy or dirt roads that no rig without 4×4 capability should attempt in the rain. Most WMA and WMD camping sites were too small for the big 5th wheels but a few WMD sites could accommodate them. For most larger RVs I would recommend sticking to Florida’s State Parks which, while not free, are reasonably priced. Details for each WMD and WMA camping area can be found via those links above but on-a-whole free camping in Florida is more suitable statewide to smaller rigs like campervans and truck campers.
There are free tent-only campsites as well as sites only accessed by kayak to be found in the state of Florida. Make sure the site you select is capable of accommodating your rig and desired activity. I for one can’t wait to get back and take advantage of those kayaking spots.
Activities When Free Camping in Florida
When it comes to recreational activities in Florida’s WMD and WMA areas they are similar to State Parks although hunting is the preferred recreation in the Wildlife Management Areas. Both types of management areas often have hiking, biking, and horse trails. In many cases, they had a beach, river or lake access for canoes and kayaks. Obviously, bird watching and looking for other forms of wildlife is a major draw of these natural areas.
How to Get in When Free Camping in Florida
In many cases, the Water Management Districts camping areas have padlocks that require a code. The code is emailed to you once you reserve a spot on their website. Both the WMD and WMA require visitors to display their permits at all times.
If boondocking is how you like to travel then Florida has amazing spots for you. Free camping in Florida is an option but it takes a little planning ahead of time. The experience to be found in Florida’s wild areas is worth the effort and the systems the state has put in place helps to protect the natural world we all enjoy.