Only accessible by boat, the trip to Cayo Costa State Park—by ferry from Captiva Island, Punta Gorda, Boca Grande, and Pine Island—is part of the adventure. There’s a good chance you’ll spot manatees or porpoises in their natural habitat, as you set your eyes on the quiet barrier island. With nine miles of beautiful beaches, mangrove swamps, and acres of pine forests, there’s no shortage of swimming, snorkeling, fishing, shelling, and kayaking (rentals are available from the ranger station). Overnight options are charmingly rustic: Choose from one of the 12 one-room cabins, which sleep six each (some have small screened porches); 30 tent camping sites; and slips for private boats.
With nine miles of some of the most pristine beaches along Florida’s Gulf Coast, St. George Island State Park is a natural beauty and a haven for lots of happy locals, including a bevvy of birds: terns, plovers, herons, black skimmers, sandpipers, osprey, and bald eagles; and a wealth of fish: flounder, redfish, sea trout, pompano, whiting, and Spanish mackerel. These native inhabitants—and the bay’s perfect setting for canoeing and kayaking (you can rent boats from the ranger station)—make the park a must-visit for nature enthusiasts. The 1,962-acre park features a 2.5-mile trail that meanders through pine flatwood forest and ends at the bay. Sixty campsites with water and electricity hook-ups, as well as covered pavilions with grills, are located in the main campsite area, while tent camping is available at the end of a 2.5-mile nature trail.
At mile marker 37 on the Overseas Highway lies 500-acre Bahia Honda State Park, home to several white-sand beaches, a tangle of thick tropical hardwoods, and the Keys’ famous sparkling blue-green water. The southernmost park in Florida is a quick boat ride to Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary, one of the most spectacular reefs and places to snorkel in the Keys. The Bahia Honda Rail Bridge, a now-defunct railroad-turned car passage, is viewable from the park and is one of the most photographed spots in the Keys. Bahia Honda sports 80 camping sites and three duplex cabins that sit on stilts and overlook the bay.
This Gulf Coast barrier island runs north to south, making it an amazing spot to catch sunrises and sunsets. With Saint Joseph Bay on one side, the Gulf on the other, and scrubby forest in between, St. Joseph Peninsula State Park is a dream destination for nature lovers. The park offers 10 miles of white sandy beaches and some of the tallest sand dunes in the state. It’s also home to a menagerie of birds (especially during fall migration) and fish (scalloping is popular during the summer), as well as sea turtles, otters, and foxes. Seven cabins and 119 campsites (both RV and primitive) are available for rent.
Halfway between St. Augustine and Daytona Beach is Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area, a 144-acre park that boasts both beachfront and riverside camping. The recreation area is known for great surfing, fishing, and paddling. Canoes and kayaks are available for rent from the ranger station, and can be taken out into the bordering Intracoastal Waterway where mazes of greenery and tiny islands abound. The park celebrates its namesake, Florida folk singer Gamble Rogers, with bluegrass jams on the second and fourth Saturday of every month.
Fiery sunsets, sugar-white sand, turquoise water, and lush green pine forests provide a rainbow of color at Grayton Beach State Park along Florida’s 30a. With charming cabins and campsites with water and electric hookups, it’s easy to call the park home for a night or more. For food-loving campers, the beach communities of Watercolor, Seaside, and Grayton—with their oyster bars, Airstream food trucks, and beachfront restaurants—are an easy bike ride away; just cruise right or left out of the park along the Timpoochee Trail bike path. Back inside the park, there’s plenty for nature lovers. Paddling on Grayton’s dune lake and walking the nature trail are lovely ways to spend a morning before heading for an afternoon swim in the Gulf.
Fort De Soto County Park straddles five interconnected islands and 1,136 acres off the coast of St Petersburg where Tampa Bay meets the Gulf. Mangroves, hardwoods, palm hammocks, and wetlands set a lush scene for outdoor fun on the water. The park boasts 238 camping sites, seven miles of waterfront, nearly three miles of white-sand beaches, two fishing piers, a 2.25-mile canoe trail, and a dog park, to ensure Fido has as much fun as you do.
Where the Amelia and St. Mary’s River meet to flow into the Atlantic lies Fort Clinch State Park. Situated on the northern end of Fernandina Beach and across the rivers’ confluence from Cumberland Island in Georgia, the park’s treasures include a 3-mile shoreline and a ½-mile long fishing pier, miles of paved roads framed by oak canopy (perfect for beach cruiser escapades), and Fort Clinch itself, where a civil war reenactor is on duty every day of the year.
You can camp right on the beach along this stretch of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, which encompasses islands and mainland on Florida and Mississippi’s Gulf coast. Perdido Key, a 247-acre barrier island that’s less than ten miles from the Alabama border, doesn’t support RV camping, but nearly the entire beach is available for tent camping. After a one-mile walk on the beach from the parking area, you are free to set up camp anywhere on the white-sand shore (but not in the dunes), and it’s not unlikely to have the beach—and its sweeping Gulf views—all to yourself.
Anastasia State Park is a swath of beach, forest, and estuary to the east of historic St. Augustine. A charming camp store rents bicycles, paddleboards, kayaks, sailboats, and canoes to help visitors explore every corner of the 1,600-acre park. Campsites are shady and quiet, each bordered by lush hardwoods and palmettos. The paved roads inside the park are lined with old live oaks draped in Spanish moss, a dreamy setting for a bike ride. A meandering boardwalk connects the campsite area to the broad four-mile beach, where there’s a lifeguard on duty during the summer.