There’s more to Florida than theme parks, beaches, and the best chicken tender sub you’ll ever have. The sunshine state offers visitors a unique and special experience not often replicated anywhere else: boat camping.
With six state parks featuring boat slips, several secluded islands accessible only by boat, and hundreds of coastal campgrounds and amenities, Florida should be at the top of your list for your next camping and boating adventure.
Florida’s State Parks
From the Florida panhandle to the Keys, and all along the coastlines, there is no shortage of excellent camping destinations to bring your boat to. Florida’s state park service has made sure of that. Complete with running water, electricity, bathrooms, showers, picnic pavilions, grills, and dump sites, Florida’s state parks offer thousands of annual visitors more than just a boat slip.
Bahia Honda State Park
Known for their unparalleled snorkeling, reef diving opportunities, and crystal clear beaches, the Florida Keys top most campers’ bucket lists. If you have a boat, you’re primed to explore the Keys from a completely different perspective.
Boat camping at Bahia Honda State Park is especially unique because this area provides access to both the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.
This park has a marina with 19 boat slips to dock your boat overnight, and more than 80 campsites and cabins available for rent. Bring a tent, camp right on the beach, and enjoy some of the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets that Florida has to offer.
Fishing, birding, scuba diving, snorkeling, and wildlife viewing opportunities are plentiful. Start planning your Florida Keys boat camping vacation up to a year in advance because this state park fills up quickly.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
John Pennekamp State Park is known as the country’s first underwater park, with colorful coral reefs and a unique marine environment that spans over 70 nautical square miles. A full-service marina allows boaters to anchor overnight, or simply tie up to mooring buoys in the Largo Sound. Primitive campsites are also available if you’d rather bring a tent.
This park offers visitors some of the most unique experiences, from a glass-bottom boat ride and scuba tours, to a visitor center that boasts an impressive 30,000-gallon saltwater aquarium. Just offshore, visitors can even explore underwater artifacts from a 1715 Spanish shipwreck.
Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park
Minutes from Miami, Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park is another must-see destination in South Florida. Although tent camping is not available, boat visitors can anchor overnight in the No Name Harbor.
The park is filled with rich Florida history, including playing a role as a piece of the Underground Railroad, and being home to South Florida’s oldest landmark, the 1825 Cape Florida lighthouse, which is open for visitor tours.
Here, you can enjoy some of the best shoreline fishing in Florida, miles of beautiful nature trails, including one through the mangrove wetlands, and several covered picnic pavilions. As a special treat, birders can learn about Florida’s migratory birds at the Cape Florida Banding Station.
Caladesi Island State Park
Caladesi Island State Park is truly a natural marvel. The small barrier island is situated on the Gulf Coast, accessible only by boat, and the journey to get there is just as amazing as the destination itself.
Once you’re there, enjoy the combination of mangrove forests and undisturbed pine flatwoods, a rare environment for a barrier island.
On this undisturbed island, boaters can enjoy access to 108 boat slips with electric and water hook-ups, and a picnic pavilion with a grill. There is no coastal tent camping, but there are plenty of opportunities to explore the island on foot and by boat.
One of the best ways to see the island is to rent a kayak and paddle down its three miles of undisturbed mangrove-shaded kayak trails.
Cayo Costa State Park
A visit to Cayo Costa State Park is an experience unlike any other. The Gulf Coast island offers nine miles of pristine beaches, lined with wind-shaped trees, sand dunes, and a world-renowned collection of seashells.
This park is also accessible only by boat or ferry, and is worth the sometimes-choppy 30-minute boat ride from nearby Pine Island or Boca Grande.
Cayo Costa offers plenty of amenities, including bathrooms, showers, a gift shop, and even bicycle rentals. Boaters can stay overnight, but there are no hook-ups at this park. There are over 30 coastal primitive campsites and rustic cabins, equipped with a grill, picnic table, and potable water.
Just like many of Florida’s parks, campsites fill up quickly, so be sure to make a reservation up to 11 months in advance.
Hontoon Island State Park
One of the only freshwater boat camping destinations in Florida, Hontoon Island State Park is situated on the St. Johns River in busy Central Florida. This natural escape from city life is just a short boat or ferry ride from Deland.
There are 42 boat slips equipped with water and electric hook-ups, twelve primitive tent sites, and six rustic cabins available for overnight visitors.
The St. Johns River is a freshwater angler’s dream, and the park’s nature trails are filled with natural landmarks to discover, from an Indian mound to massive oak trees. This is one of the most pet-friendly state parks, and even features a museum and a playground.
Sebastian Inlet State Park
While the Sebastian Inlet State Park doesn’t offer boat camping, it does have a boat ramp, over 50 campsites, and access to some of Eastern Florida’s best water activities.
This state park is bordered by several different marine environments, with boat ramps providing easy access to the brackish Indian River Lagoon, the freshwater Sebastian River, and miles of shoreline on the Atlantic Ocean.
Sebastian is known as the surfing capital of Florida, but its abundant fishing opportunities are a well-kept secret. Visitors can fish from shore, off the two jetties, or by boat in the surrounding waters.
Although there are countless boat camping opportunities in Florida, the state parks are truly some of the most unique and well-appointed places you can visit. By visiting the state parks, you’re supporting the conservation of natural Florida and enriching your knowledge of the state’s magnificent landscapes and wildlife. All you need for a great Florida boat camping adventure is some strong bug spray and your sense of adventure!
What are some of your favorite boat camping destinations in Florida? Which of these state parks top your bucket list?