For some, the idea of camping involves loading up a motor home and parking in a major campground with electricity, cable TV and all the comforts of home. For the rest of us, there's primitive camping. Primitive camping is a way to truly get away from it all, and the state of Florida provides almost unlimited opportunities to pitch a tent in the woods with minimal amenities, if any at all.
Florida's Primitive Campgrounds
Primitive campgrounds exist in every corner of the state. Definitions of what "primitive camping" really means vary widely, and so do the amenities available at primitive campgrounds. These campgrounds typically provide secluded campsites with picnic tables and campfire rings, along with access to drinking water. Most primitive campgrounds also provide either modern restrooms or vault toilets, but some campgrounds are more primitive than others and may not even have these basic amenities. Primitive campsites are available in more than two dozen Florida State Parks, including northwest Florida's Torreya State Park, central Florida's Lake Kissimmee State Park and southeast Florida's Jonathan Dickinson State Park. You can find specific details about each of them through floridastateparks.org.
Deep in the Backcountry
Some of the best places for primitive camping in Florida can be found in national parks and forests. Areas like Ocala National Forest, Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve all include primitive campgrounds as well as modern facilities. Certain areas -- particularly national forests -- also offer opportunities for dispersed backcountry camping, which is about as primitive as it gets. Specifics vary by destination. In Ocala National Forest, backcountry campers can hike into the woods on the forest's extensive trail system, pitching a tent at any suitable site. Everglades National Park provides designated backcountry campsites, shelters and platforms, most of them accessible only by foot or canoe. Potable drinking water is usually not available, so be sure to bring the necessary tools to treat or purify water from springs and streams. You should also be aware that you share the backcountry with a variety of wildlife, including alligators and black bears.
Hitting the Trail
The Florida National Scenic Trail spans almost the entire state, stretching 1,000 miles from the Everglades to the Panhandle. This scenic route is open exclusively to hiking and backpacking, along with bicycling and horseback riding in some sections. Camping is permitted along the entire trail. Because various sections of the trail are under the ownership and management of different entities, specific camping rules vary. In some areas, you can pitch your tent anywhere. In others you may use only designated campsites and shelters. The accommodations are almost exclusively primitive, however, and you can spend a week or a month on the trail, never sleeping in the same place twice. As with national parks and forests, campers along the trail are responsible for carrying all necessary supplies and leaving no trace of their presence.
Things to Consider
Primitive campsites in Florida state parks are sometimes available by reservation, but you can also claim campsites upon arrival on a first-come, first-served basis. The same is true of primitive campgrounds in national parks and forests. Backcountry camping permits are sometimes required for backcountry camping in national parks and forests, though this depends on the location. For example, permits are required in Everglades National Park, but not in Ocala National Forest. More information on backcountry sites and permits can be found on the National Park Service and USDA Forest Service websites. The website of the Florida Trail Association offers a wealth of resources on the Florida National Scenic Trail, including detailed maps and guidebooks.
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