Top 10 Camping Spots Near Sarasota

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  • peace broken leg
    Camping Season

    Now that it’s cool enough to enjoy a campfire, we should talk about where to pitch your tent. Let’s skip the chatter about fall in Florida — everyone knows it’s the best time of year — and jump right into this list.

  • peace river

    Peace River Campground, 2998 State Road 70, Arcadia. peacerivercampground.com; 863-494-9693.

    #1 Peace River Campground

    My favorite place to go — the place I recommend to friends, family and everyone else — is the Peace River Campground in Arcadia. It’s a short drive from the Gulf Coast. It’s got a separate camping area for tents. It’s along the Peace River. You want to drive past all the RVs to a primitive camping area known as “The Wilderness.” Look for a campsite on a bluff overlooking a bend in the river. Just typing this makes me want to pack my tent and drive to Arcadia. You can rent a canoe or bring your own. You can fish or barbecue. You can buy firewood and supplies at the campground store.

  • cayo costa

    Floridastateparks.org/cayocosta; reserveamerica.com; 800-326-3521.

    #2. Cayo Costa State Park

    Next up is Cayo Costa State Park south of Englewood. Not so convenient, but it’s like a fantasy island for Florida campers. Catch the Pine Island ferry. Pitch your tent near the beach. Fall asleep listening to the surf. Wake up and walk along 9 miles of deserted beach. The ferry and a state park tram that will drop you and all your gear at the primitive camping area. If you’re an experienced kayaker, you can paddle across Boca Grande Pass from Gasparilla Island, which is a classic Gulf Coast trip.

  • campfirefamily

    Fs.usda.gov/activity/ocala/; 877-444-6777.

    #3. Ocala National Forest

    This is a road trip north of Orlando, but it’s worth the drive. The best campsites are near springs — Alexander Spring, Juniper Spring, Salt Spring. Hiking, biking and paddling go along with the camping. So does a change in scenery and climate. If it’s balmy in Sarasota, it’s cooler in Ocala. If it’s cooler in Sarasota, it’s nippy in Ocala. If it’s nippy in Sarasota, it’s downright chilly in Ocala. Throw an extra log on the campfire.

  • bahia honda

    Reserveamerica.com; 800-326-3521.

    #4. Bahia Hinda State Park

    Another road trip, this one wayyy south into the Florida Keys. Waterfront campsites are booked months in advance, but sometimes you can get lucky with a cancellation. My daughter somehow snagged a prime spot for Dec. 14.

  • turtle beach park

    Turtle Beach Campground, 8862 Midnight Pass Road, Siesta Key. turtlebeachcampground@scgov.net; 941-349-3839.

    #5. Turtle Beach Campground

    Not as nice as Bahia Honda, but this county park is a heckuva lot closer. It’s really an RV park, but you can pitch a tent. A short walk drops you right on the beach. Busy in winter. Again, hope for a cancellation.

  • highlands hammock

    Floridastateparks.org/Highlandshammock; 863-386-6094.

    #6. Highlands Hammock State Park

    This park south of Arcadia has a gorgeous loop road and boardwalk, along with a Civilian Conservation Corps Museum. The camping area isn’t so spectacular, but it is nearby. Maybe I’m just being picky.

  • Myakka River State Park camping 001

    ReserveAmerica.com; 800-326-3521.

    #7. Myakka River State Park

    Great park, but not-so-great camping. The park cabins, though, are a fine deal for families.

  • oscar scherer

    ReserveAmerica.com; 800-326-3521.

    8. Oscar Scherer State Park

    Another local option at 1843 S. Tamiami Trail. Tenters mix with RVers, which isn’t ideal, but the sites are woodsy and private.

  • rye preserve

    Rye Preserve, 905 Rye Wilderness Trail, Parrish. 745-3723.

    #9. Rye Wilderness Preserve

    Just a few tent sites along the upper end of the Manatee River, which is a good thing.

  • kayak camp cook

    Myakka State Forest, 2000 S. River Rd., Englewood. 460-1333.

    #10. Myakka State Forest

    This is recreational land that belongs to the Southwest Florida Water Management District. The best of these South County campsites are along the Myakka River.