Where to camp in Florida before summer heat sets in

News 6 producer lists her favorite places to pitch a tent

By Kelly Pepperman - Producer

Floridians either revel or revolt during the few weeks a year when temperatures drop below 80 degrees. Whether you love it or hate it, cooler weather calls for bundling up. For outdoor enthusiasts, that means busting out the sleeping bags and piling on the firewood. Before summer heat and rain return, pitch a tent and sip some hot cocoa at one of these state parks that offer scenery and wildlife unlike anywhere else.

Photo Credit: Cortney Warsh

Bison and alligators can be seen at Payne's Prairie.

 

Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park
100 Savannah Blvd, Micanopy, FL 32667 

This North Florida park will have you sharing stories for years to come because of the unique wildlife that call the preserve home. Herds of wild bison and horses graze in the prairie while alligators warm themselves along trails during the colder months. News 6 producer Kelly Pepperman said this park is toward the top of her list of camping spots.

"My friend and I were lucky enough to encounter bison from the Cone's Dike trail near the Visitor Center and Observation Tower, which is also worth a quick stop. We also came across a congregation of alligators huddled together on a frigid afternoon along the La Chua Trail within the park," Pepperman said.

It can dip as low as 30 degrees at night, so pack plenty of warm clothes and blankets if you plan to stay the night.

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Anastasia State Park 
300 Anastasia Park Rd, St Augustine, FL 32080

Anastasia State Park is just minutes from Castillo de San Marcos, The Fountain of Youth and other must-see attractions in America's Oldest City. Positioned along the coast, the park's campground is walking distance from pristine, white sand beaches. Keep an eye on the horizon for a chance to see North Atlantic right whales migrating off the coast during the winter months. Sightings of the endangered marine mammals are a rare treat, since there are only a few hundred left in existence. You won't want to miss the nearby St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum or the Ancient Dunes Trail within the park.

Photo Credit: Justine Swanson

Jonathan Dickinson State Park
16450 SE Federal Highway, Hobe Sound, FL 33455 

The largest state park in Southeast Florida sits between Hobe Sound and Jupiter along the Treasure Coast. It is filled with coastal sand hills and scrub forests that are perfect for hiking and mountain biking. Canoers and kayakers love the park for its access to the Loxahatchee River, while hikers can complete a portion of The Florida Trail here. The park is named after Jonathan Dickinson, a shipwrecked merchant held captive by Jobe Indians in the late 1600s whose story is well known in the area. Guided horseback rides and horse-drawn tram tours allow visitors to feel like they have traveled back in time.

Fort DeSoto Park
3500 Pinellas Bayway S, St. Petersburg, FL 33715 

This Pinellas County oasis sits between Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico just south of Shell Key Preserve. It has something for everyone with a mix of history and natural beauty. You can bring your bicycle to enjoy the park’s paved roads, which lead to marshy fishing areas and piers along the beach. Bike or drive to Fort DeSoto, where you'll see historic barracks and four coastal defense mortars. In addition to common Gulf Coast sightings like dolphins and horseshoe crabs, wild parakeets have been spotted perched in trees above campsites here. The bright green birds are invasive but thrive in the subtropical region. Fort DeSoto is great for kayaking, fishing and watching an unforgettable sunset. The campground has plenty of accommodations, including a general store, and reservations tend to fill up months in advance.

[MORE: Most scenic places to kayak, paddleboard in the Orlando areaSeeing stars? The definitive guide to stargazing in Central Florida]

Blue Spring State Park, also known as the Winter Home of the Manatee.

Blue Spring State Park 
2100 W French Ave, Orange City, FL 32763 

Blue Spring is more than just the so-called 'Winter Home of the Manatee'. The Central Florida park also offers campsites and cabins for guests to enjoy during the cooler months. You can take the boardwalk between the St. Johns River and the crystal-clear spring shaded by palm and cypress trees. The park provides plaques with educational blurbs about its rich history and wildlife. There are also beautiful pine tree-lined trails to explore and like most state parks, fire pits in every campsite for roasting hot dogs and s'mores. 

Feel free to share your favorite places with Pepperman at kpepperman@wkmg.com

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