Along with the sunshine that graces the state, Florida has other wonderful things to offer like free RV parking. What’s unique about their RV parking spaces is that they are not just parking spaces. They are recreation centers where you can bike, hike, and even have wildlife encounters.
In Florida, you can park for free at recreation centers under the water management districts. The most popular choices with stellar reviews from campers are DuPuis Campground and Hickory Hammock Campground.
Aside from the two recreation centers previously mentioned, of course, there are still other spots you can look into. You also have to take note of basic know-hows like reserving a parking space online, for example. The rest of this article will cover such ins and outs and other nitty-gritty of free RV parking in Florida.
Free Places to Park Your RV in Florida
There are plenty of free places in Florida where you can park your RV safely. The following will just list some of the popular areas where you can park your rig. Each of the places has its activities that you can do while you spend the night or days in the parking area.
Dubbed as the “Crown Jewel” of South Florida, the DuPuis Management Area is very popular among campers in the state who identify it as the perfect natural campground. The area provides for activities like fishing, hiking, horseback riding, and even stargazing. Aside from the beautiful outdoor scenery, DuPuis also provides amenities like a bathhouse, dump station, and potable water. These are definitely essentials that make campers give this free spot an A-plus.
On the south side of Highway 76, DuPuis has four gates that provide access to the area. The gate you want to go to is Gate 3 which is for camping and equestrian access. However before you can stay in the area, you need to apply for a Special Use License, which you can easily do online on DuPuis’ web page. The main thing you need to do in the online application is to specify that you’ll be staying in DuPuis and that the permit you are applying for is for an “RV/Travel Trailer.”
Lastly, it is important to note that for the DuPuis Campground, campers are only allowed to stay for 8 consecutive days per permit obtained. You must at least leave the area for a day before returning for an additional stay at the campsite. Take note that there is a limit of 30 days per year for camping in the district and unused permits will still be counted for such limit.
Hickory Hammock: Known As the Equestrian Center and Hiking Trailhead
Hickory Hammock is also located in South Florida. It is well-known for its equestrian center and hiking trailhead. But, the area also offers other activities like fishing, canoeing, and kayaking. An hour away from the famous Lake Okeechobee, this recreation center is often a stop for campers who are following the Everglades Trail or the Great Florida Birding Trail.
Just like DuPuis Campground, Hickory Hammock is very efficient when it comes to scheduling your stay. You just have to reserve the dates you want to go online and get the permit for your RV. Since they’re basically under one company, the process is similar to DuPuis such that after registration, an email is sent to you with the code you need to unlock the entrance gate.
The amenities in Hickory Hammock include composting toilets, outdoor showers, potable water, and dumpsters. Campers also rave about the spacious area where you can choose where to park. Aside from that, the recreation center’s hosts are also known to be very helpful and knowledgeable which makes the place even more memorable. A word of caution, however, is that being so far off the main road, there is no immediate access to groceries or supply stores. So, when staying at Hickory Hammock, you really have to be prepared for your stay.
Let’s go from South Florida to Suwannee River Water Management District where Goose Pasture is located. Goose Pasture is another camping area that offers activities like hiking, biking, fishing, and hunting. Despite being free, the path to Goose Pasture is a bit bumpy. So management says you might want to take that into consideration when you have a big RV.
Goose Pasture is also not a developed campsite. It’s more of a primitive or natural camping area which can be great for authentic boondocking. Unlike DuPuis Campground, Goose Pasture doesn’t have any reservation requirements. It’s a first-come, first-served location where special authorization to stay is self-administered at the kiosk once you arrive. However, you can call in advance the number on their webpage or you can also write them an email to reserve the area for camping for a group of six or more. Another thing to take note of is that the Goose Pasture area can only accommodate you for 10 days and is closed off during the general gun season.
Cypress Creek Preserve
Under Southwest Florida Water Management District, Cypress Creek Preserve is tagged as an excellent spot for primitive and dispersed camping. Other activities in this center include walking and biking which is perfect for its well-maintained dirt roads. This camping area has two sites, each of which has grills and picnic tables. However, Cypress Creek Preserve does not have any trash service and only has porta-potties which may be unserviceable at times.
This campground also requires a reservation prior to your stay. Cypress Creek Preserve is basically the same as the aforementioned campsites which have a gate to secure the area. The code to the gate will be sent to you along with your free permit. However, this permit will only grant you access to the camping site and will not guarantee a parking space. Note that this site also does not have enough space to maneuver big RVs.
Dead River Landing
The Dead River Landing Recreation Area in Northwest Florida, particularly in Ponce de Leon, is another area that offers camping for RVs, fishing, boating, and wildlife viewing. Amenities in this camping ground include a picnic table, fire grills, portable toilets, and 16 camping sites (each of which can accomodate two vehicles). However, only camping sites 1 to 8 are available for RVs also through reservation, while the other 8 sites are limited to tents.
At this campsite, no hookups are available for power, water or waste (which makes it perfect for boondocking experience). Moreover, campers also enjoy staying at Dead River Landing because it is clean and well-maintained. There are plenty of trees for shade and the area is generally quiet and peaceful.
Other Areas Good For Boondocking
The Bayside Campground in the Escribano Point Wildlife Management Area receives a lot of love from RVers, and boondocking enthusiasts. Aside from portable toilets and trash receptacles, this shady and beautiful campground has no other amenities like potable water and electricity. Sites in this area, however, usually have fire rings and picnic tables. A park ranger goes around each morning to check arrivals and their free permit secured online.
If you are willing to spend a few more bucks capped at $10 a night, two options for boondocking are the Wood Lake Recreation Area at the Apalachicola National Forest and the Cobb Hunt Campground at the Osceola National Forest. Both of these primitive camping sites, however, still have amenities like picnic tables, toilets, and drinking water. They also both have rangers and are closed off during hunting season.
What You Should Expect When Parking for Free
When parking for free, you should know that complete amenities are not always available. There are, of course, a few exceptions like DuPuis which provides bathhouses that have clean flush toilets and hot showers. Next, since you are sharing the campsite with other RVers for free, you cannot control loud music, especially on the weekends nor can you control noises from generators owned by other campers.
Cell signal is another thing you should consider. Sites like Hickory Hammock and Dead River Landing have close to no signals, while other areas like Cypress Creek Preserve have average cell coverage. You should also be prepared for bugs when camping in Florida. (Watch out for the notorious mosquitoes!) Lastly, not all free parking sites can accommodate all types of RV sizes. Only sites like DuPuis and Hickory Hammock are “big rig friendly.”
All in all, there are generally a lot of options for free parking in Florida. What’s tricky is navigating through the different districts’ websites and finding out whether your RV can park there for free. So, if you can, call the water management district and confirm your reservation as recreation centers may also be closed due to different reasons like flooding. You don’t want to go all the way out there only to find out you don’t have a place to stay. Good luck and happy camping!