In the land of high priced beachside resorts and public parks overstuffed with campers, is free Florida camping really a thing? I didn’t believe it until I saw it for myself, but I can now confirm that free camping — and very good camping at that — is indeed available in the sunshine state. I first learned about the state run free camping areas around Florida while searching around campendium.com for a place to stay between our last stop in the Ocala National Forest and our next stop in the Florida Keys. I came across the DuPuis Campground and while there were not yet any reviews (except now there’s mine which you can read here) a quick google search showed that it was indeed a legit camping area.
Further research revealed that despite a number of regulations — you must obtain a free online permit, camping by the general public is NOT allowed during the numerous hunting seasons, and there is an 8-day limit — it would be possible for us to camp there during our desired week. I found a few photos and reviews online, but still was not totally sure what to expect. Would it be too sandy, too shaded for our solar panels, or too noisy from the constant hum of generators running round the clock? Turns out we didn’t need to worry about any of that.
The campground is situated right off the main road on a nice stretch of grassy land dotted with trees. When you first drive in the area closest to the road is set up for equestrian campers with a giant outside paddock and several barns.
Just past the equestrian area is plenty of space for RVs of any size to park. The area is large enough that everyone can have their own space, and a variety of trees offer shade for those who want relief from the hot Florida sun. We choose a spot in the full sun to get the maximum amount of solar, but nearly everyone else parked under or near a tree.
While we did suffer through a few hot afternoons, at this time of year with the sun low in the sky and the daylight hours short, the only way we can hope to generate a sufficient amount of power is by parking in the full sun. We have a solar upgrade planned that should remedy this situation, but since this will be our one and only time running off solar this winter, we’ll save that for a later date. For now, we are embracing the sun.
The DuPuis Campground is a wildlife and environmental area run by the South Florida Water Managment District. The land has gone through several changes in recent decades. At one time it was a livestock ranch, and like so many other areas of Florida, the land was altered through drainage and canal systems that left this area unnaturally dry. Today, portions have been rehydrated and now nearly one-third of the former ranch has been restored to cypress swamps and freshwater marsh.
The remaining two-thirds is a gorgeous pine and palm tree forest with a palmetto undergrowth. I just love this kind of classic inland Florida forest
From the campground, we had direct access to an extensive network of dirt road and forested trails to explore. We mostly stuck to the roads because the trails were pretty thick with growth and looked like the perfect environment for all sorts of creepy crawly things. Maybe if we were outfitted in pants and hiking boots, but when hiking in shorts and sneakers I prefer to stay out of the bush.
One evening we rode our bikes over to the Dupuis Family Campground located a few miles back from the road and accessed through gate 2. It’s a much smaller space with more defined sites situated in a horseshoe shape around a small pond. It was a nice spot with only a handful of campers, probably because this area is limited to tents, pop-up campers, and vans only. The big advantage to staying here is that you don’t hear any road noise. Even though it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere, the main road past the campground was pretty busy in the early morning and afternoon.
Back at the campground, we enjoyed some foggy mornings and subtle sunsets.
We also enjoyed the relative peace and quiet of the campground. I thought this might be a popular overnight stop with lots of campers going in and out, but that didn’t seem to be the case. In fact, when we left at the end of the week most of the people who were there when we arrived were still there (which makes me question if the 8-day limit is really enforced). There was also a surprisingly small amount of generator use. Aside from the one van camper with a giant contractor generator, everyone else appeared to be running on solar power. Thankfully, we were parked far from the one noisy person.
This will definitely not be our last time seeking out free Florida camping. I already have my eye on a few sites on the western side of the state for our trip north in the spring. Deciphering the maze of websites for all the different departments that manage these areas is a little confusing, and when you add in all the differing regulations for hunting and permits things can get downright nutty, but if you can slog through all that stuff it turns out that Florida really does have some awesome free camping!