Come morning, you’ll be steps away from the water and outdoor adventures such as kayaking, snorkeling, fishing and bird watching. Read on to learn about the area’s best camping spots.
FORT DE SOTO PARK, Tierra Verde
Why locals love it: Fort De Soto Park is the perfect mix of nature and convenience with boat ramps, fishing, canoeing, kayaking and almost three miles of beachfront. It was even named America’s Top Beach by TripAdvisor in 2009 and the best beach for families by Parents magazine in 2011.
Amenities: More than 200 campsites with water and electricity for everything from tents to RVs. There are restrooms, showers, grills, picnic tables, laundry facilities and a camp store. Pets are welcome in designated areas.
Outdoor adventures: Tour historic Fort De Soto, or rent a kayak to explore the water. There’s also ferry service available to Egmont Key, where you can go snorkeling in sunken ruins. Watch for dolphins as you cruise!
Don’t forget: Bring or rent bicycles to enjoy the seven miles of paved trails connecting the beaches, boat ramps and campsites.
Food run: Nearby eats include Island Grille and Raw Bar, Tony & Nellos and Billy's Stone Crab, Seafood & Steak.
Checking in: Sites sell out, so make your reservations as much as six months in advance.
ANCLOTE KEY PRESERVE STATE PARK, Tarpon Springs
No frills, just paradise: Located in the Gulf of Mexico at the mouth of the Anclote River, Anclote Key is a barrier island that's full of tropical beauty you have to see to believe. Its 400 acres includes sandy beaches, 43 species of birds and an 1887 lighthouse.
Amenities: Toilet only.
What to bring: Because there are no amenities on the island, it’s important to come prepared. A visitor once showed up with an electric generator and a flat-screen TV, but most just bring essentials such as tents, grills, food and lots of water. No alcohol or pets are allowed.
Nearby attractions: Ferries run up the Anclote River by day to the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks, where you can sample authentic Greek cuisine and pastries. It’s also a great place to stock up on goodies to bring with you on your trip.
Getting there: Overnight guests need a boat.
Checking in: No reservations needed, but call the park ranger at 727-638-4447.
SHELL KEY PRESERVE, near Fort De Soto Park
Natural wonders: These undeveloped barrier islands feature 1,800 acres of protected land, including the main island Shell Key, as well as smaller mangrove islands and sea grass beds. This sensitive habitat is one of the state’s most important shorebird sanctuaries, so the birding is spectacular, as are the peaceful beach views.
Amenities: None. It’s just you and the natural beauty of the island, so plan accordingly.
Don’t forget: In addition to food, water and shelter, you’ll also need portable toilets, which are required by the county.
Getting there: Access is by boat only.
Checking in: Pinellas County camping permit required.
CALADESI ISLAND, Dunedin
Anchors aweigh: Dock overnight on Caladesi Island, a barrier island famous for its three miles of award-winning, white-sand beaches.
Amenities: The marina has 108 boat slips with both water and electric. By day, you’ll also find a cafe and gift shop renting beach chairs, umbrellas and kayaks. Showers, bathrooms and grills are also available for public use. Leashed pets are allowed.
Island adventures: Snorkeling, swimming, fishing, hiking and three miles of kayak trails through the mangroves and bay.
Checking in: Five slips can be reserved daily; all others are first come, first served.
MADEIRA BEACH KOA, St. Petersburg
Lodges and more: The Madeira Beach KOA has pet-friendly, private campgrounds featuring cabins and lodges, as well as sites for RVs and tents.
Amenities: Pool, hot tub, fishing dock, canoe rentals, shuffleboard, miniature golf and volleyball.
Nearby attractions: You’re two miles from the Gulf beaches and right on the Pinellas Trail, a 37-mile path for biking, hiking and rollerblading that stretches from St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs.
WALL SPRINGS PARK, Palm Harbor
Just for youth groups: Wall Springs Park offers only primitive camping, only for youth groups.
Amenities: Boardwalks, nature trails, a covered playground and a 35-foot observation tower overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.
Getting around: Hop on the Pinellas Trail, which is connected to the park.
Checking in: Youth representatives can contact Pinellas County parks officials at 727-582-2100.
No matter where you camp, you’ll want to remember these essentials:
• Lots of water, ice and coolers for food and drinks.
• Bug spray and sunscreen.
• Know the daily timing of sunrise, sunset and the high and low tides.
• Don’t forget a bag to bring home seashells! (Leave live shells alone, but the rest are fair game.)