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Travel & Outdoors

Winter Camping Guide For Tampa Bay

December 22, 2012 8:00 AM

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(Photo Credit: Thinkstock)

(Photo Credit: Thinkstock)

(credit: Thinkstock)

(credit: Thinkstock)

As the cooler weather starts rolling into Tampa Bay, the thought of “roughing it” in some of central Florida’s unspoiled areas can start sounding very appealing. Instead of sweating it out through hot, humid summer nights, a properly equipped camper can allow you to enjoy fresh air and a chance to disconnect from the rat race in just the right amount of shelter and comfort.
Fort De Soto Park
3500 Pinellas Bayway S.
Tierra Verde, FL 33715
(727) 893-9185
www.pinellascounty.org

Located at the tip of Pinellas County, Fort De Soto Park is just minutes away from the urban sprawl of St. Petersburg and the rest of the county. To get there, take Interstate 275 north or south and get off at the Pinellas Bayway exit. Head west about 6.5 miles and turn right on Anderson Road. The park is made up of five interconnected islands that cover more than 1,100 acres of an amazingly complex marine ecosystem. From one of America’s most celebrated beaches to a woodlands environment suitable for kayaking trips and hundreds of varieties of birds, there is much to see and do. Camping opportunities range from family-suitable sites that include electricity and running water to primitive campsites where it’s BYOT (bring your own toilets). Reservations are a must and are taken up to seven months in advance.

Myakka River State Park
13208 State Road 72
Sarasota, FL 34241
(941) 361-6511
www.floridastateparks.org

Covering 57 square miles, Myakka River State Park is located southeast of Sarasota. From either north or south, access is a snap. Simply take Interstate 75 to the State Road 72 exit and go east about 9 miles. The admission fee for a vehicle with two to eight people is $6. Family camping that includes water and electricity is $26 per night. Primitive camping is $5 per night with sites that are only reachable on foot or by bike. Myakka River State Park features a diverse ecosystem that’s built around fresh water. While the water may be fresh, water that you don’t carry in with you must be boiled, filtered or treated before using it to cook or drink. One of the cautions about exploring Myakka River State Park is that the wildlife can indeed be wild. Alligators roam freely and dogs should only be taken in designated areas on a leash. There have been unfortunate incidents where hungry gators made a meal out of a family pet.

Related: Getaway Guide: Weekend Trip to Sanibel Island

Silver River State Park
1425 N.E. 58th Ave.
Ocala, FL 34470
(352) 236-7148
www.floridastateparks.org

Silver River State Park is about 100 miles north of Tampa on Interstate 75. Take the State Road 40 exit and merge onto State Road 40. Go about 8.5 miles to a sharp right onto 58th Avenue. The park entrance will be about a mile on your left. Admission is $6 for vehicles with two to eight people. Located on the very western fringe of the Ocala National Forest, this area offers primitive camping in some of the most remote wilderness available in Florida. However, luxury cabins are available as well. Silver River features a cracker village that illustrates just how tough Florida’s first wave of white settlers had to be to make a living in the 19th century. Rental canoes, hiking, biking, swimming and fishing are all available. Campsite prices range from $16 to $42 per night with cabins ranging from $30 to $160 per night.

Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park
100 Savannah Blvd.
Micanopy, FL 32667
(352) 466-3397
www.floridastateparks.org

Further yet up the road is Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. Paynes Prairie was originally named the “Great Alachua Savanna” by naturalist William Bartram in 1774. It’s a 120-mile trip north on Interstate 75 from Tampa. Take exit 374 and turn right on County Road 234, then it’s just over a mile until a left turn on State Road 25 north. Park admission is $6 for a vehicle with two to eight people. The remote location makes Paynes Prairie an ideal spot to get away from the light pollution of Florida’s cities and enjoy the annual Stargazing Party in January. But what really sets Payne’s Prairie apart is its bison herd. The herd was established in 1975 to help recreate the area. Camping with water and electricity will cost $18 per night.

Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park
10500 Wilderness Park Blvd.
New Port Richey, FL 34655
(727) 834-3247
www.swfwmd.state.fl.us

Located halfway between U.S. 19 to the west and the Suncoast Parkway to the east, Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park is located about 4.5 miles north of State Road 54, just off Starkey Road. The entrance fee is $2. While full-scale luxury cabins are not available, there are several primitive camping areas and primitive cabins available. Cabins that hold up to eight people are $35 a night and campsites cost $15 per night. Cabins and campsites must be reserved in person, while pavilions can be reserved over the phone.

Related: Best Hiking Trails in Tampa Bay

Mike Hennessy is a veteran news man who has won Florida AP awards for feature reporting and covered almost every kind of story imaginable from on-the-scene coverage of Hurricane Andrew, to some of the highest profile murder and corruption trials in Florida history. Mike is versatile and has the curiosity it takes to get to the bottom line of any story. His work can be found at Examiner.com.

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