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Four places to camp on the Florida Gulf Coast

Get in touch with nature and have fun with the whole family on a budget. Camping is an exciting and economical adventure for both visitors and locals.

Florida offers a variety of options for the avid camper, especially in Sarasota County. Whether you're local or visiting, camping on the beach in Florida is an absolute must. Perhaps you want to test your ruggedness with primitive camping, or just stick to the traditional tent camping in Florida. Or, if it's time to take a break from the stereotypical sand-and-sun vacation, plan a getaway to Myakka River State Park or Oscar Scherer State Park.

Myakka River State Park

Myakka River State Park
Myakka River State Park

Myakka River State Park offers options for families, groups, and individuals, ranging from a campground's equivalent of luxurious to the primitive. The grounds are home to five palm log cabins that, while built in the ‘30s, are updated with kitchen essentials and bed necessities. An affordable hotel alternative for those seeking a visit to the wild, cabins cost just $70 per night for up to six people. Camping in a cabin can be a fun, cozy, family activity for the holidays, or a way to relax and cool down during the warmer months.

Big Flats and Old Prairie are the main campgrounds at Myakka. Big Flats, which has 26 camping sites, is the largest. Both have water and electricity, picnic areas and grills, and on-site restrooms with hot showers. Camping fees are $26 per night in the family camping areas. Palmetto Ridge is an additional family campground that has electricity, water and restrooms available.

Group camping is also a great option. With fees at $1/night for children under 18, and $5/night for adults, the tenting area is prepared to accomodate groups between six or 20 members per site. The group camping area includes water, a grill, picnic tables and a fire circle, but no electricity. Who needs it, though, when you're roughing it? That's half the fun! 

After pitching your tent, there's plenty more to do. Some go camping to unwind while others go to have a wild adventure. Luckily, there are plenty of opportunities for both. Bike and canoe rentals are available, as are National & State Park Concessions's tours. Watch for birds and gators, go fishing, take relaxing walks along the nature trail, grill out with your tentmates, and, after the sun goes down, roast marshmallows and tell stories over the campfire.

The cheapest and most hardcore option for campers is primitive camping. Test your endurance, save money and get some solitude ... as long as you're up for a hike!

There are six primitive campgrounds at Myakka. The closest is Mossy Hammock, which is just over two miles away from the trailhead. The second closest is Bee Island, 5.4 miles away. Panther Point, Honore, Oak Grove and Prairie are significantly further. Oak Grove, which is a 9.5-mile distance, is accessible by bike, as well as hiking, like Mossy Hammock and Bee Island.  Panther Point, Honore and Prairie are accessible by hiking only. Prairie is the farthest at nearly 14 miles which, while daunting to some, can be great exercise and a beautiful hike for others. Oak Grove, Panther Point, Honore and Prairie all have water on site, but it is suggested that all hikers and campers bring water along as a precaution. In addition to the peace and quiet of the hike and the primitive campgrounds, you'll get the rare chance to see wildlife in its natural setting.

To make reservations for cabins or campsites with electricity, call (800) 326-3521. For primitive camping, group camping and backpack campsites, call (941) 361-6511. Myakka is located at 13208 State Road 72 in Sarasota. For more information, visit myakkariver.org.

Oscar Scherer State Park

A scrub jay at Oscar Scherer State Park
A scrub jay at Oscar Scherer State Park

Oscar Scherer State Park is another popular camping spot in Sarasota County. Located in Osprey, in South County, it also offers up a lot of options. Its campsites are complete with water and electric, picnic tables and grills. The park also has restrooms with hot showers, as well as laundry facilities.

Group camping is primitive, but includes a bathroom, a cold water spiget and a campfire circle. Up to 50 people can be accommodated. Adult groups and youth groups (with chaperones) are welcome.

Oscar Scherer is home to Lake Osprey, a beautiful fresh water lake. Campers can go swimming and even snorkeling in the lake. Bike, canoe and kayak rentals are all available. Other activity options include fishing, bird watching and picnicking. There are also 15 miles of beautiful and challenging trails. Like Myakka, Oscar Scherer also makes a perfect place to share stories and make some s'mores by the campfire.

The camping fee is $26 per night. Florida residents over 65 are eligible for a 50 percent discount. For youth camping, the fee is a dollar for children under 18 and $5 per adult.

To make reservations, call (800) 326-3521 or (941) 483-5956. The park is located at 1843 S. Tamiami Trail in Osprey. For more information, visit floridastateparks.org/oscarscherer.

Sun-N-Fun Resort and Campground

Sun-N-Fun Resort and Campground offers up a bit of a different experience. Tent camping is available from May through October (the grass sites have electricity, water and picnic tables) and RV camping is available all year. Deluxe and pull-thru sites offer the most room. Premium and standard RV sites also have picnic tables, full hookups, electricity, water, sewer and cable TV.

Sun-N-Fun features 150 activities during season which runs November through April. The resort even has a giant pool ideal for cooling down during the warmer months.

Call (941) 371-2505 or visit sunnfunfl.com for more information. Sun-N-Fun is located at 7125 Fruitville Road in Sarasota.

Turtle Beach Campground

Neville Preserve Launch at Turtle Beach
Neville Preserve Launch at Turtle Beach

Turtle Beach Campground is the answer to anyone that ever said "I wish we could sleep here" while relaxing on one of Sarasota's beautiful, serene beaches. If you ever wanted to wake up in the sand with a view of the Gulf of Mexico, here's your chance.

Located on Siesta Key Beach, the No. 1 beach in America in 2011, the Turtle Beach Campground is one of the few places where you can actually pitch a tent or park an RV to spend the night. There are 40 camping sites with electricity and cable TV available.

For fun, spend the day at the beach! Tan, swim, kayak, go fishing or bike or walk to a nearby restaurant or bar. There are also grills and picnic areas, as well as a volleyball court, playground and restrooms.

For reservations, call (941) 349-3839. For more details, visit scgov.net/turtlebeachcampground. The campground is located at 8862 Midnight Pass Road in Sarasota.

Happy travels!

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