(Photo: Galyna Andrushko/Shutterstock)
The best way to truly immerse yourself into Florida’s beloved parks, springs and wooded trails is to pitch a tent and camp out under the stars. These campsites are less than an hour’s drive from Orlando and offer a side of something special with everything from freshwater plunge pools to horse farms and space stations.
- For the Social Butterfly: A 20-minute drive won’t get you to the beach, but it will get you to the next best thing: Wekiwa Springs State Park, home to trickling streams and peaceful creeks. You can choose from one of 60 spacious campsites and get ready to sleep among the wooded landscape. Spend the day hiking the area’s 13 miles of trails and dipping into the refreshing spring (the water remains a comfortable 72 degrees). For something a little more social, Wekiva Island is a favorite local haunt where you can rent a shaded pavilion, enjoy live music on the weekends, play beach volleyball or corn-hole, or grab yourself a cool cocktail. (Note: Outside alcohol is not permitted on the island.) They also have a food truck where you can get a just-off-the-grill burger. While here, rent a canoe or kayak to explore the beautiful Wekiva River, where you may spot everything from gators to some of Florida’s most beloved birds.
- For the Space Cadet: Show off your astronomy skills at the Kennedy Space Center KOA campgrounds, a 30-minute drive from the Kennedy Space Center and less than an hour’s drive from Orlando. Choose from tent, cabin or RV sites each with Wi-Fi, cable TV, bike rentals, restroom and laundry facilities, and a pool that’s open all year long. When it’s time to explore the galaxy, head for the famed Kennedy Space Center. You can try your hand at more than 60 interactive simulators, take selfies with the Space Shuttle Atlantis and even have lunch with an astronaut. And since you can’t come to the coast without clocking in some beach-time, head to nearby Playalinda Beach along the southern stretch of the Canaveral National Seashore for white sands and wooden trails before heading back to your outdoor retreat under the stars.
- For the Glamper: If you think roughing it includes leak-proof roofs, sturdy cedar walls and fully equipped kitchens, Oak Harbor is the camp site of choice. Also included in the cozy cabins are central air conditioning, digital TVs, cable and Wi-Fi. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that this campsite is less than an hour from the Orlando attractions. Spend the day at nearby Lake Lowery fishing for bass and shell cracker, taking a rental boat out for spin, or kayaking the waters in search of bald eagles, otters, ducks and alligators.
- For the Equestrian: The city of Ocala (located about an hour and a half north of Orlando) is an equestrian paradise with horse farms, horse shows and riding tours. The Ocala National Forest, the second largest nationally protected forest in the United States, covers 607 square miles of Central Florida. In Silver Springs, camping options include everything from walk-in tent camping to cabin rentals – great for large groups or families. The coveted Sweetwater Cabin was built in 1935 and accommodates up to 12. One of the area’s most cherished getaways — you need to enter a lottery to get a reservation — overlooks its own private Sweetwater Spring, a freshwater spring perfect for an afternoon plunge. The cabin also comes with canoes, a swimming area, a fully equipped kitchen and rustic fireplace.
- For the Water Lover: If you don’t want to try your hand at the lottery, Juniper Springs is a blue-water oasis set among live oaks with a historic mill, canoe rentals and hundreds of bubbling springs. The campground features 79 camping spaces that feature amenities like toilets, drinking water and a concession stand stocked with everything from groceries and firewood to novelties and livery service. During the day, grab a snorkel and mask to discover a plethora of indigenous fish and wildlife. Be sure to look along the water’s edge for turtles lazing in the sun.