The Best Backcountry Campsite in Florida: Davenport Landing in Ocala National Forest
You may not realize it, but most of Florida is either a National Preserve, National Forest, or a National Park. This makes it an excellent environment for top-notch dispersed, backcountry camping.
Sure, the elevation throughout most of the state is less than 100 feet above sea level which does not excite most camping enthusiasts across the country, but where else can you find a native 40 foot palm tree sticking out among sand pine, oak, hickory, and maple trees? Florida's various ecosystems make the landscape and scenery worth the visit alone and this extends to camping. Throw in the diverse wildlife both on land and off and you're in for quite a treat. If you can be patient with the mosquito population, then you're good to go for a backcountry adventure in Florida.
Of the many camping options in Florida, Ocala National Forest, in particular, is one of the most visited national forests on the east coast averaging around 3 million visitors every year. An absolute off-the-beaten-path hidden gem is an area called Davenport Landing, the focal point of this article.
Situated along the Ocklawaha River, this is a historic steamboat stop featuring 5 campsites about 100 feet into the woods.
Cell Phone Reception: 1 bar at best
Human Noise: Minimal with the right crowd
14 day maximum stay
5 primitive campsite (other blogs will say 3, but it's 5!)
No running water
No trash bins - pack it in, pack it out
Dirt road access only
4x4 recommended but not required
Closest gas/groceries/hardware: 15 minutes south in Salt Springs, FL
When to Visit?
Winter is definitely the best time to camp at Davenport Landing for the best temperatures and mosquito situation. This is also hunting season, so be mindful of that.
From State Road 19, turn onto dirt road NF 77 headed West. A couple miles down the road, after you pass two more roads on your left, you'll see a sign on your right-hand side which says Davenport Landing. From there, it's about 1 minute to the Davenport Landing trailhead. You can park there if you just want to hike the trail, or head left at the fork to reach the campsite in about 30 seconds.
Below is an image of the road leading up to the Davenport Landing trailhead.
The hiking is limited, but nonetheless, there is some of it for you to partake in. The trail in the map earlier in the article can be treated as a loop or out and back. It takes you down to the steamboat landing and the native american burial ground. There are some boards with historical facts about the area which are worth reading to familiarize yourself with the site itself. The hike is about 5 minutes each way. Aside from that, there are some unmarked trails off the campsite which can take you down to or along the river.
Paddleboarding, Canoeing, & Kayaking
My favorite hobby is paddleboarding and the Ocklawaha River is perfect for it. Don't be afraid of the gators, you'll see loads of them hanging out on logs along the river's edge. Always be cautious but don't freak out, they're more afraid of you than you are of them. At the campsite down by the river there is a rope swing (don't use it if the water level is low). If the water level is low, there is a small beach for you to relax on a chair and observe nature. I'd say this area is safe for swimming, but it's not advised anywhere else along the river. Alligators usually avoid the camping area.
Ocala National Forest is home to a substantial black bear population. If you follow basic food & trash removal procedures you won't have an issue, but always be cognizant that they are around, somewhere. There are bear sightings at Davenport Landing on occasion, but not often. Food can change that quickly, so be sure to use common sense so you don't ruin the experience for others in the future.