Free Camping: Near Pensacola, FL

Campsite

Free Campsite on the bay near Pensacola, FL

If you’re looking for a free campsite that’s not far from Pensacola and the beaches, this might fit the bill. The Escribano Point Wildlife Management Area has a lovely little rustic campground beneath the live oaks and right on the east shore of Blackwater Bay. 

Note: There are a few potential downsides that you’ll want to consider also (see the end of this post.)

As far as free camping goes, this is one we’d come back to.  The site is removed from the hustle and bustle, but near enough that an easy 15 minute drive puts you near whatever you might need.  The campground is several miles from the road, so there is absolutely zero road noise.  You’re surrounded by a beautiful Florida forest of live oaks, pines, and palmettos.  What’s more, the campground borders the bay with a small shoreline beach. (Or, if you end up on the “Bayou Side” campground, it’s smaller and is on the marsh.)

campground beach

Small beach at the free Scribing Point Campground

The campground is well maintained, and the sites are all clearly marked.  Each site is clearly defined also, with split rail fence between you and your neighbor. The campsites are all partly shaded from the strong sun by the live oaks.  This is dry camping, so there is no running water and no bathhouse.  There are a couple of porta-potties.  And there are bear-proof trashcans about also.  Each site has a picnic table and fire pit.

You can fish, swim or kayak the bay.  There are also a few hiking trails near the campground. The Blackwater River State Park’s within an easy driving distance. 

Navarre Beach

Free public beach on the Florida Gulf is only 20 min away from the campground

The free public beach (Navarre beach) is only a 20 minute drive.  Besides just the sheer enjoyment of a day at the beach, swimming in the emerald colored Gulf, there are showers of sorts at most of the beaches.  They’re out in the open, so swim suits are required!  But, it provides a handy way to get a shower in when you’re dry camping.  The cool water from the shower feels heavenly after a swim in the Gulf.  Plus, with a little effort and creativity, you can use the showers to fill your camping water jugs.

View from Navarre Fishing Pier

View of the Gulf and beach from the Navarre Beach Pier

There’s also a man-made snorkeling reef near Navarre.  And Navarre Beach has a lovely pier that extends way out over the beautiful gulf.  It’s $1 daily entrance fee for spectators and $7 for fisherman, but that price buys you access to the pier all day.  Pack a picnic and make an afternoon of it!

The town of Navarre is only 15 minutes away from the campground, and has nearly all the conveniences you might need, including: fast food restaurants with Wi-Fi, Winn Dixie (grocery), Walmart, etc.  On the way to Navarre you’ll pass an O’Reilly’s Auto Parts  and a Laundry also.  There are plenty of gas stations around as well.

Some important things you’ll want to consider:

  • This campground is by reservation only.  It is patrolled several times a day, so if you try to squat on an unclaimed site, you will be asked to leave.  As a positive, you can know that, if you have a reservation, your site will be available for you.
    Note:  If you make a reservation, but end up not coming… please cancel your reservation.  Otherwise, you’re keeping others from enjoying the park. 
  • Besides being a “dry” campground in terms of potable water, it is also a “dry” campground in terms of alcohol.  No alcohol is permitted in sight (or technically, in possession).  Did I mention that the campground is patrolled regularly?  If caught, they can ask you to leave.
  • The reservation website promotes some of the campsites as waterfront.  They are more like “water-view” than waterfront, with a fenced walking area for all the campground guests between you and the bayshore.  Sites 1-8 are along the waterfront, but with a greenbelt that all campers share between you and the water.  Sites on the perimeter away from the bay (#9 & #10) have a little more privacy, but the greenery blocks the slight (but oh so needed) night breezes off the water.  The sites along the bay seem to get more of the breeze.  Here’s the (bayside) campground map: 

    Bayside Campground Map

  • There is a solar streetlight over the porta-pottie area.  If you happen to end up in site # (11), your camp will be VERY well lit at night.
  • The campground is surrounded (literally) by the nearby Air Force base.  While the landing strip is on the other side of the main road, it’s enough of a distance away that you don’t feel like the airplanes are landing on your head.  However, frequently (at night) you’ll hear them practicing their drills.  It sounds like fireworks.  Also, they have some sort of a rifle training range back in the woods.  You don’t see it, but you can sometimes hear them practicing drills at night.
  • There are restrictions about running generators on campers overnight.
  • It is Florida.  Be prepared for bugs, and lots of tiny little biting ants.

Lastly, DO NOT follow your GPS’s advice to find this campground.  It’ll try to take you off on unmaintained sand roads (on Air Force property) to parts unknown.  Stay on Wolf Choctaw Road until you get to Choctaw Field Road (you’ll have to turn, as the road is otherwise barricaded).  Stay on that road until you get to the campground. 

To make your reservation:  http://myfwc.com/viewing/recreation/wmas/lead/escribano-point/camping/

Free Camping near Mackinac Bridge

Northern Michigan has few offerings in the way of free camping (also known as dry camping or boon docking).  That being said, French Farm Lake was a gem and we highly recommend it.

Here’s what we loved our free-camping excursion at French Farm Lake in upper Michigan:

  1. As it’s on public lands, it was very pristine (except for the large windmill across the lake, but at least that’s quiet too).
    french-farm-lake-3
  2. The camp sites were spacious and far apart with trees and sand dunes between them.  Except for  a little road traffic going by, we never saw or heard our neighbors.  The sites are also very near the lake.  Our site was within 50 yards of the lake.

    Free Campsite At French Farm Lake MI

    A lovely spot for boon docking in Michigan

  3. The sites have campfire rings (Although I did have to clean ours up a bit)

    cleaned-up-fire-ring

    Our Free Campsite Had a Nice Fire Ring

  4. You can kayak the lake, but there’s also a rustic boat launch.
  5. You can fish the lake.  In fact, it seems to be a popular place for locals.  Here’s the Division of Natural Resources Map for French Farm Lake.
  6. The park that the campsites sit on is part of the North Country Trail.  (A hiking trail, similar to the Appalachian Trail, but that runs from New York to North Dakota.)
  7. The camp sites are only about a mile walk (or drive) westward on Trail’s End (the main road) to a lovely little free state park with a beach on Lake Michigan.
  8. The camp sites are also only about a 4 mile drive (east) to Mackinaw City and Lake Huron.  Mackinaw City’s a very small tourist town, but is quaint.  If you want ice cream, fudge, pasties, or a t-shirt, you’re set there.  There’s one tiny grocery store for necessities.  There’s one fast food place (Burger King) that usually has wifi. There’s a post office in the downtown area.
    a-Mackinaw-City-Park-Lake-Huron-Straights.JPG

    Free City Parks in Mackinac City are Perfect for Picnicking on Lake Huron!

    There are several free town parks around that are perfect for picnicking on Lake Huron.  Just drive the outskirts of town along the lake and you’ll find them.

    Mackinac-Island-Ferry

    You can buy a ferry ticket to Mackinac Island from Mackinaw City

    There are several ferries that depart from Mackinaw City for Mackinac Island.  (However, the tickets are a bit pricey (~$26 per person round trip.  A local told us that there’s a merger in process that will have all the ferry companies there owned by the same parent company.)

  9. There’s a plethora of state parks and light house parks around the area also.
    mcgulpin-lighthouse2

    Enter a caption

    And, of course, the Mackinac Bridge is right there at Mackinaw City also.  (There is a toll to cross the bridge.)
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A few additional notes that might be helpful as you prepare for your free camping in northern Michigan:

  • There are only 6 camp sites at French Farm Lake (Michigan).  Your chance of getting one of the sites in the height of the season probably aren’t great.  But it’s worth a try.  There were no signs indicating that a reservation or fee was required.  However, we did find an old “camp registration card” on the campsite.  So, it sounds like it’s possible to reserve a site through http://www.michigan.gov/dnre.  If you do show up and aren’t able to find a site, there are other options close by.  You’ll have passed a KOA on the way to the turn for French Farm Lake.  There are other private campground options in the near area, as well as at the state parks nearby.  They won’t be free or as quiet and pristine, but at least you’ll have a place to camp.
  • If you scout around, you can find some other free camping available up in the Upper Peninsula (across the Mackinac Bridge).
  • The nearest Walmart is in Cheboygan, about a half an hour or so away.
  • Showering when you’re camping for free is always a trick.  We found that the KOA just up the road (if you ask nicely and they’re not super busy) will let you shower there for $5 a shower.
  • (Likewise, disposing of your trash when free camping is a challenge.) We found that the gas station right off the freeway exit (Exit 337) will let you dispose of your trash there, if you discretely and politely ask the attendant (and slip him a tip).

Generally speaking, we found the people in northern Michigan to be very nice, personable, and helpful.  We had a little car trouble about 2 hours drive south of our exit.  The folks in that town were amazingly nice.  We had so many people stop and ask if they could help us.  It was refreshing and helped restore hope in humanity!

Also, if you do go camp at French Farm Lake in Michigan, please remember that it is dry camping.  That means there are no facilities.  You will not have access to running water, latrines, or a dumpster.  Please plan accordingly.  Whatever you pack in, pack it back out.  Please be courteous and don’t leave it a mess for the next person.