Stealth Camping in the Florida Keys

Enjoying the Florida Keys can be a costly endeavor since tourism is the main income source for businesses located in the Keys. There are still ways however to enjoy the beauty of the islands without the big price tag. Although it is widely published that stealth camping is not allowed in the Florida Keys, we learned that there are still many options for free overnight parking. See the difference in wording: Stealth camping versus overnight parking? The trick is making yourself invisible when sleeping inside your parked vehicle.

Instead of staying at a nice hotel in Kew West we decided to give it a try and we turned our Chevy Tahoe into a super stealth truck camper and left for a great adventure filled with sun, fun and island vibes. Stealth camping in a car or truck definitely has its pros and cons. Cons: lack of privacy, space, air flow and luxury. Pros: low cost, more freedom and spontaneity. We love to be able to park pretty much anywhere and to be spontaneous during our travel, changing the route without having to plan ahead. Having the freedom to live in the moment and to decide to stay somewhere or move on at your heart’s desire is definitely a great feeling!

For this trip, we made a simple construction of a bed platform with underneath storage, black window covers for the inside and a black curtain behind the driver and passenger seats, so no one could see inside the vehicle at night, even when using a flash-light. We put a bike-rack on the hitch-receiver and off we went in our little adventure-mobil. 

The temperatures had been between the low 70’s during nights and high 80’s during the days, perfect  weather for outdoor living. Since being invisible in your car means that windows can’t stay open except for a small gap which is not quite sufficient for good airflow, we decided to bring a small rechargeable USB-fan that made it more comfortable to sleep inside the truck. This and a few other items we brought made it a successful adventure despite the minimal space that we had available. We brought our full-sized mattress which fitted perfectly in on the platform and it was super comfy. Where did we shower you may ask? We used solely free outdoor showers that we found at various beaches and parks. And on a couple days we just freshened up at a rest stop. Bathrooms are easy to find all over, and then there’s always the “peeing into a bottle option” for urgent matters. 

Here’s our gear list, tips and tricks and places we visited and parked at overnight:

Wander Green Stealth Camping Florida Keys
Truck camping bed and storage, copyright: wander.green

Recommended Truck Camping Gear:

Our Travel Route and Recommended Places:

Day 1: Ocala – Dunedin

We started our journey in Ocala, FL where we left our travel trailer and from there had 7 days to travel to Key West and back. We made our way to downtown Dunedin where we  found plenty of free parking, and after a stroll through town enjoyed a couple pizza slices at Tony’s Pizza. We found a quiet parking lot for our free overnight stay: See GPS coordinates here..

Dunedin is a cute town with many dining options. Since we eat mostly vegetarian and vegan, it can be challenging in some locations to find good options. Depending on your budget, we recommend the following restaurants in Dunedin for some yummy vegetarian and vegan meals:

Sweet Peas Cafe

Ohana Cafe

The Living Room

Casa Tina Mexican and Vegetarian Cuisine

 

Day 2: Dunedin – Clearwater – Sunshine Skyway Bridge Manatee County Rest Area

We got up early and after a refueling breakfast at Serendipity Cafe then parked at the downtown parking lot, grabbed our bikes and enjoyed a great day bicycling the beautiful Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail. The 49.8 mile long urban multi-use trail reaches from St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs and is built on former railroad tracks.

We were super excited to have come across this awesome trail and truly enjoyed our ride. At some point however I got a flat tire and Damian’s gears broke pretty much at the same time. It was the weirdest thing. Several friendly bikers stopped and were so kind to help with the tire-repair. I was in awe about the kindness of those strangers that just stopped on their way and helped out!!

Wander Green Florida Dunedin Pinellas Trail
Pinellas Trail friendly bikers helping to fix a flat tire, copyright: wander.green

The joined effort made my tire work at least for a few miles and we rode back into town, excited to find a great bike shop called Kafe Racer and the staff were able to fix our bikes within only 30 min!

Happily we made our way along the Pinellas Trail again and then headed over the bridge to Honeymoon Beach at Honeymoon Island State Park for a great swim at the beautiful beach. After biking back to the downtown area where we left the truck, we decided to drive to Clearwater where we knew to find free outdoor showers and restrooms at the beach with parking available only a couple blocks from the beach. After a stroll and a simple vegan falafel dinner at King’s Pizza and Grill we brought our hammock to the white sandy beach where tall palm trees invited us to hang our hammock for a few hours of romantic relaxation. We were unable to find overnight parking in Clearwater (except for a couple overpriced parking garages that we did not want to stay at). So we made our way late at night to the most beautiful rest stop I have ever seen: The Manatee County Rest Area located at the The Sunshine Skyway Bridge at the Tampa Bay with added features of armed security, clean restrooms and picnic pavilions. We parked, got a good night sleep and woke up to a gorgeous view onto the water.

Wander Green Florida Skyway-Bridge Manatee Rest Area
Florida Skyway Bridge Manatee County Rest Area, copyright: wander.green

While there, we realized that another overnight parking option next to this rest stop would be the beautiful Sunshine Skyway Fishing Pier which is a Florida State Park that is open 24h. It is a fishing pier, but one can also just park and enjoy the lookout. We saw a few vans that stayed there overnight. Note: Recreational vehicles, large trucks and trailers are not allowed on the fishing piers.

 

Day 3: Sunshine Skyway Bridge Manatee County Rest Area – Clearwater – Big Cypress National Preserve

After cooking a hearty breakfast at the picnic pavilion at the rest stop, we packed up and drove into Clearwater to visit the great Dali Museum. From there we made our way South, stopped near Sarasota where we found Tandoor Fine Indian Cuisine, a great Indian restaurant with many delicious vegetarian and vegan dishes. After continuing on our route for another few hours we parked for the night in the Big Cypress National Preserve at Collier County Rest Area. It was pretty quiet at night and we had a good night sleep.

 

Day 4: Big Cypress National Preserve – Islamorada – Tavernier Key

After cooking a filling breakfast at the picnic table at the rest stop, we continued our journey towards the South-East and grabbed a few fresh items at a supermarket and enjoyed our lunch in their parking lot. Since we needed to catch up with some work, we drove to Florida City which is the gateway to the Florida Keys, found a Starbucks with plenty of open seating and fast wifi and bunkered down for a few hours of work on our laptops.

Finally it was time for some island fun and we made our way to Islamorada where we found a lovely small beach at Founders Park. There is a $8 entry fee for the park with beach access, cold showers, bathrooms, picnic tables, a playground, and for an additional fee one can use the pool as well. We went for a swim at the beach and had a long awaited refreshing shower, then cooked a yummy dinner at one of the picnic tables and enjoyed the beautiful sunset before the park closed and we had to move on.

Wander Green Florida Keys Founders Park Beach
Founders Park, copyright: wander.green

We decided to work for another few hours and found free wifi at McDonalds on Tavernier Key. Winn Dixie was located just across the plaza and we asked the manager if we would be able to stay in their parking lot overnight and he instantly said “sure, no problem, what does your vehicle look like?”. Wow, that was easy! We used their restrooms and bought a late night snack and off we went to our sleeping quarters aka our Chevy Tahoe. Another quiet night sound asleep and all for free!

 

Day 5: Tavernier Key – Marathon Key – Key West

We made our way South through the Keys and enjoyed the beautiful view of the turquoise water. Sadly, there was still quite a bit devastation from the big hurricane Irma that hit last year. Especially around Marathon Key the cleanup and build-up was still in process. For us, it was time for some more computer work and we found free wifi at McDonalds on Marathon Key. 

In the afternoon it was time for ocean swimming and we found a gem of a beach on Marathon Key called Sombrero Beach. Free access, free parking, toilets, picnic pavilion, playground. Gorgeous Ocean water and palm trees to hang a hammock! Perfect!

Wander Green Sombrero Beach Swimming Florida Keys
Sombrero Beach, copyright: wander.green

We spent our afternoon swimming and relaxing at the beach and then finally made our way to Key West! After driving into town, we found lots of empty parking space (it was a weekday) with plenty of space available for free street parking along Flagler Avenue, Casa Marina Ct and side streets like Grinnell St, Walton St etc. We decided to park on Reynolds Street, just a few feet from Higgs Beach, located next to the parking lot of the Casa Maria Waldorf Astoria Resort. We parked our truck there for 2 days without being bothered by anyone. It was super quiet at night and only a few steps to the beach!

Wander Green Florida Keys Stealth Camping
Key West stealth camping, copyright: wander.green

Higgs beach has restrooms (closed during night time), free cold outdoor showers, a historic fort and lots of recreational space and there’s a restaurant next to the beach as well. What else could you wish for! We arrived just in time for sunset and enjoyed the beautiful evening sky at Higgs beach. Then after a refreshing shower at the beach we went for a walk through town and had a fantastic vegan dinner at The CafeAfter another walk through town and a visit to zero mile point we headed back to Higgs beach and listened to the waves before going to sleep in our truck. 

Other great vegetarian/vegan friendly restaurants we found in Key West, Marathon Key:

Date and Thyme Organic Cafe and Market

Food For Thought

Sugar Apple Cafe

For those who do prefer to stay at a hotel room in Key West, we can recommend the following hotels:

Hotel Ocean Key Resort & Spa, Florida Keys – FL


Hotel Key Lime Inn, Florida Keys – FL


Hotel Doubletree Grand Key Resort , Florida Keys – FL

Day 6: Key West – Marathon Key

We got up early to watch the sunrise at Higgs beach, then took our bikes and rode around town, and went for breakfast at the lovely Key Coffee CoAfter we filled our tummies we biked to Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park and spent a few hours in the clear water at  the beautiful beach. Tip: bring water-shoes as the rocky pebbles at the beach are hurting your feet for sure. After another refreshing shower we went back into town and had lunch again at Le Cafe (yes, it was just that delicious), biked back to our truck and off we drove back to Sombrero beach on Marathon Key where we cooked dinner at the picnic table and relaxed in a hammock at the lonely beach after sunset. We didn’t want to spend much money, so back to McDonald’s it was for a cup of coffee and free wifi. We checked-in with the manager at Publix across the mall-parking lot and got his approval for overnight parking in the Publix parking lot. The night was pretty quiet and we slept until the morning hours without interruption.

Wander Green Florida Keys Sunset Sombrero Beach
Sombrero Beach, copyright: wander.green

 

Day 7: Marathon Key – Key Largo – Silver Springs

After a super early rise to watch the sunrise at Sombrero Beach (tip: bring bug spray and watch out for super aggressive Mosquitos during dusk and dawn) we had a quick breakfast at the parking lot and made our way to Key Largo where we found a small park with public boat launch at Sunset Point Park. It was the perfect place to launch our kayak and we had a great couple of hours on the beautiful clear water along Key Largo.

Wander Green Florida Keys-Sunset Point Park Kayaking
Boat Launch at Sunset Point Park, copyright: wander.green

During our paddle we discovered a small empty hidden beach only a short walk from Sunset Point Park and after we finished our kayak trip we walked over and enjoyed a nice dip in the shallow refreshing water at the beach. After the mandatory Key Lime Pie on Tavernier Key it was sadly time to say goodbye to the Florida Keys.

Wander Green Hidden Beach Florida Keys
Hidden beach near Sunset Point, copyright: wander.green

We headed up north back to Ocala and are looking forward to return some day for more great adventures for sure.

Other free overnight parking options that we found along the way:

Long Key parking for Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail

Marathon Key parking around boat ramp

Crawl Key across Banana Blvd

Duck Key parking for Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail and here

Conch Key North end parking

There are a multitude of options throughout the keys and along Overseas Highway, just look for public space that does not have a sign for “no camping” or “no overnight parking”.

Wander Green Truck Camping Florida Keys
Team wander green truck camping: copyright: wander.green


Tips on stealth Camping in the Keys:

The Blue Paper article

Not a Guidebook article

Other Great Info:

Free beaches in the Florida Keys

Boat Ramp Finder by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail

Hiking Trails in the Florida Keys


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Sustainable Living: Jessie Creek Winery

We had the honor to visit the beautiful Jessie Creek Winery and Inn in Cape May during our travel through New Jersey. The owner Dr. Bruce Morrison talked to us about the wineries mission and their award winning wines. He also informed us about their sustainable ground keeping practices and how the winery plants native plants to invite native organisms and insects and promote a healthy environment for the Monarch Butterflies.

Jessie Creek Winery was awarded by the Cape May Chamber of Commerce for their aid and contribution to the The Wetlands Institute for wetlands conservation projects throughout the county.

The owners gave us a tour of their beautiful Inn at Jessie Creek that the couple lovingly restored. The Inn is listed on Airbnb and can be rented also for special events. Jessie Creek Winery is a great place for any events including weddings and birthdays.

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Please visit the Jessie Creek Winery website for more info and visit their Facebook page.

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The East Coast #Vanlife Tour Road Trip Part 2

Our #Vanlife itinerary from Florida to New York Part 2 brought us from Maryland to Delaware and New Jersey. After spending a couple months in our travel trailer in Florida during the Spring, it was time to get going and living on the road again! Our road trip from Florida to Maine and back included cruising up along the coast to New York and New Jersey where we’ll be taking a work break for a few weeks and spend time with family before moving onwards to the North!

On this road trip we were primarily boondocking (free dry camping), we slept in our van while being parked in different city parking spots and on several small farms and wineries through the Harvest Hosts program.

In Cape May we visited the beautiful Jessie Creek Winery and Inn where we had the honor to speak to the owners and get a private tour of the Inn which was recently restored and lovingly decorated.

The owner Dr. Bruce Morrison told us about the winery and their eco-friendly and sustainable farming practices that help prevent extinction of the Monarch Butterflies and promote native plants, insects and organisms. The winery also donates its profits of three of their award winning wines for the local wetlands conservation.

We had such a great time at Jessie Creek Winery and enjoyed their delicious wines and beautiful views before having a restful and quiet sleep next to their vineyards.

Jessie Creek Winery is a member of the Harvest Hosts Program and we loved staying at this winery and other farms that we visited during our trip. It is always a great and unique experience.

Harvest Hosts is a program offering overnight stays for RVers and self-contained Vanlifers at over 600 participating farms, wineries, breweries, distilleries, museums and golf clubs.
For a $79 per year membership fee the hosts allow for an overnight stay on their land at no cost while members are encouraged to drink, eat or shop at the host’s establishment before going to sleep on their property. It’s a win-win situation that provides for unique experiences, learning opportunities and social exchange that make for wonderful memories.
For more info visit the Harvest Hosts website.

We are so excited to be back in our van and living the simple van life and exploring all the beauty that the East Coast has to offer!

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The East Coast #Vanlife Tour Road Trip Part 1

Our #Vanlife itinerary driving from down South in Central Florida and cruising up along the coast to North East New York and beyond. After spending a couple months in our travel trailer in Florida it was time to get going and living on the road again!

This time our road trip is taking us from Florida to Maine and back! On this road trip we were primarily boondocking (free dry camping), we slept in our van while being parked in city parking lots, at a friend’s driveway in North Carolina, a campground in Ocracoke and on several small farms.

The East Coast #Vanlife Tour Road Trip Part 1

We also had an interview with farmer Marissa of Whippoorwill Farms in South Carolina and learned from her about their eco-friendly, organic and sustainable farming practices and how they raise their pigs, chickens and rabbits humanely and with free range. Check out the video interview here.

Whippoorwill Farms is a member of the Harvest Hosts Program and we loved staying on this and other farms on our trip. It is always great to stay at a farm and we always have a peaceful night and it is a unique experience.

Harvest Hosts is a program offering overnight stays for RVers and self-contained Vanlifers at over 600 participating farms, wineries, breweries, distilleries, museums and golf clubs.
For a $79 per year membership fee the hosts allow for an overnight stay on their land at no cost while members are encouraged to drink, eat or shop at the host’s establishment before going to sleep on their property. It’s a win-win situation that provides for unique experiences, learning opportunities and social exchange that make for wonderful memories.

For more info visit the Harvest Hosts website: http://harvesthosts.refr.cc/wandergreen

For two nights we stayed in an Airbnb in the Outer Banks in North Carolina that we fled to because of some very aggressive mosquitoes that tried to eat us alive even with the van doors and windows shut, but they found their way inside through a small crack at the side door frame.

We are so excited to be back in our van and living the simple van life and exploring all the beauty that the East Coast has to offer!

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