If you’re looking for a place to camp on the west coast of Florida that is quiet and has campsites that give you privacy, Lake Manatee State Park is a great choice. The only noise you might hear is the trucks and cars on Highway 64 or the roar of engines on the weekends from DeSoto Speedway just down the road. Other than that, it’s crickets and frogs because neighboring sites may be as much as 50 yards away. Here is our Lake Manatee State Park camping review.
Choosing a Campsite at Lake Manatee State Park
There are 60 campsites at Lake Manatee State Park located in 2 loops. Sites 1-30 in loop 1. Sites 31-60 in loop 2. All the sites will give you a good distance from your neighbors. We stayed in site #6 that had perhaps 40 to 50 yards on either side.
The Key To Picking a Site at Lake Manatee Campground
The key to picking a site here at Lake Manatee State Park is shade. The sites in the outer part of each loop do not have as many trees as do the sites in the interior of the loops. So if you want shade, and to stay cooler, pick a site on the interior of either loop. Click here to reserve a site.
Bugs Were Not a Problem
Of course, there were some bugs. But not as many as you might think. We sprayed ourselves with Repel Plant-Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent and we weren't bothered by them. We highly recommend this stuff!
The Predominant Vegetation is Saw Palmetto and Large Oaks
Things to Do Inside the Park
There are approximately 4.5 miles of hiking trails in Lake Manatee State Park on both the east and west side of the Poley Branch of Lake Manatee (see map).
You can bike the paved roads around the campsite loops and ride the paved road to the boat ramp and beach. But, in order to enjoy the dirt trails, we recommend mountain bikes. We have hybrids and were able to ride some of the trails closer to the campsites. But on the trail east of the entrance road, the sand was too soft. Of course, we were there in the summer when the area gets a lot of rain. You can rent bikes at the Ranger Station.
Kayaking and Canoeing
Lake Manatee State Park camping has as the biggest attraction, of course, Lake Manatee. It’s much larger than we anticipated and certainly large enough to spend a day or two paddling a kayak, canoe, or even a SUP board. You could launch from the boat ramp or beach area. There are kayaks and canoes available for rent at the beach area.
Bring your boat and do some fishing. There is ample parking for vehicles with trailers near the boat ramp. The lake was formed in 1967 when a dam was built across the Manatee River. The lake has catfish, largemouth bass, bluegill, speckled perch, sunshine bass, and more. We talked with a man who was coming back from a few hours on the lake that morning who came up empty. Please note that a fishing license is required.
The Beach Area at the Lake
There is a beach area for swimming. We didn't venture into the lake as it looked mirky although a lady was in the lake up to her waist and said she could see the bottom. There are warning signs for alligators so we just observed from the shore.
There are a picnic area and a playground for the kids. And, also a bathroom available with outdoor showers.
Our Blackstone Griddle
We're cooking almost everything on our Blackstone Griddle. In addition to what you see below, we made some tasty plant-based pancakes too. Cooking on this griddle is easier, faster, and it cooks more evenly than on your typical grill. We highly recommend it!
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Things to Do Outside the Park
Take Highway 64 east out of the campground and go south on Waterbury Road.
Just 4 miles from the Lake Manatee State Park on Waterbury Road is Fiorelli Winery, the only grape winery and vineyard on the gulf coast of Southwestern Florida. The winery is open from 11 am to 5 pm Wednesday through Sunday. Go to their website for details on tours with and without lunch.
Just a mile south of Fiorelli Winery is Hunsaders Farms. We have been there twice prior to camping at Lake Manatee. Hunsader Farms closes in the summer and reopens at the beginning of September. But when they are open it's worth the visit. Get fresh produce to take back for a healthy and great tasting dinner at your campsite. You can even pick your own. But visit the website for picking times. They also have a craft and antique store, and a playground and petting zoo for the kids.
If you’re into drag racing or have never experienced it, you’re less than 2 miles away. Pro drag racing and grudge racing takes place mainly on Thursday nights through the weekend. You can hear the roar of the engines from the park so you may as well head down the road and see it up close and personal. See their events schedule.
For a quieter experience take the drive just over the Sarasota line to Crowley Museum and Nature Center 17 miles away. From their website,
“Experience Old Florida at Crowley Museum & Nature Center in Sarasota. Discover pioneer history and artifacts as you explore the museum, pioneer cabin, blacksmith shop, working sugar cane mill, and more. Children’s Discovery Path nature trail offers hands-on learning opportunities. A half-mile boardwalk takes visitors through 5 Florida habitats including Maple Branch Swamp, and Tatum Sawgrass Marsh ends with a two-story observation tower overlooking the marsh and the Myakka River.”
We recommend visiting their website for times and availability during the Coronavirus.
Another couple of miles down the road is Canopy Road. If you’re in the area, it’s worth taking the drive. It’s about a quarter-mile of back road with huge oaks and other trees that create a canopy across the top. It’s very beautiful and worthy of some pictures. But beware if you slow down to get a great shot. It’s a well-used road so watch out for traffic behind you.
Lake Manatee State Park Campgrounds Details
Each site has 30 amp and 120-volt electricity hookups, and water. There are no sewer hookups.
Bathrooms and Showers
The 2 bathroom and shower facilities are clean and well maintained. They are close enough to each site, but for that middle of the night nature call, we brought our new privacy tent and Porti Potty.
Privacy Tent and Thetford Porti Potty
We used our new privacy tent and Thetford Porti Potty for the first time on this trip. We don't have a bathroom inside our pop up camper. And, even though the public bathroom was just a few minutes' walk, it was very convenient having this, especially for those needed trips in the wee hours when it's pitch black outside.
The privacy tent goes up in a few minutes. The Porti Potty is easy to set up and use, and there is no smell at all even after 3 days. You just empty it in the dump station on your way out.
Lake Manatee State Park Camping Review
We really enjoyed ourselves here and recommend this location for a quiet, laid back camping experience. Lake Manatee State Park camping gives you enough to do in and around the park to keep you busy. Or, you can just relax at your site in the peace, quiet and privacy the well-spaced campsites give you.