While you might see Miami as more of a beach paradise than a destination for woodsy adventures, you just may be surprised at how many picture-perfect camping spots are within driving distance of The U. And with a new service on campus offering up cheap rentals of anything you could need to brave the elements for a weekend, there’s no better time to grab some s’mores, pitch a tent and go camping.
While this classic pastime is most commonly associated with more rural and woodsy, camping enthusiasts and newbies alike can find plenty of unique ways to tent-up and indulge in some digital detox here in South Florida.
If the idea of spending your precious (and probably limited) free time inside a sleeping bag doesn’t immediately appeal to you though, you aren’t alone. But being in nature has numerous health benefits that just might make it worth it.
According to the Yale University School of Environment, it takes less than an hour and a half out-doors to get a “natural high” from, well, nature. The extra oxygen one takes in while outdoors can improve digestion, boost the immune system and combat depression, anxiety and just everyday bad vibes.
For camping newbies and OG’s alike, the new Outdoors Adventures (OA) facility on the University of Miami campus acts as a liaison between nature explorers and their next adventure. It offers customized support for any student wanting to plan a trip. Students, said Assistant Director Trey Knight, have “different levels of experience and willingness to either inch or leap out of [their] comfort zone.” But his team, he said, is equipped and excited to support students “however it fits for them.”
Avid camper and OA supervisor Griffin Alexander recommends starting off with a state park, which he said are oftentimes “beautifully maintained, safe, nice and a good way to ease yourself into camping.”
According to Visit Florida, the state’s official tourism website, there are nearly 200 trails, historic sites and state and national parks in Florida. A handful of these are right here in Miami-Dade County, including Everglades National Park and Biscayne National Park, and many of them have camping sites attached.
For scuba-certified campers and snorkeling enthusiasts looking to get a little more out of their trip, many hot dive spots in Florida have nearby campgrounds, including Ginnie Springs and Devil’s Den.
Some sites, said senior industrial engineering major Gaby Rodriguez, have amenities like electricity and running water while others are “pretty primitive”—for those brave ‘Canes who really like to rough it. New campers, she said, should also check the noise restrictions at these sites; some will let you be as loud as you want, but others are less welcoming to the party crowd.
Alexander said his personal favorite campsite is off of Loop Road in Ochopee, about 60 miles west of UM off Tamiami Trail (U.S. 41). Even though he says there are a lot of bugs, most ‘Canes know all too well that mosquitos and South Florida are pretty much a package deal.
“You have to pack accordingly,” Rodriguez said, “lots of bug spray.” Weather, she said, is one of the biggest factors campers should consider while packing, as it could be hot, humid, stormy or all three at any moment.
Before leaving, make sure to research your site-of-choice, find out about their accommodations and
make note of what you may or may not need. Outdoor superstore REI’s checklist for camping essentials includes
a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, camping pillow, headlamps, flashlights, extra batteries, lantern, camp chairs and table. OA makes many of these supplies accessible (and affordable). Student offers include a $5 portable stove, $4 hammock or $8 tent. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the gear you rent and plan meals and snacks.
Last, but never least, safety is key for a successful outing. For beginners, it’s always a good idea to camp closer to civilization. “Don’t be intimidated,” Alexander said, “[Camping has] come a long way. It’s not that scary, backcountry thing that everybody thinks.”
Like most things in life, the more you plan ahead of time, the better. But perhaps the most important and age- old rule: Don’t forget to have fun.
words_mikayla riselli. photo_daniella pinzon. design_maria emilia becerra.