The area, more widely known as Florida’s Forgotten Coast, has plenty of developed camping including at least a half dozen state parks and many RV parks and resorts. Tate’s Hell State Forest at 200,000 acres boasts 57 designated campsites, most are dispersed, primitive, and reservable via the Reserve America reservation system.
Tate’s Hell is accessed by three highways – the Scenic Coastal Highway 98, Highway 65 on the west, and Highway 67 on the east side – and much of it is included within the Big Bend Scenic Byway. These highways are the only paved roads you’ll find in Tate’s Hell. The roads within the forest were built decades ago when the area was a privately held timber operation.
In 1994, the state started acquiring the land and began the long process of returning the area to a more natural state, which involves something along the lines of a gigantic re-plumbing program not unlike what is happening in the Everglades.
Fortunately, part of this project included establishing campsites at some of the most scenic parts of the forest. With wildlife on the rebound, several rivers to fish and paddle, plus hiking, birding and equestrian trails, a unique stand of dwarf cypress trees, and an extensive OHV area, Tate’s Hell has a camping experience for just about everyone. And for lighthouse lovers, the historic Crooked River Lighthouse in Carrabelle is a great stop when in town.
The information center for Tate’s Hell State Forest is located on the west side of the Carrabelle River Bridge at 290 Airport Road. There are color maps, an informational kiosk, and park rangers to answer questions.
Directions to Tate’s Hell State Forest
To get a quick introduction to Tate’s Hell, drive the 14.5-mile loop starting at Burnt Bridge Road (Google maps calls it Number 3 Rd) north to the Gully Branch Day Use Area. Have a picnic and enjoy the views from the Gully Branch bridge over the New River. Use the boat ramp to take a paddle. Then cross the river and turn left to head back on the west side of New River on West River Road. When you get to Five Points Road, turn left and cross over the bridge.
The starting and ending point is the entrance to Pickett’s Bay Tract which is just under 5 miles from highway 98 on the west side of the Carrabelle River Bridge. With this route you can directly access nearly half of the dispersed campsites in Tate’s Hell. The remaining dispersed campsites (and all of the campgrounds) are accessed off of highway 98 to 67 to the east, or highway 98 to 65 to the west.
Tate’s Hell State Forest Campgrounds
1. Womack Creek Campground
If you prefer to camp with neighbors or group camping, there are four options for you in Tate’s Hell. On the east side Highway 67 is Womack Creek Campground (sites 29-40), the most developed and largest of all the camping areas within Tate’s Hell. Three of the 12 sites are suitable for smaller RVs and have electric hookups (the only hookups in the entire forest).
As of early 2020, a new bathhouse with flush toilets & showers was under construction. There is a boat ramp, picnic area, great views of the river and a camp host. Potable water is not available at any forest campsite.
2. Rock Landing
Also on the east side of Highway 67 you will find Rock Landing (sites 41-43) which has a large day-use area with 3 primitive campsites set in the woods. Rock landing has a boat ramp for access to the Ochlockonee River, vault latrines, and picnic area with a covered pavilion.
3. County Line OHV Campground
Just west of Highway 67 is the County Line OHV campground (sites 19-21) situated for those desiring easy access to the OHV trail system.
4. Cash Creek
The remaining campground is in a wonderful setting on the west side of the park just off Highway 65, across from the Tate’s Hell State Forest Field Office – Cash Creek (sites 55-57) has 3 primitive RV campsites, a vault latrine, day-use area, fishing pier, and boat ramp overlooking the pine forest and saltwater marshes.
Tate’s Hell Dispersed Camping
If dispersed camping is more your speed, here are the top fifteen dispersed campsites within Tate’s Hell State Forest. Informally judged by location, accessibility and scenery, many of these sites are at the end of a similarly named road. All sites are furnished with one or two picnic tables, fire-ring and raised grill. All sites are pack-in, pack-out. Many have immediate water access for smaller boats or paddle craft. Sites are usually quite large but limited to two vehicles and eight people for a total of 14-days. Most sites have tall shade trees and are typically sandy to grassy.
Do not assume Google Maps will navigate you via the best route, or even to the right area of the forest. Follow the recommendations of other campers from the reviews, the directions provided under the NOTES tab for each campsite, and the official map of Tate’s Hell State Forest campsites. Download an offline map of the area so you can easily track your position relative to your destination and other landmarks within the forest. A good rule of thumb is to follow the roads that appear to be the most used. While there is more than one way to most of these campsites, few require that you go down an overgrown double-track.
The GPS coordinates provided in the Campendium listing for each site have been verified. While all the campsites have a Florida Forest Service post with the corresponding campsite number (1-57), these posts are not always at the actual campsite. In many cases they are at the top of the ‘driveway’ leading to the campsite, and in some instances, these driveways can be quite long. While not required, you can hang a printed copy of your reservation in the box on the post (watch for nesting insects!) and the rangers won’t need to come all the way to the campsite to verify you are registered.
It is worth noting that road conditions can vary considerably within the forest, from smooth, wide, hard-packed gravel, to soft sand. Some roads have large potholes and rocky creek crossings but are usually confined to the narrower secondary roads. Weather, particularly heavy rains, can close certain access roads. There are many single-lane steel bridges within the forest, primarily west of Highway 67, built to support logging trucks and are usually rated at 30 tons. It is best to be comfortable with driving in off-road conditions and be self-sufficient as cell signals within the forest can be spotty at best.
5. Dew Drop Campsite #5
Located close to the center of Tate’s Hell State Forest on West River Road, this delightful campground is set among palmettos and tall pines on the bank of New River. There are two possible routes to this site – one from the east off highway 67 via Gully Branch Road, the other from the south via highway 98 to CR379 to Mill Road to West River Road. The campsite is set far enough off West River Road to be private yet is accessible to any vehicle or smaller camper. There is a small access point for canoes and kayaks to enter the New River. If taken, sites #8 & #9 (Parker Place & Pope Place) are closer to the road but a great backup option.
6. New River Campsite #16
One of the more northerly campsites in the center of the forest, #16 is on the east bank of the river. Access is easiest from the Gully Branch Day Use Area via Gully Branch Road from Highway 67 or Burnt Bridge Road from the south. At the intersection of Gully Branch and East River Road, turn north on East River Road. You’ll pass the posts for sites 12 – 15 along the way. This site is perched above the river with a sense of being on a small peninsula overlooking the tannin colored waters. At this point the river more resembles a bayou. With a combination of shade and sun, there is a steep access point to the water on the right side of the site.
7. Log Cabin Campsites #23, #24, #25 & #26
This collection of campsites is located in the northeast corner of Tate’s Hell off highway 67 via Short Road to Log Cabin Road, part of the Womack Creek Unit (not to be confused with the Womack Creek Tract turnoff onto Rock Creek Road 3 miles south). All 4 sites are very scenic, each perched on the banks of the Ochlockonee River. Site #23 has a small boat ramp. If a site is reserved don’t hesitate to check the others for availability. Sites #23 and #24 each have a dedicated driveway while #25 & #26 share one until they split at the end and are connected by a short path through the woods. Each site is clearly marked with a Florida Forest Service post.
8. Nicks Road Landing Campsite #27
Located on the east side of Tate’s Hell, this site is best accessed off highway 67 onto Rock Landing Road, to Jeff Sanders Road towards Womack Creek, then left at the sign for Nicks Campsite. Nicks Road goes back a good way and has sandy spots. The post for the campsite will be at a drive on the right – follow the drive to the end. Set in a lovely clearing of hardwoods with access to Womack creek, this campsite is about as deep as you can get in this section of the forest.
9. Loop Road Campsite #28
A marvelous site set on the banks of a wide section of the Ochlockonee River, like Nick’s Road Landing, this campsite is accessed off highway 67 and Rock Landing Road. Continue on Jeff Sanders Road towards Womack Creek to the sign on the right for the Loop Campsite. Go to the end then left and the campsite will be on the right. The shaded clearing is quite large with a commanding view of the opposite riverbank and miles of river upstream and down. The main Womack Creek Campground is a bit further down Jeff Sanders Road, but you wouldn’t know it from here.
10. Crooked River Campsites #44 & #45
The two campsites are completely separate, but both accessed off Crooked Creek Road (Duval Road) from either highway 98 or 67. They are equally charming but #44 has better river access. Site #45 river access is a bit steeper, depending on how high the river is running, and is situated on an oyster midden. Either of these sites is a good bet for those looking for a forest and river camping experience but not wanting to wander too far from civilization. Crooked river is a 25-mile long tidal channel connecting the Carrabelle River (New River) with the Ochlockonee River. As a result, the Crooked River campsites allow access to the 3 primary rivers in Tate’s Hell. For a nice paddling trip, go up or down Crooked River between the two campsites.
11. Oxbow Campsite #47
This campsite is in a wonderful location near the confluence of the Crooked and New rivers. The forest service advises that while the campsite is dry, the road to it is prone to flooding during high water. Access is easiest from the west side of the Carrabelle bridge from highway 98, CR379 to Mill Road. Turn right at the long bridge at the sign for Pickett’s Bay Tract onto Burnt Bridge Road. After the bridge turn right on Warren Bluff Road. The first post is for Warren Bluff Campsite (below). The next post is for Oxbow – follow the drive to the right.
12. Warren Bluff Campsite #48
Following the directions to Oxbow Campsite, this is the first post you come to on Warren Bluff Road. And like Oxbow, the access road is also prone to flooding during high water. The campsite is on the edge of the pine forest on a big bend of the New River with panoramic views of the river and marsh grasslands. It is more open than Oxbow and therefore useful if you rely on solar charging.
13. Pidcock Road Campsite #49
Moving to the west side of Tate’s Hell this campsite is one of the closest to the Ralph G. Kendrick Dwarf Cypress Boardwalk. Best accessed from highway 98 roughly midway between Carrabelle and Eastpoint, turn onto John Allen Road and follow the signs to and then past the dwarf cypress boardwalk. Continue west and turn left at the sign for the campsite. Situated upstream from the Cash Creek campground, this is a large grassy area with good creek access and great views.
14. Rake Creek Campsite #50
Continuing further west on Dry Bridge Road (past the turn to the Pidcock Road campsite) turn left on Rake Creek Road and proceed to the end. The campsite has the feel of being on a large sandy peninsula with wonderful vistas and wildlife viewing. Creek access is at the end of the road past the campsite with two nice benches to relax and enjoy the view.
15. Doyle Creek Campsite #52
This campsite is long and grassy ending at Doyle Creek with views of mixed habitats. Doyle Creek runs into larger tributaries emptying into Apalachicola Bay. To access this campground from highway 98 in Eastpoint, turn north on highway 65 to Tower Road (signed as Deep Creek Tract) directly across from the Tate’s Hell Forest field office. Turn left at the sign for the campsite at Doyle Creek Road and continue to the end.
Hopefully, these suggestions will get you camping in Tate’s Hell State Forest and encourage exploration of the more remote sections, particularly if you have high clearance and/or 4-wheel drive vehicles. While exploring these and other campsites you can expect to see turtles, gopher tortoise, deer, turkeys, owls, snakes (some venomous), soaring birds such as the swallow-tailed kite & hawks, the red-cockaded woodpecker, great blue heron, dozens of fish, and apiaries for honey production, just to mention a few. Black bears and other deep woods animals are also present in this marvelous area that has endless possibilities for exploration.