During our January 2019 trip to Cedar Key, we camped for the first time at Shell Mound, a Levy County park.
While the campground is 12 miles from downtown Cedar Key, it’s an easy drive into town, and the campground views of the salt marsh and Gulf of Mexico are gorgeous.
From the campground there is a long narrow sand spit that one can walk, providing the feeling of being out in the marsh.
Several of the campsites are waterfront; we were lucky enough to snag one of these because we arrived on a Wednesday. It’s much harder to be choosy about sites for weekend stays, and the campground did fill up on Friday.
Bird watching is great here, though I’m sorry to say that I didn’t bring the DSLR and I don’t have any good bird pictures to share.
Shore birds and black vultures congregate around the fish cleaning station when it’s not in use, fighting for the highest perch on top of the white pole. It was usually an Egret that won that honor.
While many would disagree, I find black vultures quite fascinating birds. The vultures roosted in the tall pines at the back of our site, and one couldn’t help but feel as they were studying us. We watched two black vultures’ courtship and mating ritual. If only we could be here to see their fledglings in a few months.
There is a public boat ramp in the cozy campground, and another launch ramp right down a pretty road through the hammock. This is a great area for kayaking too. While we were there, a couple dozen power boats launched from the campground, all airboats.
Next to the boat launch ramp at the end of the road there is a very nice pier for fishing or wildlife observation (sorry, no pictures). These are within the Lower Suwannee NWR. One night under a very bright moon, we bundled up and walked without flashlights or headlamps down this road and to the pier, where we watched the mullet jump and listened to the sounds of the night. The tree frogs sang in chorus, providing a soundtrack for our stroll.
In this same area you will find a couple of trailheads. We hiked the Shell Mound trails on a prior trip. The trails to and over the ancient Caloosa tribe shell mound (oyster midden) are short and easy, but interesting.
In regards to the campground, here is the good and not-so good:
- Cheap! The basic rate is $5.35 – $16.45 a night depending upon if you want no hookups, electric only, or water and electric. They offer a military or retired military discount, but I cannot recall what that discount amount was. *Extra fees may apply for multiple vehicles, tents, large groups, etc.*
- Beautiful setting
- Small – only 22 sites. Most sites are medium in size.
- Clean bathrooms, although they are old and the single shower in each doesn’t have a changing or dressing area. But it is a good, hot shower. Mens’ room sees heavier use, as many campers are here to fish. For the low camping price, even having a shower as an option is great.
- When we were there, all campers were very quiet and respectful when at their sites. Partying seems to be strongly discouraged here.
- A shady playground for the kids
- Courteous staff, clean grounds
- Ability to launch kayak right from the campground
- Almost all of the sites have at least a bit of slope. The no-hookup sites were very sloped.
- No paved parking pads, which may be a problem for larger RVs during or after rain.
- Not ideal for Class-A RVs or large trailers. Only a handful of sites would be suitable
- Although most sites are sizable, they offer no privacy from neighbors
- Airboats, oh my gosh the noise from airboats! On a Saturday they started launching before 6am. This is by far the biggest con, and one that will really bother some campers.
- No See-ums can be really bad when the air is still, no matter what the season. It was cold when we camped here, so I can’t comment on mosquitos or any other biting bugs
- Cash payment only
- No reservations are accepted. Walk-in (First-come first-serve) only. Though I suppose conversely this could also be a pro.
For a county campground, Shell Mound is really well managed, and we will definitely stay there again. It’s really the only tent camping available within at least 20 miles of Cedar Key, but it’s definitely not to every camper’s taste.
If one is looking for a more developed RV camping experience, check out the Cedar Key RV Resort. For those willing to trade spacious sites and amenities for in-town location, the Low-Key Hideaway offers great sunset views and an on-site tiki bar. Sunset Isle RV Park is also on the islands and is a little less expensive. I haven’t stayed in any of these places, so cannot comment on bathroom cleanliness, noise level, etc.
Shell Mound Park & Campground does not have a website, but the campground area is staffed daily, so one may reach them by phone with any questions. Here are contact info and the address:
Shell Mound County Park
17650 SW 78th Place
Cedar Key, FL 32625
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