A few months ago Ric Reily, who in my opinion is the leading authority on the matter, wrote his annual review of gay or gay-friendly campgrounds in North America for South Florida Gay News’s magazine The Mirror.
Reily based his piece on personal experience and on a survey of gay campers who picked their favorites from among 24 campgrounds. Four camps topped the 11 categories: The Woods Campground, PA (Facilities, Amenities, Activities); Sawmill Camping Resort, FL (Entertainers, Entertainment); Freedom Valley Campgrounds, OH (Appearance, Accommodations, Community); and Jones Pond Campground & RV Park, NY (Fun, Staff, Food).
Though I am not as knowledgeable or as experienced as Ric Reily, I have been to my share of gay-friendly campgrounds. One of my favorites is Vitambi Springs Florida Wilderness Resort & Camp. A members only, all male, year-round wilderness camp and resort near Clewiston (82 miles from Fort Lauderdale), Vitambi served as a camp for wayward boys before business partners Steve McCloud and Martin Ruddock bought the land.
The partners, McCloud told me shortly after Vitambi opened, “set out several years ago to find a suitable camp/resort to better meet the needs of South Florida’s gay population. The gay community should have a place with good food and good drink in a natural secluded location that allowed us to be us. We all need a nearby escape and a place to meet like-minded friends and make new friends. Traditional gay bars, restaurants and gathering spots are not always the best for meeting new people, quiet conversation, star gazing, long walks holding hands and the chance to cuddle in a cabin in the woods. We wanted to create a country club setting and an overnight option away from home.” McCloud described Vitambi Springs as a “private members only, gated, 21 and over, all male, year-round resort camp set on 269 tropical forest acres below Florida’s frostline.”
Vitambi Springs is open seven days a week, though most of its activities occur on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Members can come in on a day pass or stay for the weekend in a variety of accommodations: The Pine Tree Inn, private homes, secluded cabins, military barracks or, if they so choose, bring their own RV - Vitambi provides water and 30 amp power - pop up or tent. Among Vitambi’s more popular amenities are the Bongo Bar, Bolo Café and Tropical Pool. Women are not allowed at Vitambi, except during two all-women’s weekends held during the spring and fall. On the other hand, pets are welcome, as long as they are well-behaved and kept on a leash. Membership in this private club is required for everyone, even for holders of day passes.
Like other gay resorts, Vitambi Springs has a clothing-optional policy. Though clothes are required in all public buildings and designated areas (the North Loop); the pool area and campgrounds (the South Loop) are clothing-optional. During special N-VS (Naturist Vitambi Springs) weekends, nudity is permitted everywhere except inside the Big Oak Lodge, which houses Registration, Bolo Café, Bongo Bar, Safari Outfitters General Store and administrative offices.
Every weekend, Vitambi Springs hosts events that appeal to different segments of our community. Future weekend events include Tribal Bears (April 13-15), Supernature (April 20-22), Lumber Jock (April 27-29), Babes in the Glades (women’s weekend) (May 4-6), Escape the Woods (May 11-13), Bad Bears (May 18-20) and a four day Memorial Day Weekend (May 25-28). During its five years of existence, Vitambi has gained a following from locals and tourists alike, and even from one reporter. Last year, Vitambi Springs was chosen by RoverPass as one of the top 5 gay campgrounds in the country, a worthy achievement if I may say so.