Florida Keys Camping
Naturalists and frugalists alike enjoy camping in the Florida Keys, whether they have all the conveniences of home in an outfitted RV, or just a tent and some bug repellent. Enjoy water access, modern baths, laundry facilities, and electrical hook-ups while taking in the Keys’ natural beauty. Many campgrounds accept leashed pets, but policies vary so call ahead before loading your Great Dane into the camper.
STATE PARK CAMPGROUNDS
One of the best places to stay is among the first you hit after leaving the mainland. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo is a prime spot for budding snorkelers to try their flippers—the waters are clear, shallow, and sea life is abundant and up-close. Educational opportunities are rivaled only by the entertainment options stretched along this uppermost key. In the evening, adults can enjoy the vibrant nightlife of Key Largo or simply watch the stars reflecting off the ocean.
Long Key State Park is nearly on top of the water—every site is waterfront—and the views are spectacular. The area is peaceful, and one of the best ways to pass an afternoon is picnicking on the tables alongside the surf.
Directly above the Seven Mile Bridge, Bahia Honda State Park boasts the best beach in the U.S. (according to Dr. Beach’s 1992 survey). The 2.5 miles of white sand and wide shallows make for excellent swimming and snorkeling, but do remain mindful of the sometimes strong current along this beach, or you’ll come out of the water on the other side of the spit. Tarpon fishing is said to be fantastic in this area. Bahia Honda camping is far from basic—air-conditioned cabins are available for rent, and spaces can accommodate everything from a large RV to a pup-tent. If you are bringing you RV to one of these state campgrounds be sure to have RV insurance so you are fully covered All sites come with grills and a picnic table, so there’s no need to leave during your stay (unless you’re out of marshmallows). A boat ramp is provided, as is trailer parking.
Seventy miles west of Key West, Dry Tortugas National Park is a nearly unspoiled gem of Floridian history. Camping at this remote location is only for the dedicated: there are not full bath facilities, and all fresh water (and everything else) must be packed-in and out. The ten tent sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis, and the park provides grills, picnic tables, and saltwater toilets. Campers will enjoy snorkeling in an underwater preserve, watching endangered native birds, and lounging on the stretches of white sand. Campers must secure transportation to and from the island; the best bets are Seaplane or a charter boat service. Please see the corresponding sections on this site for more information.
Key Largo Kampground & Marina is next door to Pennekamp but a bit higher on the luxury scale. Two beaches, boat ramps, tropical plant-lined paths, a swimming pool, volleyball court, and additional conveniences set this campground apart. It’s adjacent to a shopping center and has spaces for both tents and RVs.
On Marathon, Knight’s Key Park Campground & Marina allows campers at harbor-side sites to dock their boats behind their site. There’s a deep-water canal, a beach, and a seasonal restaurant on the grounds.
Boyd’s Key West Campground is as close as you can get to camping on the southernmost isle, though the grounds are actually on Stock Island (where the towed cars of Key West tourists await retrieval). Boyd’s is close to the action but great for those who’d like to lounge in a poolside tiki hut equipped with a big-screen television. There are marina and boat ramp facilities.
Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge offers everything from dirt-floor tent sites to full dockside sites with full hook-ups—including air conditioning, cable, and phone. Slips are available for fishing boats under 25 feet, and there are fish-cleaning areas and a swimming pool.
Rates vary based upon type (tent, RV, or boat parking), amenities (electricity, sewer, etc.), the time of year, and your length of stay. The three state park campgrounds have fairly inflexible reservations systems regarding late arrival (after 5 p.m.) and cancellations—make sure to call ahead, or you’ll either be locked out or charged for a night you didn’t camp. The state park campsites also prohibit pets, and may prohibit alcohol. Maximum stays are generally 14 nights.
Make reservations well in advance—those wishing a spot anytime between January and March generally need to reserve it a full year in advance. Key lobster season (at the end of July) and Fantasy Fest are other times the island chain is thronged with visitors, all looking for someplace to bed down.