Camping on the Keys
Every campsite at Long Keyhas an ocean view.
Look out from your campsite. Teal-blue waters extend as far as the eye can see. A small beach is the only thing between you and your campsite, nestled in tropical woods. The lovely waters of the Florida Keys are your playground here at Long Key State Recreation Area.
There is very little undeveloped land left in the Keys. Long Key State Recreation Area is just a sliver of the real Florida on a sliver of an island. But the 883 acres of"nonsubmergible" land packs a powerful punch. Of course, you'll want to explore the submergible land, especially that part with ocean above it.
Winter is Long Key's busy time. Make reservations if you know when you are coming. Do it exactly 60 days before your planned arrival. And call at 8 a.m. Remember, you are guaranteed a campsite only for as many days as you have paid for. And, while we're discussing the downside, U.S. 1 runs a little close to the campground. Unfortunately, in the land-starved Keys, everything is packed tight.
Pass the entrance gate and turn right. The campground is to your left, between you and the Atlantic Ocean. All 60 sites run perpendicular to the ocean. Each campsite has its own oceanfront footage. Between each campsite is a vegetation buffer. And as the park's buffer restoration project continues, the buffers will become even thicker than they are today, which is adequately thick for site privacy.
Larger trees appear as the campsites run westerly. Sites 1 through 10 have shorter vegetation. By the time you get to campsite 20, the tropical forest is in full glory. Thankfully, the wooded buffer across from the campground shields some of the auto noise of U.S. 1.
But don't let the traffic noise get to you; this campground is simply too scenic. And the ocean views from your tent, from your picnic table, while you cook or read a magazine they are what you imagine as you dream of those warm sunny days and breezy Keys nights. Listen to the waves lap against the shoreline.
Six water spigots are located in the campground. But they are all located along the first 30 sites. So, if you stay at sites 30 through 60, grab your water by the bucketful. The three bathhouses are evenly spread throughout the campground. A single dump station with recycling bins serves all campers.
A primitive camping area with six sites is located in the old picnic shelters by the Golden Orb Trail. Theses are located in a mangrove thicket, have little or no breeze and"can be very buggy," according to one park ranger. Furthermore, you have to tote your gear over a boardwalk to the shelter. But the campsites are cheap.
We arrived at Long Key on a rainy day. We set up a tarp and cooked stir-fry shrimp obtained at a local fish market. The rain and the big meal lulled us into a nap. The rain had quit when we awoke, so we decided to explore Long Key.
First we hiked the hour-long Golden Orb Trail; it winds along the shoreline. You can see the Gulf Stream flowing 4 miles out at sea. Close views include mangrove thickets and salt-intolerant hardwood hammocks that grow only at the highest points in the Keys. Steam rose from the sand in the open woods away from the beach.
Next, we grabbed the canoe and paddled the Long Key Lakes Canoe Trail. It starts near the park entrance. We followed the numbered posts, learning more about tidal lagoons, the"nurseries of the sea." These tidal lagoons are the beginning of the ocean food chain for creatures of the sea and for birds as well. The clouds broke and a rainbow appeared. It was a good sign.
Another trail at Long Key is the Lathon Trail. This one is for hikers, though. It starts across U.S. 1 and explores the tropical forest and shoreline of the Gulf side of Long Key. There is a fine swimming beach adjacent to the picnic area.
Other activities are centered around the beautiful Gulf waters. Flats fishing or deep-water fishing, snorkeling, and shelling keep campers busy. We watched a fantastic Keys sunset and kicked back at our campsite, just taking in the breeze. After you get your campsite, you have nothing left to worry about in this laid-back campground.
To get there, look for Long Key State Recreation Area at mile marker 67.5 on U.S. 1.
© Article copyright Menasha Ridge Press. All rights reserved.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication