Camping on the Keys
Bahia Honda has the finest beach in the Keys, and a whole lot more.
Bahia Honda is Florida's southernmost state park, hence the southernmost state park in the United States. And the ecosystem here is as unique as its geographical distinction. Two of the three separate campgrounds here are ideal for tent campers. And the other one, well, that's for the RV gang.
Being so far south and so close to Key West makes Bahia Honda busy, especially in winter. Make your reservations 60 days in advance, even though half the sites are first come, first served. Campers tend to plant themselves once they get a site at Bahia Honda. If you must take a site in the RV area, take it, then get on the waiting list to transfer to another site.
The Buttonwood Camping Area is the one for RVs. It is the most open and the closest to U.S. 1. If you have a boat, it has a campside marina just for campers. Buttonwood also has a full bathhouse. Fifteen sites are oceanside, but it seems more like a parking lot by the sea.
The Sandspur Camping Area is closest to Sandspur Beach, consistently rated as one of the best beaches in America. The camping area is not too bad, either. It contains 24 campsites arranged in linear fashion along a spur road. The first eight sites are cut into the beachside woodland. The beach is across the spur road. These sites are well shaded but could be hot and buggy on windless days.
Past the bathhouse, campsites are situated on both sides of the road. Five more sites are nestled in the woods. The other side of the road contains 11 beachside campsites that are the most desirable at Bahia Honda. These campsites, as all in the Sandspur area, have well-grown campsite buffers.
The Bay Side Camping Area is the smallest and most isolated. You must pass through the Buttonwood Camping Area and drive under the low clearance of U.S. 1, which effectively cuts off all but standard passenger cars. Pass a bathhouse with no showers and come to the eight wooded sites. These sites, across the road from the Gulf, curve around a small bay.
I recommend the Sandspur Camping Area over the others. It is most suitable for tent campers and is closest to the best beach at Bahia Honda, Sandspur Beach. There are two other beaches here, Calusa Beach and Logger Head Beach. Calusa Beach is in the Gulf, but looks out on busy U.S. 1 and is adjacent to the main marina. Logger Head Beach is on the Atlantic and has nothing but a view of those colorful Key waters.
These beaches can get mighty hot any time of year. But each one has swimmer-friendly waters, the best swimming in the Keys. The water is never too cold, even in winter. Fishermen enjoy these waters as well. Tarpon, when in season, is the most desired species. Launch your boat at the marina or hire a guide.
One unusual aspect of Bahia Honda is the old bridge. It is the now-closed span that used to connect Bahia Honda Key with West Summerland Key. A trail to the old bridge leaves near Logger Head Beach. Follow the span as it rises over the waters below. It's probably as high as you will get in the Keys. Another walk is the nature trail that enters the real Florida at the north end of the Sandspur Beach.
No trip this far south is complete without a trip to Key West. Ernest Hemingway's town is a tourist attraction, yet it is steeped in history. The narrow roads can be congested, but relax and join in the parade. Check out Duval Street, a mecca for tourists; Old Town, with its elegant homes; and Mallory Square, with its street entertainers.
The best way to do this may seem corny at first, but swallow your pride, don your shades, and ride the Conch Tour Train. It's the ultimate in tourist schlock, but you will learn much about the history of this southernmost city in the United States. Then you can drive back to your campsite at Bahia Honda with a complete taste of the Keys.
To get there from Marathon, drive 12 miles south to Bahia Honda Recreation Area. Turn left into the state park entrance.
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Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication