Plenty of campsites in the Florida Keys

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of March 26-April 1, 1998
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Plenty of campsites in the Florida Keys
Question: Where can I camp in the Florida Keys? What is the cost, and how can I make reservations?

Dove Norouzi
Marlboro, Vermont

Adventure Adviser: Whether you're looking for a quiet seaside site or a fully serviced KOA, camping options abound in the Florida Keys. Most campgrounds are clustered around the larger islands, like Key Largo and Marathon Key, although there are a few scattered treasures on the smaller islets.

In general, expect to pay $20-$26/night for two people, with each additional person costing $2 to $5 more. There are a few exceptions: Sugarloaf Key's fancy KOA Resort costs up to $46.95 nightly, while the most remote campground — Dry Tortugas National Park — is a mere $12 a night. Most campgrounds recommend or require reservations, which you can make by phone 60 days to a year in advance. All accept credit cards and most have a 14-day stay limit.

Since amenities vary tremendously, it really comes down to which key you'd like to inhabit and what you're looking for activity-wise. If snorkeling and canoeing are prerequisites, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park on Key Largo is your best bet. Surrounded by a coral reef, the 47-site campground has a dive shop, marina, and boat rentals, and borders the Key Largo Coral Reef National Marine Sanctuary. Call the ranger station at 305-451-1202 for information and reservations. Anglers will be happiest at Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge (305-872-2351). This 10-acre resort borders an underwater marine sanctuary and features charter fishing services and a full-service marina.

If you're after solitude, 70 miles west of Key West is Dry Tortugas National Park and 10 primitive sites. Here you'll find a stone-walled historic fort, good snorkeling, and endangered green turtles. No reservations are required, just show up by charter boat or air taxi, and bring in everything you'll need, including drinking water. Call 305-242-7700 for details. Closer to civilization but still peaceful is Long Key State Recreation Area, where half of the 60 sites have ocean views and most are well-foliaged with Australian pines. A canoe trail, active tidal pools and the neighboring Latyton Nature Trail are local attractions. Call 305-664-4815.

Two of the more family-oriented options are Sunshine Key Camping Resort (800-852-0348), located on Ohio Key, and Sugarloaf Key Resort KOA Kampground (800-562-7731). Surrounding its 405 sites, Sunshine has everything from mini-golf to dog kennel services, and you can stay for up to six months. At the southernmost KOA, you'll find palm-shaded sites, a tiki-hut-lined beach and a bustling marina.

My personal favorite is Bahia Honda State Park, just past the 7-mile bridge south of Marathon Key. The best of the 82 sites are on the shadier south side, which boasts two fantastic swimming beaches. Bahia Honda is one of the more popular spots, so beware and be patient. Although you can make reservations by phone, half of the sites are set aside for campers who line up at the park's gate early each morning. Be sure to request a site on Sandspur.

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