Camping in the Middle Keys: Curry Hammock State Park


Aerial view of Curry Hammock campground

Aerial view of Curry Hammock State Park

Curry Hammock is one of those state parks that you’d pass right by unless you knew it was there. And that’s the beauty of it!

A relatively new addition to the Keys camping experience, Curry Hammock is on an island about three miles northeast of Marathon that previously catered only to day visitors but is now a full-fledged campground with all the amenities.

And it’s on a beautiful beach with access to some interesting kayak trails that weave through mangroves, public and private islands and secret beaches on both the ocean and bay sides of the Middle Keys.

Until 2004, when this campground was finished, the only state-operated campgrounds in the Keys were at Long Key State Park (tents and RVs), John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park (RVs OK, but tents are a pain) or Bahia Honda (tents and popups only on the beach, and those sites are phenomenal).

Although small — with just 28  campsites — Curry Hammock State Park is an excellent base for kayaking, biking and beaching.  A day use area has a picnic pavilion, restrooms and beach access.

All of the campsites have water and electric, and the camping “pads” are gravel, although some have “sandboxes” where tents can be pitched on friendlier ground (the exceptions being sites 3, 10-19, 21, 26, and 28.)  The gravel pads are perfectly level and raked frequently. The large bathhouse (with showers) is in the middle and easily accessible to all sites.

Beachfront campsites at Curry Hammock State Park

Beachfront campsites

Beach picnic area at Curry Hammock State Park

Beach picnic area

Kayak trail at Curry Hammock State Park

Kayak trail

The campsites are far enough from the Overseas Highway that road noise is minimal or non-existent, especially if there’s an onshore breeze.

When the campground was built in 2004, all of the existing vegetation was swept away by the bulldozers and new, native vegetation was planted, as is the practice in all state parks.

But the harsh sun and sandy native soil in the Keys does not lend itself to rapid growth, so the campground has been slow to recover from it’s once-barren state.

At $36 per night, camping fees are higher than what you normally find at most Florida’s State Parks on the mainland, although the rate is actually a bargain when you compare it to private campgrounds in the Keys. (Florida residents over age 65 camp at half-price!)

Like any of the state park campgrounds in the Keys, reservations should be made well in advance (up to 11 months) to ensure that you get your desired site. Reservations are not accepted at the ranger station. For reservations, book online through Reserve America, and if you don’t get a site on your first try, keep trying because there are often cancellations, especially from snowbirds who book these sites early and then fine-tune their itineraries later.

When I want a state park campsite bad enough, I’m online at 8 a.m., exactly 11 months in advance — to the day — and even then I have trouble sometimes with Curry Hammock and Long Key. But when I miss an opportunity, I don’t give up, returning about once a week in the off-chance that there will be a cancellation. And I almost always get my site with perseverance. It’s worth it.

Kite-surfing, board-sailing and paddle sports

Typical of Keys beaches, the ocean off Curry Hammock is shallow, the surf non-existent and the currents are weak, making it ideal for families with small children to play in the water.

Kite-surfers and board sailors frequent the day-use area of the beach, as do paddlers. Kayaks and canoes can be launched from the day-use area, or from your campsite if you are fortunate enough to secure a waterfront campsite (Nos. 7-24). For interior campers, you can cart your yaks on the beach access path between Sites 13 and 15.

The day-use area of the beach has a concession that rents kayaks, $17.20 for a single for 2 hours and $21.50 for a tandem. Kayak rentals are available from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.

While visiting the park as a camper or day visitor, you can reserve a slot on the ranger-led kayak tour every Wednesday morning. Call the ranger station at (305) 289-2690 for more information.

Or, you can go it your own and paddle quite a ways out to sea and still find yourself in calm, shallow water, or paddle the trails that cut through the mangroves between islands. A mangrove tunnel takes you under the park road and into a quiet bay. Further paddling will take you underneath U.S. 1 to the bay side.

The park is on a migration route for birds, making it an excellent observation point, especially if you can paddle back into areas of the park unreachable by foot traffic or vehicles. Curry Hammock is a featured stop along the Florida Birding Trail and is particularly good location to spot raptors, such as eagles, hawks and ospreys, during winter migrations. (Now you know where the term “snowbirds” comes from!)

Motorboats

There are no facilities for powerboats in the park, and the nearest launch is about three miles south on the bay side, adjacent to The Island Fish Company Tiki Bar and Restaurant in Marathon.  The boat trip back to Curry Hammock, though, is bit more involved. You will have to go west to Vaca Cut, where you can cross to the ocean. Be aware that the tidal currents can be particularly strong through Vaca Cut.

Once oceanside, steer to port and return east, past residential Key Colony Beach to Curry Hammock, about six miles from launch to landing. But you can’t land!

Motorboats must anchor offshore and campers will have to swim and wade to shore. Your best bet is to ask the park rangers where you can anchor before you launch. If you are carrying camping gear, it could be difficult to wrestle it ashore from your anchorage, so dump the gear at your campsite first.

There is a sheltered cove on the far side of the park, away from the campground, that is not in the park’s jurisdiction, and I’ve seen boats anchor in that area as well. The water is fairly deep and you would be sheltered.

Biking and Hiking

Ride your bike from the park to a bike trail alongside the Overseas Highway and peddle a short distance to the Dolphin Research Center to swim with the dolphins, or ride straight into Marathon and explore the island’s back roads, canals and bays that make this area the center of activity in the Middle Keys.

There’s a 1.5-mile nature trail across U.S. 1 that winds through a pristine hardwood hammock that takes to the open waters of Florida Bay. The trailhead is 1.5 miles southwest of the park entrance on the bay side.

Guided beach walks and ranger-led nature hikes are offered every Tuesday morning. As is the case with the kayak tours, you must reserve your spot in advance by calling the ranger station at (305) 289-2690.

Where to eat!

As I mentioned above, The Island Fish Company Tiki Bar and Restaurant is less than three miles west and a must-stop destination, especially if you like tiki bars. The tiki bar is the largest in the Keys, and there’s plenty of room even when it’s crowded, and it often is. The tiki bar offers and unparalleled view of Florida Bay.

The Stuffed Pig in Marathon is a favorite breakfast spot, and lunch is always a special treat at Burdine’s Waterfront Cafe, which overlooks Marathon’s Boot Key Harbor — the largest harbor in the Keys and a popular haven for transient boaters who are working their way through the Keys.

And we love the nearby Key Colony Inn for the finer dining experience (reservations recommended).

Of course, nothing really beats a barbeque on the beach at your campsite!

Curry Hammock State Park
56200 Overseas Highway — MM 56
Marathon, FL 33050
(305) 289-2690

Scenic Rating: 8 out of 10
Family Rating: 8 out of 10
Sites: 28, about half can accommodate tents  (Site Nos. 7-24 are directly on the beach)
Hookups: Water and electric; dump station (near Sites 25—28)
Reservations: Up to 11 months in advance through ReserveAmerica or call (800) 326-3521
Pets: Yes, but not on the beach or in swimming areas

Related Florida Rambler articles

Florida Keys Mile-Marker Guide

Florida Rambler guide to the best beaches in the Florida Keys

Florida Keys Wild Bird Center worth a quick stop

Key West Camping: Try these tropical hideaways

Paradise Found: Things to do in the Lower Keys

Best tiki bars in the Florida Keys

Florida Keys delicacy? Invasive lionfish, fresh from local waters

Key Largo: John Pennekamp State Park

Long Key State Park: Beach camping in the Keys

Sea Turtle Hospital in Marathon:  Get close to an endangered species

 

Links

For more information about the park, go to www.floridastateparks.org/curryhammock

For campground reservations,go to ReserveAmerican.com

Reviews of Curry Hammock on TripAdvisor.com

Campground map: Curry Hammock downloadable map of sites.

Park map: Curry Hammock downloadable map of park.

Park brochure: Curry Hammock

Another information source is the Florida Keys Tourism web site, www.fla-keys.com/marathon/

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  5. Is it true that touring Kayakers are allowed to camp overnight at curry hammock with no reservation????????

    • That’s a good question, and we don’t have an answer. You’ll need to call the park office at 305-289-2690.

      I would think you would have to book through ReserveAmerica, like everyone else, and there are a limited number of sites. (During winter season, it’s extremely difficult.)

      You raise an interesting question about touring yaks, though. There are numerous uninhabited islands in the Keys where one could camp, although I can’t pinpoint them offhand. I will look into it.

      Meantime, call the park for your immediate need. And let us know what you find out!

      • Just called Curry Hammock and talked to a ranger, who said touring kayakers play by the same rules as everyone else. If a campsite is open that morning, be at the ranger station at 8 a.m. and grab it as a walk-on. Otherwise, you’ll have to reserve your campsite in advance. There is no open camping, although they will do their best to accommodate you.

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