Camping / Florida Keys

Lower Keys camping: Try these hideaways

~ Campgrounds near Key West are hard to find, and most are not cheap. But if you’re in search of a tropical hideaway for your RV near Key West… 

Geiger Key Marina and RV Park

Geiger Key Marina and RV Park

When I first moved to Florida way back in the ’70s, we would camp in the woods across from Smathers Beach in Key West.  In fact, it wasn’t difficult to find places to pitch a tent or roll out a sleeping bag anywhere in the Keys.  “The authorities” would usually look the other way, unless you looked like trouble.

Alas, times have changed, and so we go with the times.

Today, camping alongside the road or at the beach can get you arrested, although you can still find an occasional recreational vehicle parked along a back road in the Lower Keys, a tent perched on a old fishing bridge or kayak campers on an out-island.

Tent campers can still find a few isolated islands in the back country.

But for most of us, those clandestine days of camping in the woods or on the beach are over. We’re looking for a few nice campgrounds with all the amenities.

If it’s got a tiki bar next door, all the better!  (You betcha. I’ve got my priorities straight!)

I set out to find campgrounds in or near Key West that would accommodate my travel trailer, a 24-foot Fleetwood Prowler, a tent or your RV.

There is only one campground in Key West itself, and that’s only for military, but you don’t have to go far to find others.  By camping standards, sites can get pretty darn expensive in the Lower Keys, but they are still half the price (or less) of the hotels, motels and inns that draw other overnight visitors.

For directions via Google Maps, click on the highlighted Mile Marker

Boyd's Key West Campground

Boyd’s Key West Campground

BOYD’S KEY WEST CAMPGROUND Stock Island (MM 5). This is the closest public-access campground to Key West, and it can be a tight fit for RVers on some sites.  Tenters have their own area, though it’s small.  Despite its urban location, Boyd’s manages to convey a tropical feel with coconut palms, a swimming beach and waterfront vistas.   There are 150 RV sites with full hookups, including 90 with 50-amp electric service and 30 sites on 30-amps.  Cable TV available, and Wi-Fi is free.  The campground also has restrooms and showers, a boat ramp, dockage, laundry facilities and a campground store with limited supplies.

Tent campers have wonderful waterfront views, but the sites are close together.

The campground is gated, and the owners advertise 24-hour security. Children are welcome, and pets are OK, with the exception of Dobies, pit bulls, chows, Rottweilers, wolf hybrids and German shepherds. The swimming pool is heated, and there is a poolside tiki hut with a big-screen TV. Because it is so close to Key West, city bus service is available to guests. Or you can ride your bike (best!) into Key West.

There’s not much difference between summer and winter rates because Key West is popular year-round.  Summer rates are $55 for tents to $110 for RVs. During the peak winter season, rates range from $60 to $120. For reservations, call (305) 294-1465.

Tiki bar!  A short walk (or bike ride) away is the Hogfish Bar and Grill, one of the best-kept secrets on Stock Island. The seafood is scrumptious, the grillin’ is chillin’, and the bar is airy and open.

Campsites at Geiger Key Marina and RV Park

Campsites at Geiger Key

GEIGER KEY MARINA & RV PARK MM 10.5.  This campground is just far enough away, yet close enough to Key West, to provide a very laid back stay “on the backside of paradise.”  The sites themselves are not very glamorous, but the overall tropical setting makes up for it.  This small RV park and marina is tucked away behind the mangroves and palms.

If you are lucky enough to get waterfront, you can keep your boat right outside your door at a long dock. The 37 sites are on a broad gravel base (parking lot, really) with full hookups, and it’s a tight fit.  You definitely don’t want to camp here in a tent, but RVs work.  There’s a laundry, rest rooms, a boat ramp, kayak ramp and dockage.  Kayak rentals are available at the marina, and the kayaking in this area gets high marks from locals.

Waterfront sites are $110-112, and interior sites are $100 ($80 off-season, May-Sept.) Call 305-296-3559 for reservations.

Tiki bar!  Yes!  The tiki bar may be the best reason to stay at this campground. There’s a really cool tiki bar on premises with outdoor “smokehouse” dining dockside.  Where else but in Key West will you find a marine biologist managing the bar and restaurant!  The restaurant is run by the same people who own the Hogfish Bar and Grill on Stock Island.

Bluewater Key RV Park

Bluewater Key RV Park

BLUEWATER KEY RV PARK MM 14.5.  Most of the sites in this upscale, scenic and tropical-landscaped park are privately owned, but sites are available for rentals by reservation when the owners aren’t using them. The park itself is nicely landscaped, much of it done by the lot owners, and the sites are spacious.  Many sites are waterfront with docks and tiki huts. There’s a boat ramp onsite and resort-style swimming pool.

Minimum RV length is 24 feet, and all sites have water, sewer, electric (30-, 50-amp), cable TV and Wi-Fi access.  No tents, no popups or truck campers. Pets OK, but no more than two. Sites 1 through 16, 38 and 39, are on a canal (the sunset side); interior sites are 17-37; and bayfront sites are 40-81. Off-season rates run $76 to $96 per night. In season, you’ll pay $90 to $120. There is a $30 early arrival or late departure fee.

This campground may be the best in the Keys for RVs. For reservations, call 305-745-2494.

Sugarloaf Key KOA

Sugarloaf Key KOA

SUGARLOAF KEY KOA MM 20. The southernmost KOA in the U.S., this resort-style campground has all the amenities, including a sandy beach, a full-service marina and pool area with a hot tub.  There are 200 gravel-based sites, including 15 waterfront sites, with full hookups and 30/50-amp electric, and a shaded primitive camping area for tents.  RVs and cabins are also available for rent.

The full-service marina has 25 boat slips, and an inlet leads from the marina to the Atlantic Ocean. In addition, there is a restaurant, cafe, convenience store, game room, miniature golf, laundry facilities and a heated swimming pool. There’s also a bar on premises with occasional entertainment.

Rates range from $66 to $110 for RVs and $59 for tents. Call (800) 562-7731 for reservations.

Big Pine Fishing Lodge

Big Pine Fishing Lodge

BIG PINE FISHING LODGE & RV PARK MM 33. The campground is located in an open area behind the motel. The beauty of this campground is access to nearby Looe Key Reef. The sites themselves are barren. Boat ramp and dockage, as well as boat rentals and charters. Laundry, dump station and playground. Convenience store on site. Children are OK, but no pets because of the threat to the endangered Key deer.

There are 97 RV sites with full hookups and 30-amp electric (10 sites have 50 amp),  and 61 tent sites with shared water spigots in the gated campground. Rates run about $50 per night year-round. There are also 16 motel rooms, some waterfront on a canal.

Call (305) 872-2351 for reservations.

Bahia Honda tent site on the beach

Beachfront tent site at Bahia Honda

BAHIA HONDA STATE PARK MM 36.8. This state park has it all: top-ranked beaches, snorkeling, scenic views, nature trails, boat launch, docks and kayak concession. Fishing is also a big draw, but the gorgeous beaches are the main attraction. The main recreation beach is near the park concession, but the top-ranked beach is on the other side of the island, past the Sandspur Campground. This beach has restrooms, pavilions and outdoor showers.

There are three campgrounds, one for RVs on the bay side and another for tents and pop-ups on the ocean side, and a smaller, third campground accessible only by low-height vehicles. Boat slips are also available for boat camping.

The park features three duplex cabins overlooking the bay. Campsites are $36 per night year round, and cabin rentals run $120 in summer and $160 in winter.

My favorite place to camp here is directly on the beach in the Sandspur Campground, which accommodates tents and popups only. Sites 64 through 72 are on the beach; the others here are on the inside of the heavily wooded loop. Note that these inside sites can be brutal in mosquito season.

Reservations by calling 800-336-3521 or booking online at ReserveAmerica

Related article: Bahia Honda State Park: Nice beaches, but historic bridge is the star

Sunshine Key RV Resort

Sunshine Key RV Resort

SUNSHINE KEY RV RESORT & MARINA MM 38.8. Sunshine Key is an island unto itself and one of the largest campgrounds in the Keys. The 75-acre island is surrounded by crystal-clear water, accessible to kayaks from your waterfront campsite or from the large marina.

This is a small city with all the amenities, including a restaurant, laundry facilities, playgrounds and boat rentals on site. There are 409 campsites, including 54 beachfront sites, all with full hookups and cable TV.  The waterfront sites on the outside of the island are prime, of course, and that will ease the pain of an otherwise crowded campground.

Rates range from $65 to $97 per night. A $3 daily “resort fee” is added to that price, along with various local taxes.  The campground also has one- and two-bedroom cabins, as well as travel trailers, that you can reserve.

Reserve a site. cabin or trailer by calling 800-852-0348. This is campground is part of the growing Encore system.

Strictly for Active-Duty Military

Tent site at Sigsbee RV Park at the Naval Air Station

Tent site at Sigsbee RV Park at the Naval Air Station

SIGSBEE RV PARK (Military). MM 2. Key West Naval Air Station, Key West.  Only active-duty and retired military qualify to camp here.  As you can imagine, this campground is tough to get into, even if you are military.  There are 93 RV sites with hookups (water, sewer and 30/50 amp electric) for $21-$23 per day, 10 sites for tents ($12-$14) and 300 sites without hookups in the overflow area ($12-$14), and the overflow is where most end up. Vacation rentals, 41 townhouse units and 36 mobile homes, also available.  Only active-duty can make reservations, up to three months in advance. For retirees and others, it’s first come, first served.

A retired military friend says campers have access to a very nice (but small) beach with palm-thatched shade huts and kayak rentals.  Dockage and boat rentals are available at both Sigsbee Park marina and the base marina on nearby Boca Chica Key. Wi-Fi available through the base Exchange. Pets OK (up to 2).

For campground reservations, call (305) 293-4432 (or -34).

More things to do in the Lower Keys

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