Camping / Florida Keys / Kayak & Canoe

Coastal Keys camping: Chillin’ and grillin’ at Long Key State Park

Morning paddle at Long Key State Park

 

Note: The campground at Long Key State Park is closing Oct. 15, 2017, to allow for a year-long beach restoration project. Day-use areas will not be affected by the closing. (Updated 4/25/2017)

~ There’s nothing quite like waking up on a beach with gentle waves lapping the shore a few steps away, the sun casting a soothing pink spray across a calm ocean surface.

A few kayaks paddle out from nearby campsites while other early risers stroll the shoreline. In the stillness of morning, a clink, a rattle, a shuffling of pans. The campground slowly awakens.

Beach view of campground

Beach view of Long Key campground

Long Key State Park is one of my favorite campgrounds, its sites strung out along the beach. The only downside is white noise from traffic on the Overseas Highway. An RV makes a decent buffer. Tents, not so much.

Still, Long Key State Park offers fabulous diversions: Swimming, snorkeling, paddling, fishing, hiking and biking. Right there when you roll out of bed.

Wade into the shallows with a raft and raise an umbrella, a family base for a day of snorkeling, swimming or just chillin’.

White noise matters no more.

 

History of Long Key

Cottages of the Long Key Fishing Camp

Cottages of the Long Key Fishing Camp

In the early 20th Century, this island was a work camp for railroad workers laying track and building trestles to Key West.

When the railroad was completed, the camp’s lodge and cottages were converted into the Long Key Fishing Camp, served by the railroad and famously the winter home of Zane Grey from 1911 until 1926 .

An avid fisherman, Grey would write for a few hours every morning, then go fishing with local guide Bill Partea for about 8 hours, returning to his cottage to edit his morning’s work.

Zane Grey with his catch at the Long Key Fishing Camp

Zane Grey with his catch (1922)

In 1935, a monster hurricane with 200 mph winds and a 20-foot tidal surge wiped out the fishing lodge, cottages and the railroad, killing 800 people living on the islands of Islamorada, including Long Key.

The hurricane marked the end of the railroad and paved the way for converting the surviving trestles into a roadway that extended from Key Largo to Key West.

Although these early bridges have since been replaced with modern spans, many sections of those Flagler trestles are still visible.

 

Your beachfront campsite

When the tide is high, the sea rises to the edge of a narrow line of dune vegetation within a few feet of your campsite.

Typical campsite at Long Key State Park

Typical campsite at Long Key State Park

The vegetation between sites is buttonwood, sea grape and palm trees, providing more privacy than shade. The 2005 hurricane season (Katrina and Wilma) wiped out non-native Australian pines that once provided a dense canopy.

High tide or low tide, you still have to hike out on the flats to get into reasonable deep water.  Bring water shoes to cross coral outcroppings, grass and mud to large patches of sand offshore.

Each campsite is contained by a split rail fence with a picnic table, ground fire ring, electric and water hookups.  There are no sewer hookups, but there is a dump station near the campground exit.

There is ample room on most sites for RV awnings, and maximum RV length is 45 feet, though most sites are in the 30-foot range.

Three bathhouses have hot showers and are spaced evenly along the paved campground road.

A locked gate separates the campground from the rest of the park.

Day Use Area — Main Beach

The main beach offers picnic tables with grills and an outdoor shower, as well as snorkeling, swimming and kayaking. Launch your kayak or paddleboard and paddle around the island.

On the east end of the beach, there is a 1.1-mile nature trail taking visitors into a natural Keys habitat flush with wildlife.

The park is on The Great Florida Birding Trail, featuring wading and shorebirds year-round and migratory birds seasonally. Herons, egrets, and ibis are common, and White-Crowned Pigeon and Roseate Spoonbills have been known to stop by.

Throughout the park, you may observe horseshoe crabs, mullet, snapper and starfish, while sport fish such as bonefish and redfish (red drum) can be found on the shallow grass flats. Kayakers may spot loggerhead and green sea turtles.

Accessibility

  • Beach wheelchair (available at the ranger station)
  • Accessible restroom facilities
  • Accessible showers in campground
  • Handicap ramp to boardwalk through the mangroves

Paddle, paddle, swim, swim

We leave our kayaks on the beach behind our RV and have long enjoyed paddling in and around this park. There’s nothing quite like getting up at dawn and paddling across the still waters, stopping occasionally in a sandy spot and jumping off for a swim.

The photo at the top of this page is my wife paddling out from our campsite one morning at dawn.

Kayaks and stand-up paddle boards are also ideal for getting out into the deeper water to cool off.  Bring a floating cooler and your snorkel gear, and you are set for the day to just hang out. I’ve even seen folks setting up umbrellas in the flats to keep the sun off.

The ocean is fair game for paddling in any direction, around the island to the bay side or through a chain of interior ponds, mangrove flats and lagoons.

Kayak and canoe rentals are available at the park rangers’ office for paddling the interior ponds.

Hiking and biking

Overseas Heritage Bike Trail

Overseas Heritage Bike Trail

Hikers will enjoy the Golden Orb Nature Trail, a mile-plus loop through varied coastal landscapes on the ocean side of the park, or wander over to the bay side and walk the wooded Layton Trail.  Park rangers offer a weekly guided walk along the Golden Orb trail.

The paved Overseas Heritage bicycle trail parallels U.S. 1 for longer expeditions and one the most scenic and appealing sections of the trail is along the park.

Here’s a guide to biking the part parts of the Florida Keys Overseas Trail.

Eventually the trail will extend uninterrupted from Key Largo to Key West.

Boating at Long Key State Park

There are no boat ramps inside the park for vessels larger than a kayak or canoe, which you can launch from the beach or your campsite.

For larger motorboats and sailboats, there are two boat ramps 3 miles either side of the state park, one at the Fiesta Key RV Resort and another on Grassy Key. You can bring your boat around to the beach campground and anchor offshore, but you have to be prepared for wind shifts, flash storms and surf piling up from tide flow on the flats.

To accommodate the broad tide range, you’ll need to anchor at least 100 yards offshore, so be aware of winds and tides.

It is always a good idea to have nautical charts as a guide to the ever-present shoals and shallows, as well as protected grass flats. Without local knowledge or a chart, you surely will run aground, tear up a propeller or damage protected coral and grassy areas, where you can draw a stiff fine.

Fortunately, the surf here is usually gentle.

There’s a designated trailer-parking area at the end of the campground road where you can store your boat or trailer overnight.

Fishing capital of the world

Fishing in the Middle Keys is legendary, among the best you’ll find anywhere. Just ask Zane Grey.

Campers do not need a boat to enjoy a great day of fishing.  The bridges leading onto and off Long Key are renowned for the fishing, particularly the old Channel 5 and Channel 2 bridges that hop across Fiesta Key from Islamorada.

Fishing balcony on the bridge

Fishing balcony on the bridge

These bridges were the original railroad bridges, later paved for cars and now converted to fishing piers. Fishing balconies have been installed on some of the old bridges on the Long Key Viaduct.

If you have a boat, your focus will likely be on the offshore reefs and Gulf Stream, Zane Grey’s favorite fishing grounds, on the flats of Florida Bay or around the bridge pilings between islands.

Local knowledge is advisable, and you may want to consider a guide your first few times out. Florida Sportsman magazine publishes a series of fishing charts that you can purchase at any bait shop in the Keys.

Drift fishing trips can be booked at Bud ‘n’ Mary’s Marina, at Mile Marker 79.8, at the lower end of Lower Matecumbe Key. Charters and back-country guides are also available at Bud ‘n’ Mary’s.

GPS Note: Occasionally, a guest on one of these drift boats or charters will break out a handheld GPS to mark locations where a lot of fish are being caught. This practice is widely viewed in The Keys as disrespectful and ill-mannered, and you may even be asked to surrender your GPS for scrubbing.

Fly-fishing on the flats off the campground is very popular with campers. You can wade offshore from most of the island, in some places for hundreds of yards. The most popular area for fly fishing is offshore past the far end of the campground, past the boat-trailer storage area.

Fishing License: You need a license to fish saltwater in Florida, even from shore. The shoreline license is free, but you still have to have it. Florida residents over 65 do not need a license, but you will need a drivers license or state-issued ID to prove your age.

A saltwater license to fish from a private boat, including kayaks and paddleboards, can be purchased by phone at 1-888-FISH-FLORIDA — 1-888-347-4356 — and it will take effect immediately. Have a notepad ready to write down your confirmation number.

If you charter or book a drift-fishing boat, you are covered by the boat’s commercial license.

Campground reservations at Long Key State Park are hard to get

Long Key State Park is one of the most popular campgrounds in the entire state, and it’s in the heart of the Keys, so reservations are hard to get at any time of year.

And with a beach renourishment project in the offing (starting on Oct. 15, 2017), reservations could even get tougher.

But a little perseverance can pay off with cancellations, which are reposted the morning after they become available.

Long Key State Park, like most state parks, does set aside a few sites for walk-ups, but it’s a gamble and not recommended unless you are already camping in the park and wish to renew for a few days. Sometimes you can; sometimes you can’t.

Camping fees

Campground fees at Long Key State Park are $36 a night plus $6.70 reservation fee per booking, plus sales tax and a Monroe County surcharge.

Florida residents over 65 get a 50% discount, as do those with a Social Security disability certificate or a 100 percent disability certificate from the Federal Government. (Proof is required.)

If you are camping nearby, or staying in other lodging, day use fees are $5 per vehicle ($4.50 if only one occupant), $2.50 for pedestrians and bicyclists (plus a 50-cent Monroe County surcharge).

More tips for your Long Key outing

Alcohol is not permitted in the park, on the beach or in the park campground, although it’s unlikely anybody will say anything about a glass of wine or beer at dinner within your campsite. Be discreet and you’ll be fine.

There are raccoons at Long Key, but only a few. Keep your garbage secure at night. The park has several raccoon-proof receptacles throughout the campground.

There is a convenience store and a grocery with gas station about one mile “north” of the park, which is actually east of the park. The nearest supermarket is the Publix in Marathon, about 18 miles west on the Overseas Highway, and there’s a True Value hardware store at Caloosa Cove Marina, Mile Marker 73.5.

On a recent trip, I discovered a wonderful little seafood market in Marathon, Brutus Seafood Market, where I purchased fresh Key West pink shrimp and an outstanding smoked fish dip. The seafood counter is typical of the Keys and includes mahi, yellow-tail snapper, lobster and stone crab (in season), conch, scallops and tuna.

To the north, I recommend the Islamorada Fish Company market at Mile Marker 81.2.  It’s next door to a great tiki bar and Worldwide Sportsman, the temple of fishing, where a an early 20th Century fishing boat is on display.

One more hot tip for food — Habanos Oceanfront restaurant at the Caloosa Cove Marina, Mile Marker 73.5. Latin food at reasonable prices.

For more information about what’s nearby, consult FloridaRambler.com’s Florida Keys Mile-Marker Guide.

Long Key State Park

67400 Overseas Highway
Long Key, FL 33001
((305) 664-4815

Description: Scenic beachfront park and campground. There are 51 RV and 10 tent-only campsites, and all of them are beachfront. Each site has water and electric hookups, and there is a dump station near the campground exit. Maximum RV length is 45 feet on selected campsites. Pets are allowed in the campground but not on the beach.

Reservations: Up to 11 months in advance by phone (800) 326-3521 or online.

Other nearby campgrounds:

FIESTA KEY RV RESORT
Phone: (305) 664-4922
70001 Overseas Highway ,
Long Key,FL 33001

I checked this campground out one morning and felt it would be pleasant enough for RVers, especially the waterfront sites. The tent pads were a bit sparse, but there were plenty of RV sites and some really beautiful rental cabins. RV sites are $59 in March and April, and similar prices can be expected during the summer. Winter rates are much higher. Boat ramp and dockage available.

GRASSY KEY RV PARK & RESORT
Phone: 305-289-1606 *
Email: [email protected]
58671 Overseas Hwy.
Marathon ,  FL  33050

I didn’t tour this park, so I really can’t say much about it. They advertise premium & standard full-hookup sites (w/s/e/c). Pool, Dockage, WIFI, Laundry, Clubhouse. Views of Gulf of Mexico throughout the resort

JOLLY ROGER TRAVEL PARK
Phone: 305-289-0404 *  Toll Free: 800-995-1525 *  Fax: 305-289-7204
Email: [email protected]
59275 Overseas Highway
Marathon ,  FL  33050

I did tour this park, and the management was extremely helpful when I requested information. The waterfront sites, with full hookups, were quite nice, as was a newly added expansion. Lots of trees in the old section offer plenty of shade. Tent campers can pitch their canvas on the waterfront tiki island. All sites are $54 from April 1 through November 30, except during the lobster mini-season (7/21-8/11).

CURRY HAMMOCK STATE PARK
Phone: (305) 289-2690
56200 Overseas Highway
Marathon ,  FL  33050

I’ve visited this park many times. Same price ($36 plus…) as Long Key, and most sites are spacious, on concrete pads with sand pads for tents. Excellent access to the ocean, although only a few sites are directly on the beach. This is a fairly new campground, and while the vegetation has grown fast between sites, it’ll still be a few years before it’s dense and shady.

Other lodging nearby

Luxury: Hawks Cay ResortDuck Key 61 Hawks Cay Blvd Duck Key, FL, 33050 United States, ‎1-866-925-4159‎

Moderate: Hampton Inn & Suites IslamoradaIslamorada (10.6 miles)80001 Overseas Hwy Islamorada, FL, 33036 United States, ‎1-866-538-0251‎

Moderate: Lime Tree Bay ResortLong Key (1 miles) 68500 Overseas Hwy Long Key, FL, 33001 United States, ‎1-866-573-4235‎

Moderate: Conch Key CottagesMarathon (5 miles) 62250 Overseas Highway Marathon, FL, 33050 United States, ‎1-866-767-0278‎

Budget: Fiesta Key RV Resort CabinsLong Key (2.5 miles) 70001 Overseas Hwy Long Key, FL, 33001 United States, ‎1-866-678-6350‎

Dining near Long Key State Park

Habanos at Caloosa Cove (6 miles north).  Excellent Cuban-influenced menu at very reasonable prices with many items under $10. This is the closest restaurant to the campground and it’s frequented by locals. Definitely worth stopping here for a meal.

Islamorada Fish Company (13 miles north) Outdoor patio restaurant with tiki bar on the bayside. Great for sunsets, fresh seafood. (305) 664-9271

Key Colony Inn (14.5 miles south) Fine dining, great seafood. Business casual encouraged. Ask somebody for directions. (305) 743-0100

Fishing

Bud & Mary’s Marina (12 miles). Charter and party-boat fishing. Also boat rentals, rooms. (877) 453-9463

Marathon Lady (14 miles). Party boat fishing. (305) 743-5580.

Resource links

Things to do in the Middle Keys

 

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6 Comments

  1. Ellon turvey says:

    Hello! The picture that shows the beachfront campsite you wouldn’t happen to remover what number it was do you? Or any tips on the sites you would recommend for good privacy (vegetation separating sites) thank you! 🙂 my fiancé and I are heading down this summer for the first time ever that far past Miami! 🙂

    • Hi Ellon,

      No, I don’t remember exactly which site that was, but the photo is representative of all the sites in Long Key State Park. Frankly, you don’t get much opportunity to choose a site because all of them are reserved many months in advance. When a site opens up because of a cancellation, just grab it. Any site.

  2. Pingback: Long Key Fishing Camp | info - fishing license info

  3. Kerry Daskalakis/Phillips says:

    Are there plenty of beach front for 36ft. RV.
    I plan to visit April or May.also towing a small car.

    Thanks you Kerry
    [email protected]

    • Yes! Lots of room. Maximum RV length is 45 feet. The campsites are deep. I have a 24-foot trailer with an F-150 on the front, and I can back in without unhooking with room to spare. You should have no trouble.

  4. Lisa Chesser says:

    I’m using this to maneuver through The Keys.

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