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Tent camping in the Florida Keys: Slim pickin’s

Last updated on July 1st, 2022 at 05:57 pm

Tent and car camp sites have long been in short supply in the Florida Keys, and my favorites took a solid whack from Hurricane Irma in 2017, Long Key State Park and the Sandspur Campground at Bahia Honda State Park.

Sandspur reopened in Spring 2022, although it’s no longer exclusively for tents and pop-ups. The future remains unclear for the main campground at Long Key.

Long Key has reopened three hike-in tent sites during winter and spring, from November 1 through June 1, but that’s about it. The remaining sites, all oceanfront, have been wiped out.

Tent sites in the Florida Keys are few and far between, and they are getting expensive. Since the pandemic eased, campground rates throughout the Keys have gone through the roof.

Also Read: RV Campgrounds in the Florida Keys

Rambler Tip: Expect serious competition for any campsite in the Keys during the peak winter season (January-April), spiny lobster sport season (last Wednesday and Thursday of July) and the first week of the regular lobster season (August 6-13). State parks in the Keys are booked solid year around, so book 11 months in advance or watch diligently for cancellations.


Public Campgrounds

State park campgrounds in the Florida Keys are booked solid all year. There are no seasonal breaks. It’s not impossible to get a site with short notice, but it will likely be due to a cancellation so it’s a crap shoot. You will need a lot of flexibility on your dates.


John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park (Upper Florida Keys)

Campsite at Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Campsite

While this has never been my favorite campground for tent camping because of the gravel pads, it’s back in focus because of the closing of the campground at Long Key State Park. Once you spread a ground cover and get yourself off the floor with a cot, staying in a tent here is manageable. The big attraction, of course, are the dive and tour boats leave from a marina a short walk from the camping area. There are also a couple of decent beaches for swimming and a concession area within walking distance. There are 39 sites available to both tents and RVs at a rate of $36, a $7 daily utility fee, and a $6.70 booking fee per stay.

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Mile Marker 102.5 Overseas Highway, Key Largo, FL 33037. The park office can be reached at 305-676-3777. Reservations are accepted up to 11 months in advance at (800) 326-3521.


Curry Hammock State Park (Middle Florida Keys)

Curry Hammock is a beautiful campground with access to a picturesque beach and water sports, including kite-surfing and kayaking. The campground is far enough away from the busy Overseas Highway that traffic noise is minimal. While the gravel pads on all 28 sites are best suited for RVs, most sites have a sandy tent pad.  Tent campers should avoid sites #3, 10-19, 21, 26, and 28. The best sites for tents are on the beach, sites # 6-9 and 22-25. Each site has a picnic table, grill, water and electric service. There is a central restroom with hot showers. All sites are $36 per night plus a daily utility fee of $7, and a $6.70 reservation fee per stay. Florida residents 65 and up enjoy a 50% discount.

Related story: Curry Hammock State Park.

Curry Hammock State Park, 56200 Overseas Highway, Marathon, FL 33050. For park information, call (305) 289-2690. For reservations up to 11 months in advance, visit the park’s web site floridastateparks.org/park/Curry-Hammock


Long Key State Park (Middle Keys).

My favorite campground in the Keys was destroyed by Hurrricane Irma in 2017, leaving only three hike-in tent sites along a nature trail. Still, the park is still a gem for spending the day with family picnicking and lounging in the shallow water offshore. Depending on the tide, ocean depths range from ankle-deep to above your waste for a hundred yards. The three hike-in sites are clustered along the Orb Trail, a one-mile hike. Kayaks are available for rent at the ranger station. The tent sites are $22.50 plus a per-stay $6.70 reservation fee.

Related story: Long Key State Park

Long Key State Park, 67400 Overseas Highway, Long Key FL 33001. For park information, call the ranger station at 305-664-4815. For reservations up to 11 months in advance, visit the park’s web site floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/long-key-state-park


Bahia Honda State Park (Lower Keys)

The Sandspur tent campground at Bahia Honda was recently reopened (Spring 2022), but it may not be what it once was now that trailers and small motorhomes share the space. The 14 sites now have gravel pads like the Buttonwood campground, which has 48 gravel sites. Each site has a picnic table, grill, water and electric service. There are eight primitive sites in the Bay Campground without electric, near the rental cabins. All sites are $36 per night plus a daily utility fee of $7, and a $6.70 reservation fee per stay. Florida residents 65 and up enjoy a 50% discount.

Related story: Bahia Honda State Park

Bahia Honda State Park, 36850 Overseas Highway, Big Pine Key FL 33043. For the park ranger station, call 305-872-2353. For camping reservations, book up to 11 months in advance from the park website at floridastateparks.org/BahiaHonda


Dry Tortugas National Park (West of Key West)

Campsite at Fort Jefferson
Campsite at Fort Jefferson

This is wilderness camping at its best, and while it’s not actually in the Keys, you can only get there by ferry from Key West. You have to bring everything, including water, and you have to bring everything back, including your garbage. The primitive campground (no amenities) is adjacent to the Civil War-era Fort Jefferson.  This is bird-watching paradise and surrounding islands are bird sanctuaries, off-limits to humans, although you can paddle out and observe from your kayak. Call ahead to the Yankee Freedom to arrange for transportation for your kayak (only 3 kayaks are allowed per trip) and expect to pay an additional charge. At the very least, bring snorkel gear. The 15 campsites are first-come, first-serve (no reservations) and cost $15 per person per night, payable only in cash when you arrive.

Related story: Camping at Dry Tortugas National Park

For ferry schedules and information: Yankee Freedom, 240 Margaret Street, Key West, FL 33040. (800) 634-0939. www.yankeefreedom.com

Download the National Park Service Camping Guide for the Dry Tortugas here (PDF).


Private Campgrounds

Private campgrounds in the Florida Keys are getting prohibitively expensive, even for tent campers, with sites priced upwards from $65 a night to more than $100.


Key Largo Kampground and Marina (Upper Florida Keys)

Tent sites at Key Largo Kampground and Marina
Key Largo Kampground and Marina

When I last visited this campground, I found the primitive tent sites to be shady and comfortable with a few exceptions. While this park is geared towards RV camping with waterfront sites and private dockage, tent campers have space to breath. Probably the most attractive feature for tent campers is the availability of dockage for boats, and water access to fishing and snorkelers, not to mention its proximity to the Miami-Fort Lauderdale urban centers (about an hour or so). There are 35 tent sites with a picnic table but no hookups. Tents with electric hookups and a grill are $75/night. An oversized tent site or a water-view site with electric and a grill is $90. The pads are pea gravel.

Key Largo Kampground and Marina, 101551 Overseas Hwy, Key Largo, FL 33037. Phone: (305) 451-1431 www.keylargokampground.com


Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge (Lower Keys)

Waterfront tent sites at Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge
Waterfront tent sites are now $100 a night at Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge. (Photo by Bob Rountree)

If snorkeling or fishing are your pleasures, and you have a boat, then this may be for you. Although the main section of this campground is geared toward RVs, Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge offers “rustic” camping on 72 sites without hookups that will accommodate tents. Tenters share (3) water spigots but cannot hook up. RVs also boondock in this area (but generators are banned). The price of a site, though, may be prohibitive. When I tried to book a primitive tent site in mid-July 2022 — well before lobster season — the price was $249 for three nights on an inland tent site. Sites on the seawall were $300 for three nights!

Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge, 33000 Overseas Hwy  Big Pine Key, FL 33043. For information and reservations, call (305) 872-2351 or book your site via email from their web site, bpkfl.com.


Boyd’s Key West Campground (Key West)

Tent sites in the primitive camping area at Boyd’s are close together, separated by a modest privacy fence, but they offer spectacular waterfront views, and Key West is a short bike ride away.  Two blocks from the campground is the Hogfish Bar and Grill, a popular local hangout with great food. Boyd’s has a boat ramp with docks, a heated swimming pool, four bathhouses with dishwashing stations, free Wi-Fi and a poolside tiki hut with TV.  Far from wilderness camping, and it’s expensive, but you don’t have many choices this close to Key West. Tent sites are $65-$105 per night (2022).

Boyd’s Key West Campground, 6401 Maloney Avenue, Key West, FL 33040. (305) 294-1465. boydscampground.com


Related Florida Rambler articles:

Guide to RV Campgrounds in the Florida Keys

Florida Keys Mile-Marker Guide

Archive of articles about the Florida Keys and Key West

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