Hurricane Irma destroyed my favorite tent campgrounds in the Florida Keys — Long Key State Park and the Sandspur campground at Bahia Honda State Park — dramatically limiting the options for car campers with tents.
But you can still find a few places to drive your stakes in the ground.
Expect serious competition for any campsite in the Keys during the peak winter season (January-March), spiny lobster sport season (July 24-25) 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.
Also see our Guide the RV Campgrounds in the Florida Keys
Best tent camping in the Keys
Curry Hammock State Park (Middle Keys) – Curry Hammock is a beautiful campground with access to a picturesque beach and water sports. My nephew loves kite-surfing at this park, and it’s an excellent base for kayaking secluded paddle trails, the open ocean or Florida Bay on the other side of the island. 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 an adjacent 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, charcoal grill, water and electric service. There is a central restroom with hot showers. All sites are $36 per night plus tax and a $6.70 reservation fee per stay. Florida residents over age 65 enjoy a 50% discount. Read more.
Curry Hammock State Park, 56200 Overseas Highway, Marathon, FL 33050. For park information, call the ranger station at (305) 289-2690. For reservations up to 11 months in advance, call (800) 326-3521 (8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern), TDD (888) 433-0287 or visit the park’s web site floridastateparks.org/park/Curry-Hammock
Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge (Lower Keys) – 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. Be aware that RVs are also allowed to drydock in this area (but generators are banned). Tenters gravitate to the waterfront sites, Sites 210-214 and 241-248, or along a boat basin, Sites 215-220 and Sites 249-260, where you can dock your boat for an additional charge (75 cents per foot per day). Waterfront rustic sites are $56/night; interior sites are $53. (2019 rates) Discounts available for longer stays. This campground is on the approach to Big Pine Key, just past Bahia Honda State Park. Read more.
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.
Key Largo Kampground and Marina (Upper Keys) – When I last visited this campground, I found that the primitive tent sites were shady and comfortable, although new tent sites have been added that don’t look as comfortable. While this park is geared towards RV camping with waterfront sites and private dockage, it is not jammed with RV’s in summer and 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 for $40 per night, $44 with electric, and $50 for a water view. (2019 rates).
Key Largo Kampground and Marina, 101551 Overseas Hwy, Key Largo, FL 33037. Phone: (305) 451-1431 www.keylargokampground.com
Boyd’s Key West Campground (Key West/Stock Island) – Tent sites in the primitive camping area are close together, separated by a token 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. Waterfront tent sites in season (Oct 15-April 30) are $87, interior sites are $69. Off-season, waterfront tent sites are $71, interior sites are $61. (2019 rates) Discounts are offered if you book a full week. Read more.
Boyd’s Key West Campground, 6401 Maloney Avenue, Key West, FL 33040. (305) 294-1465. boydscampground.com
Jolly Roger Travel Park (Middle Keys) – This RV campground may seem like an odd choice for tent camping, but the tent sites on an “island” at the marina are actually quite cool, comfortable and on the water where the bayside sunsets are amazing. If the island is booked, there are shady tent sites with water and electric along the east side of the campground. Easy access to the boat ramp and docks, two swimming pools, showers and restrooms round out the amenities. Tent sites are $73 per night, plus 12.5% tax, for 4 people. Discounts available for week-long stays.
Jolly Roger Travel Park, 59275 Overseas Highway, Marathon, FL 33050. (305) 289-0404. http://jrtp.com/
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park (Upper Keys) — 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 better tent campgrounds at Long Key State Park and Bahia Honda due to Hurricane Irma. 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, is the snorkeling, and the 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 plus $4.50 tax per night, and a $6.70 booking fee per stay. Read more.
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 (8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern), TDD (888) 433-0287 or online at floridastateparks.org
Dry Tortugas National Park (Key West) – 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. Passage aboard the Yankee Freedom is $200 per adult, $145 per child 6-16 (2019 rate). The 15 campsites are first-come, first-serve (no reservations) and cost $15 cash per person per night, payable when you arrive. For additional detail on camping, read this story.
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).