Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge and Campground
Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge and Campground is a popular getaway for anglers who skip the crowded fishing meccas of Islamorada and Marathon for the relative peace and quiet of Big Pine Key.
An abundance of fishing pole racks throughout the campground are testimony to the mission: People come here to fish.
We stopped here to camp to see if it is worthy. We think it is, especially if you like to fish and mingle with other anglers.
Arriving at Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge and Campground
Our arrival was awkward. There was a chain across the entry gate and no place to pull up in our truck and travel trailer to register without blocking access to either the boat ramp, the gate or the parking lot in front of the store.
Lacking options, I pulled up to the chained entryway, only to create an immediate backup of vehicles trying to enter the campground, and had to back up my rig onto the roadway to let them through.
I would later learn that I should have parked on the very narrow shoulder across Long Beach Road. Not a very good option.
There are three basic campground sections: canal-front with dockage, RV sites with full hookups and a vast primitive area (no hookups) for tents and RVs.
Other than a few trees scattered about, there is little shade and no privacy between sites.
However, we found our site to be level, spacious enough, easy to back into and conveniently placed hookups for electric, water and sewer. Most of the other sites were similar, although a few appeared to be tricky back-ins.
While our section of the campground had many open sites during our May 2017 visit, the nearby canal-front sites were booked solid, as were the docks at each site.
May is probably the slowest month of the year in the Florida Keys, a lull between the busy winter season and summer’s lobster madness.
It’s important to note that dogs are not allowed because of the Key Deer that frequently roam through the campground, and RVers who choose to boondock in the primitive area are not allowed to use generators.
Rates for sites with full hookups start at $69 up to $76 daily for canal-front (2017). Weekly and monthly rates are also available.
Rustic sites without hookups range from $43 (interior) to $46 (oceanfront).
Lodging for non-campers
The fishing lodge has about a dozen motel rooms, some on the canal with dockage. Although we didn’t get to see the inside of any of the rooms, they appeared to be classic old-style Keys efficiency units.
There are also a half-dozen mobile-home rental units.
Rates for the motel efficiency units range from $134 to $149 daily, and the mobile homes run $159-$169.
There are also lodge rooms above the store from $139-$169.
Other than the busy boat ramp, the most popular spot in the whole campground was the above-ground swimming pool and recreation hall. You would never know the campground itself was more than three-quarters empty. There were constant ripples of children’s laughter all day long.
There is also a “sun beach” where you can step down over a short seawall into shallow water.
A gas fire pit on the beach is a popular gathering place in the evening for campers.
The fishing lodge store was well-stocked with fishing tackle, as you might expect, common camping-related products and your basic convenience-store selection of grocery items.
There’s a Winn-Dixie Supermarket just a few miles away in the Big Pine Shopping Center, which is set back from the Overseas Highway, hidden behind a thick wall of vegetation on Key Deer Boulevard. (Turn north at the only traffic light on Big Pine.)
There are five Wi-Fi hot spots throughout the campground that we found to be barely adequate, although the signal was stronger outside our travel trailer. I think we would have had a better connection with a Wi-Fi extender and signal booster.
In addition to the 19 dock slips assigned to canal-front campers, there are another 43 slips for other campers and day-use visitors, as well as a boat basin in the primitive campground with 33 boat slips.
The boat ramp is located near the store, and there is boat trailer parking for day-use visitors.
Dockage fees are 50 cents per foot per day, whether your boat is in the water or on a trailer, and length is limited to 27 feet unless pre-arranged. There is no ship-to-shore power.
Although we didn’t see many kayaks or paddleboards on this visit, ocean access is not a problem, and we know of dozens of paddle trails in the area, both north towards No Name Key and into the backcountry, or south to Long Beach on the protected and isolated south side of Big Pine Key.
There is also excellent access to paddle trails from nearby Bahia Honda State Park or No Name Key, just off Watson Boulevard on Big Pine. This is noted Keys paddle guru Bill Keogh’s home territory, and you’ll often find him at his Big Pine Kayak Adventures at the Old Wooden Bridge Cottages and Marina.
You can launch there for a small fee and get some sage advice about the local paddle experience. You can also rent kayaks from Bill or join a tour into the backcountry. Cross the bridge onto No Name Key keep going straight until the end there is another public launch site.
Read more about Bill in this article: Classic Keys cabins are good kayaking base.
Hiking the nature trail
The major natural attraction on Big Pine Key is the Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge, which basically weaves through and around the island’s residential area.
One section of the refuge touches the south side of the campground, and there’s a mile-long nature trail that takes hikers out along the oceanfront to Long Beach.
The trail runs along the oceanfront with branch trails out to remote pocket beaches and coves. On one of these side treks, we discovered two makeshift rafts washed ashore into a small, sheltered cover about a half-mile from the campground. It seemed obvious to us that these rafts were used to transport refugees from Cuba, about 90 miles south of Big Pine across the Florida Straights.
The trail does expose you to the more natural habitat and vegetation that once flourished throughout the Florida Keys before man came along and junked up these precious islands. We did see some bicyclists leave the trail, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Too many low-hanging branches to make it a comfortable ride.
What else is nearby?
Key Deer Wildlife Refuge. For more information about accessing remote areas of the Key Deer Wildlife Refuge, go to the refuge’s visitor center in the Big Pine Shopping Center. The visitor center’s hours change often, although your best bet is on weekends. Here you can get more information about the refuge, including maps of hiking trails. For updates, call 305-872-0774 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit Spotting Key deer still a thrill
The Blue Hole. A rare fresh-water pocket in the Florida Keys, the Blue Hole sits in an old quarry surrounded by dense sub-tropical vegetation and attracts a variety of wildlife, including key deer and alligators, rarely seen in the Florida Keys. The Blue Hole is located a few miles north of the Overseas Highway on Key Deer Boulevard.
Bahia Honda State Park. With a beach that is rated among the best in Florida, Bahia Honda State Park offers camping, cabins, boat ramps, a marina with canoeing and kayaking tours and rentals, nature trails, tour boats and concession as well as the pristine beaches that make it famous. Read more in these articles: Bahia Honda State Park: Nice beaches, but historic bridge is the star and Kayaking Bahia Honda State Park: Clear water and a tiny island to discover
Looe Key Reef. One of the more spectacular coral reefs in the Florida Keys, protected by the Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary. Several outfitters on Big Pine Key offer snorkel and dive trips out to the reef. Try the concession at Bahia Honda State Park, MM 37, (305) 872-3210, Strike Zone Charters on Big Pine, MM 27.5, (305) 872-9863, or the Looe Key Reef Dive Center, MM 27.5, (305) 872-2215.