Once the site of a luxury resort for the rich and famous, Long Key State Park had long been a favorite beach-side camping spot in the Florida Keys. Hurricane Irma changed that in 2017.
In 2020, the beautiful long string of campsites that stretched along the beach remains closed, possibly to reopen in 2021. There are four tent-only campsites remaining (and they’re absolute gems.)
But Long Key has more to offer than just camping. It makes a terrific place to spend a few hours hiking, beachcombing, swimming, snorkeling and kayaking.
Making the most of a day visit to Long Key State Park
The main beach offers picnic tables with grills and an outdoor shower, as well as snorkeling, swimming and kayaking.
Kayaks are also available for rent or you can launch your own and explore the shoreline.
The park offers the 1.1-mile Golden Orb nature trail, which starts with a boardwalk and takes visitors out to the beach and through mangrove swamp, coastal berm, salt plan and rockland hammock habitats.( An informative trail guide explains what those are.)
As a testament to how much Hurricane Irma impacted this park, the trail brochure for the Golden Orb trail notes that the native Golden Silk Orb Weaver spider, for which the trail is named, has rarely been spotted since the storm.
The park is on the Great Florida Birding Trail, with 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.
Where that trail meets the beach, you’ll find a beach area with a chickee hut, picnic tables and a pretty platform framed with wooden lattice work that looks perfect for a pop-up beach wedding. (It can’t be reserved.)
Near the beach area, there’s another post-Irma addition — a small exhibit showing where the storm storm exposed four railroad ties from Henry Flagler’s Overseas Railroad that had been buried for decades.
History of Long Key State Park
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, returning to his cottage to edit his morning’s work.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Long Key: Fishing capital of the world
Fishing in the Middle Keys is legendary, among the best you’ll find anywhere. Just ask Zane Grey.
You 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.
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.
Fly-fishing on the flats off the campground is very popular. You can wade offshore from most of the island, in some places for hundreds of yards.
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.
Camping at Long Key State Park: Not many sites, but they’re gems
We look forward to the day those beachfront camping spots re-open at Long Key State Park.
In the meantime, a few tents-only campsites remain open near the day-use beach area. These campsites have the advantage of being right on the beach, but away from the traffic noise of the Overseas Highway.
But they are, as you’d expect, very difficult to reserve.
Here are the details on Long Key State Park camping:
- There are three tent-only campsites you can reserve. For reservations go to reserve.floridastateparks.org or call 1-800-326-3521, Monday-Friday, from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. up to 11 months in advance.
- There are two walk-up tent-only campsites that can be reserved each day in person. Getting these can be tricky, though, as once you luck out and get one of these sites, you have until 1 p.m. the next day to extend your stay for up to two weeks. So these campsites do not necessarily turn over each day and they don’t necessarily become available until 1 p.m. Counting on these spaces is clearly for gamblers.
- There are two group campsites for youth groups, churches, etc., which are reserved by calling the park office, (305) 664-4815.
These campsites share a restroom facility that is currently limited to cold water only.
Looking at the calendar of reservable dates as of June 2021, you could reserve these sites for a smattering of dates in the buggy summer and with some availability in late fall/early winter 2021. Like all state park campsites and cabins, you can reserve only 11 months in advance.
Camping fees at Long Key State Park
Campground fees at Long Key State Park are $43 a night. Florida residents over 65 get a discount, as do those with a Social Security disability certificate or a 100 percent disability certificate from the Federal Government. (Proof is required.)
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.
67400 Overseas Highway
Long Key, FL 33001
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. Boat ramp and dockage available.
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
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.
CURRY HAMMOCK STATE PARK
Phone: (305) 289-2690
56200 Overseas Highway
Marathon , FL 33050
I’ve visited this park many times. Same price 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 Resort – Duck Key 61 Hawks Cay Blvd Duck Key, FL, 33050 United States, 1-866-925-4159
Moderate: Lime Tree Bay Resort – Long Key (1 miles) 68500 Overseas Hwy Long Key, FL, 33001 United States, 1-866-573-4235
Budget: Edgewater Lodge – Long Key. US Highway 1 MM 65,5, Long Key, 33001,
Budget: Fiesta Key RV Resort Cabins – Long 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. 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
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.
- Mile marker guide with dozens of stops to help make the most of your drive south.
- Bicycling the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail
- Florida Keys wildlife: Places to see animals
- Tiki bars: Soak up the Keys atmosphere
- 12 great kayak outings in the Keys
- Top 10 pit stops on Overseas Highway
- Beaches in the Florida Keys
Things to do in the Middle Keys
- The Old Seven Mile Bridge and Pigeon Key
- Indian Key: Kayak into history
- Feed the tarpon at Robbie’s Marina
- Sea Turtle Hospital in Marathon
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Veteran journalists who worked together at Fort Lauderdale’s SunSentinel newspaper, Bonnie and Bob founded FloridaRambler.com in 2010 to explore the natural, authentic Florida, writing about their natural interests in hiking, biking, paddling, RV and tent camping, wildlife, unique lodging, dining and historic places.