Curry Hammock State Park is one of those destinations in the Florida Keys that you’ll pass right by unless you know it’s there, and that’s the beauty of it.
What’s special here? Camping on the beach, kayak and hiking trails, bicycling, swimming, snorkeling, and it’s a hot spot for high-flying wave riders on kite boards.
The small day-use area has picnic pavilions, canoe and kayak rentals, a rest room, and access to a sandy beach.
Typical of Keys beaches, the ocean off Curry Hammock is shallow, the surf modest and the currents are weak, ideal for families with small children to play in the water.
Adjacent but separate from the day-use area, the campground loops around to the beach with beautiful ocean views offering some of the most appealing (and hardest to book) campsites in the Keys.
Effective January 1, 2024, Florida residents will have a 30-day head start to book campsites at Florida State Parks, reducing the reservation window for non-residents to 10 months in advance. This new law does not apply to state forests, national parks, county or municipal campgrounds, which have their own rules.
Curry Hammock State Park is on a migration route, a featured stop along the Florida Birding Trail and a magnet for a wide variety of hawks and osprey. In the fall, it’s the headqaurters for the citizen-science Florida Keys Hawkwatch. Volunteers staff a viewing outpost at he park every day from Sept. 1 to Oct. 31 identifying and counting birds overhead.
Curry Hammock site is famous in birding circles for the number of peregrine falcons that are spotted here. On a world-record day in 2015, volunteers counted more than 1,506 peregrine falcons in one day!
Camping on the beach at Curry Hammock State Park
The park’s 28 campsites for tents or RVs have water, electric, picnic tables and grills, and the campground is far enough from the Overseas Highway that road noise is non-existent.
Like the other state park campgrounds in the Keys (Pennekamp and Bahia Honda), Reservations may be made up to 11 months in advance by calling (800) 326-3521 or visiting the state park reservation website.
With its prime location, it’s very hard to reserve a site at Curry Hammock State Park. (A recent spot-check shows not a single day available in the next 11 months.)
Reservations are not accepted at the ranger station, although same-day walk-ins can accommodated if there is a same-day cancellation or a camper leaves early.
The kayak trail at Curry Hammock State Park
At first glance, the kayak trail at Curry Hammock State Park may seem to be ordinary. But we found on a recent sunny January day that it might be the ideal kayak experience for many Keys visitors. It is an especially good place to rent a paddleboard because with the shallow clear water, you’ll have the best vantage point to appreciate the sea life underwater.
You’ll need about two hours (more if you go to the sandbar) and you can rent a single kayak for two hours for $17.20 at the ranger station. (A tandem or stand up paddleboard is $21.50.) That makes this about the cheapest and easiest place to paddle in the Keys.
There are two loops to the kayak trail, a 1.2 mile loop through the mangroves and a 1.3-mile loop from there around Deer Key.
The mangrove trail starts in a lagoon where manatees are sometimes spotted (we weren’t that lucky) and then passes through a very pretty and well-groomed tunnel of mangroves and under a bridge. When it emerges from the bridge, the waterway widens.
Here the water is shallow and sparkling clear, perfect for admiring thousands of upside down jelly fish! These jelly fish (Cassiopeia) look like they could be dubbed Florida snowflakes. They carpet the shallow waters in a great variety of sizes and shades of color. By they way, look but don’t touch: They have a mild but itchy sting.
When you paddle into more open water, look for rays (we saw one fly by underwater) and sharks. We continued paddling around Deer Key, admiring the mansions on the adjoining private land and watching for wildlife.
From Deer Key, if it’s calm, you can paddle out to the sandbar (about a quarter mile.) When the weather is warm, people paddle out at low tide and just sit on the sandbar with beverages and snacks. The sandbar is marked on the Curry Hammock State Park kayaking map available at the ranger station.
If planning to paddle, ask the rangers about tides because at the lowest tides, the mangrove trail is too shallow to kayak.
Kayaks and canoes can be launched from the day-use area, or from the campground. The park rents kayaks: $17.20 for a single for two hours and $21.50 for a tandem. Stand up paddle boards are $21.50 for two hours.
A ranger-led kayak tour is offered Wednesday mornings (call ahead).
Boating and fishing at Curry Hammock State Park
There are no facilities for sailboats or power boats in the park, and the nearest boat ramp is three miles west in Marathon, next to the Island Fish Company tiki bar.
Boats must anchor offshore, and campers swim or wade to shore. Ask park rangers where you can anchor. Scout your mooring before you launch, and be aware of tides.
There is a sheltered cove on the east side of the park, away from the campground, outside the park boundary, but I’ve seen boats anchor there. The cove is sheltered and accessible from the kayak launch.
Off-shore fishing is typical for the Keys — head for the reef! — or cast a fly in the shallows near shore. Just a few miles away, board the Marathon Lady for a half-day of party-boat fishing.
Biking and hiking in Curry Hammock State Park
Ride bikes to the paved Overseas Highway Heritage Trail and pedal a short distance to the Dolphin Research Center to swim with the dolphins, or ride into Marathon and explore the island’s back roads, canals and bays.
The park has a 1.5-mile nature trail that winds through a pristine hardwood hammock that takes hikers to the open waters of Florida Bay. The trailhead is on the bay side (thus not requiring an admission fee.)
Guided beach walks and ranger-led nature hikes are offered Tuesday mornings. As is the case with the kayak tours, reserve your place in advance by calling the ranger station at (305) 289-2690.
Where to eat near Curry Hammock State Park
The Island Fish Company Tiki Bar and Restaurant is the longest tiki bar in the Keys with an exceptional view of Florida Bay. Food is tiki-bar typical, and it’s good.
The Stuffed Pig in Marathon is my breakfast stop, and lunch is a treat at Burdine’s Waterfront Cafe, overlooking Boot Key Harbor — a popular haven for transient boaters.
My wife and I love the Key Colony Inn for a finer, dress casual, dining experience (reservations recommended).
Of course, nothing really beats a grilling a steak or fresh mahi-mahi at your campsite.
If you go to Curry Hammock State Park
Curry Hammock State Park
56200 Overseas Highway — MM 56
Marathon, FL 33050
Ranger Station: (305) 289-2690
Campground Reservations: Reservations may be made up to 11 months in advance by calling (800) 326-3521.
Day-use admission: $5 per vehicle (2-8 people); $2 for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Camping: $36/night plus reservation fee of $6.70 per stay.
Facilities for disabled: Picnic pavilion and rest rooms (with showers) are ADA-accessible in both the day-use and camping areas. Campsite No. 1 is ADA-accessible.
Pets: Yes, but not on the beach or in swimming areas.
Primitive camping: Want to really get away? There are two primitive camping sites you reach via a several mile hike. Primitive campsites are available for $5. To reserve a primitive campsite, call the park at 863-696-1112.
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Bob Rountree is a beach bum, angler and camper who has explored Florida for decades. No adventure is complete without a scenic paddle trail or unpaved road to nowhere. Bob co-founded FloridaRambler.com with fellow journalist Bonnie Gross 14 years ago.