No matter where you go when kayaking Bahia Honda State Park, you can’t miss the key thing that makes it special: The water.
The waters around Bahia Honda Key have a clarity and a color that are out of your dreams. So blue. So transparent. If it’s a calm day, peering into the shallows is like snorkeling; you see everything from fish to sharks to conch shells.
This Florida Keys state park, 45 miles up the Overseas Highway from Key West, also has the best beaches in the Keys, a picturesque historic bridge and some of the most sought-after campsites and cabins in the Florida State Park system.
If you’re lucky enough to spend time here, getting out on the water is one of the best ways to experience Bahia Honda.
Visitors with just an hour or two can rent kayaks at the park and explore the Atlantic coastline.
Those with a bit more time and kayak experience can venture over open water to Little Bahia Honda Island, a speck in the distance.
Those looking for a half day or a full day of kayaking Bahia Honda State Park can explore the serene bay side of island or even circumnavigate the island. (You can’t take rental kayaks to the bay side of the island, so this is only for those who bring their own kayaks.)
A calm day destination when kayaking Bahia Honda Island State Park
If the seas are calm, the weather is clear and you’re comfortable in a kayak, the trip to Little Bahia Honda — two-thirds-of-a-mile over open water.
Whether you rent a kayak from the park or bring your own, you head out from the beach-front kayak launch on Loggerhead Beach. From here, you can see the tiny tropical island called Little Bahia Honda in the distance.
It’s only a half hour paddle to the island, a small outcropping of ancient coral reef rocks. A scraggly tree has managed to grow on it and the side facing the state park has a bit of a sandy beach, although it is studded with rocks.
On a Saturday morning, we got an early start and arrived at the island before anyone else, a strategy I recommend. You can’t beat the feeling of having your own little island all to yourself. (By the time we left, four other kayaks had arrived.)
The island is about 300 feet across, surrounded by rocks that extend into the water. From the island you gaze over a beautiful expanse of turquoise water at the historic saddleback bridge and the state park. Stunning!
The island itself is a rock garden of tide pools. When waves wash over the rocks, the water flows in little waterfalls from pool to pool.
The rocks around the island are a good place to snorkel. While these coral rocks are thousands of years old and are not living coral, they do attract a variety of fish.
Snorkeling around the island, we were thrilled to find three queen conchs with the mollusks inside the intensely pink inner chamber. (Conchs are protected species in Florida and it is against the law to remove a living conch. The conch you eat throughout the Keys is imported from elsewhere in the Caribbean.)
Little Bahia Honda was just about perfect, including the lack of litter, despite its obvious popularity.
Kayaking to the bay side of Bahia Honda and/or circumnavigating Bahia Honda
We visited when the wind was so strong that the kayak concession was closed at the Bahia Honda State Park and kayaking in the ocean was impossible.
We had a great day of paddling, however, putting in at the boat launch at the marina and heading under the new bridge to explore the bay side of the island.
The water on the bay side was flat and crystal clear. As we paddled over the shallows along the mangrove-lined island, we spotted four or five small sharks, a ray, a sea star and any number of fish.
Shallow areas with sandy white bottoms made the water look vivid blue and, with the exception of two passing power boats, we had the whole expanse to ourselves all morning.
When we got to the channel between Ohio Key and Bahia Honda, however, our easy paddling ended. The wind blew straight at us and the tide ran strongly against us. As hard as we paddled, we stayed in one place.
Let that be a warning to you: Before you head out, check on the timing of the tides. When going through the Ohio Key-Bahia Honda channel, you want to paddle in whichever direction the tide is running.
In our case, the Atlantic was so windy, we were better off returning the way we came — on the bayside.
We didn’t get to paddle along the Atlantic shore, but we explored it on foot from the beach. At low tide, the northeastern end of the island is surrounded by shallow water and sandbars that extend a distance out.
If you have conditions conducive for circumnavigating Bahia Honda, it is about a 6 mile trip. Strong kayakers can do it in three hours. If you dawdle, pause and take pictures, however, you could spend the whole day, and it will be quite a day.
You’ll remember the spectacular waters of Bahia Honda long after you’ve returned home.
Planning your outing kayaking Bahia Honda State Park
Bahia Honda State Park
36850 Overseas Highway
Big Pine Key, Florida 33043
Admission is $8 per vehicle plus 50 cents per person (a Monroe County tax)
Renting kayaks: The concession at Bahia Honda State Park charges $18 an hour for a double kayak and $12 an hour for a single. They do not encourage kayakers to go to Little Bahia Honda Island (but they don’t forbid it.) They do not allow kayaks to go under the old Saddleback bridge to the bayside. These sit-on-top kayaks are best for exploring the beach area.
Florida Rambler has a complete guide to visiting Bahia Honda State Park, including informaton on the campgrounds and cabins.
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The author, Bonnie Gross, travels with her husband David Blasco, discovering off-the-beaten path places to hike, kayak, bike, swim and explore. Florida Rambler was founded in 2010 by Bonnie and fellow journalist Bob Rountree, two long-time Florida residents who have spent decades exploring the Florida outdoors. Their articles have been published in the Sun Sentinel, the Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel, The Guardian and Visit Florida.