Tropical beaches, snorkeling, kayaking, history, trails, palm trees, butterflies, camping, boat access, and a neat little nature center - did I miss anything? Probably, but all of that (and more) await you at Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys.
Bahia Honda is a 524 acre state park situated on both sides of the Overseas Highway - a mere 37 miles north of Key West - making that a fairly easy 45 minute drive if you choose to camp here. However, there's so much more here than camping, that I opted not to put it solely in the campground section for those that might simply want to spend a day on one of the best beaches the Keys has to offer. I suppose, to be technical, Bahia Honda has THREE really nice beaches the Keys has to offer.
If looking for tropical activities, this park has them. Like the beach? Choose between Calusa Beach on the Gulf of Mexico, Loggerhead Beach on the Atlantic Ocean, or the more remote Sandspur Beach - also on the Atlantic Ocean but further away from all other activities in the park - giving one the "deserted island" feel (except for the Overseas Highway noise that can be heard from all parts of the park - this is a SMALL Key after all - you drove here, not flew). Both Calusa and Sandspur have picnic pavilions which can be used (or reserved for special occasions). There are also those all important bath houses with flush toilets and changing areas - no showers though (except for the outdoor rinse varieties).
Want more than the beach? How about history and science? Head into the Sand and Sea nature center (open 8am - 5pm and free to campers or with paid admission to the park). There one can see displays of the local flora and fauna (named), talk with the rangers asking any question one might have, and view short videos on the park itself (and all it has to offer) and learn about the history of Henry Flagler's rail line to Key West. Take the time and ask to see the video on the 1935 hurricane that devastated the Keys. It's eye-opening - much of it told by survivors - history captured instead of lost to the books of facts.
Finished with that? How about walking the trails? At the end of Sandspur is the Silver Palm Trail - a short (maybe 1/2 mile or less) trail through some native plants (including the largest remaining natural stand of Florida's Silver Palm Trees) and heading out to the beach before you return back to the start. There's an interpretive guide at the beginning that is helpful to pick up and read as you walk. Also, look for the tree snails as you walk by! Can't say I'd ever seen those before!
A second trail - a "shouldn't miss" one at that - is the short hike up to the top of the old train bridge. This is easily accessed from the nature center itself - and has a fabulous view of the entire Key from the top - not to mention the gorgeous water surrounding it. If you're old enough (as I was), you can remember driving on that bridge on earlier trips to the Keys... and marvel at the width of the road (or lack thereof) compared to today's newer versions...
On your way back, head past the restrooms (towards Loggerhead Beach) and stop by the Butterfly Garden to see who's "in." There's a nice chart showing you the names of who you've spied.
Up for more adventure? There's kayaks that can be rented, and there's acres of snorkeling areas in the water. There are also snorkeling trips out to Looe Reef (weather permitting). If you dive, check with a local dive shop about diving Looe Reef. Sadly, weather was not permitting the days we were there, so we couldn't experience those (meaning, of course, that we will HAVE to go back... there is a silver lining to every cloud). Don't have equipment? Gear can be rented in the gift shop area.
Otherwise, there's a marina, small snack shop, gift shop, and, of course, full service camping for those (like us) that like to stay with nature instead of heading to the more expensive condos and motels... There are also 3 duplex cabins that can be rented for those that prefer those (reserve WELL in advance - as early as 11 months prior to your dates).
For camping... there are pluses and minuses. For pluses, obviously the lack of cost has to rank high. Nights here will cost you just over $30/night plus tax - try to get that elsewhere!
Another plus... you're in the middle of all the activity and close enough to drive to Key West or Marathon without much difficulty. We also took an evening to drive to nearby No-Name Key to see the rare Key Deer (a couple islands south - follow signs). We saw several of the critters, both in the "wildlife viewing" sections and also in people's yards in the residential sections (Key Deer are still deer after all!). On our way back we stopped at Pine Key for groceries and Chinese... the closest spots for both.
If you camp here, you also have access to the night ranger programs (NOT available to day trippers). We were able to see closeups of the moon, Saturn, and a nebula as well as get a detailed talk about the stars one of the nights we were there. Very enjoyable.
Another plus for us is we "scored" an oceanfront spot in Sandspur Camping area - meaning it was quiet (less traffic noise), relaxing, and oh, what a view! For tenting (or vans, pop-ups), this is the most ideal section of the park to stay in. Only 9 of the spots are waterfront though (sites 64 - 72). Be aware - sites 49 - 56, 62, 63 look waterfront, but have vegetation. Reserve America is good with descriptions, just make sure you read the details.
As a general note for campers... Few of the sites here are waterfront - just those I mentioned and sites 12 - 25 (though these are on the gulf side and most have a terrific view of the Overseas Highway as well - along with the associated noise). Other sites are in the center of the island. A short additional note for those with small vehicles or tents that don't mind going without electric or showers... The "Bayside Camping Area" has 8 sites just for you (#73 - 80) - remote, but with traffic noise.
So, the minuses? The bathhouse we had had composting toilets... and the ladies side stunk! The showers also had nowhere to sit in the dressing section. While our campsite was great and I would stay there again, the bathhouse was certainly NOT one of our favorites - especially after having had such nice ones at other Florida State Parks. Note, this only applies to the bathhouse at Sandspur Camping area - we didn't get to see the bathhouses at the other sections. Perhaps those are better. For me, I often used the occasion to walk down the beach to the bath house at the beach (proper) section since they had flush toilets. However, that's not always practical - and that section closes at sunset. Still, I got a few nice (extra) walks in. I don't think I ever tire of walking on the beach.
I suppose another minus could be the traffic noise, but having stayed at Boyd's campground in Key West a mere 2 years ago and remember the traffic noise there - from vehicles and planes heading to the airport - give me Bahia Honda any day!
Overall, we really, really, really enjoyed this park and would go back there again easily. Besides, we have to go back - we didn't get to see Looe Reef yet! On a return trip we'd snorkel off the beaches, dive the reef itself, kayak, enjoy ranger programs, the beach, the nature center, the hikes, and a quick side trip to see the Key Deer again (might repeat the Chinese again too as that's awfully convenient after staying till dark to see the deer).
For camping or cabin reservations - all have to go through Reserve America at www.reserveamerica.com. For day trippers - just show up and pay the entrance fee.