As full-time RVers, we dreamed of camping the winter months away in the warmth and sunshine of the Florida Keys. With a lot of planning, a bit of luck, and some perseverance, we booked four consecutive weeks of RV camping at State Parks in the Florida Keys for less than half the price of private campgrounds.
Read on to find out how we snagged a coveted stay at the best park for camping in the Florida Keys at Bahia Honda State Park and built out a Florida Keys winter camping itinerary worthy of camper envy – for half the price of other campgrounds in the area.
About Camping In The Florida Keys
As full-time RVers, colder winter temperatures typically have us setting our sites on warmer temperatures. Two of the most popular places for RVers to spend the winter months are the deserts of the Southwest and Florida.
In the landscape of Florida, some of the places most synonymous with paradise are found in the small strip of land at the very southern tip of the state, the Florida Keys.
Unfortunately, there is a catch… camping in the Florida Keys can be extremely expensive (we are talking over $150/night) and more budget-friendly spots in State Parks are EXTREMELY difficult to come by.
So what do you do if you dream of a winter visit to the Florida Keys and don’t want to break the bank?
You get prepared, you plan ahead, and you hope to have a bit of luck on your side!
We want you to have the best RV and camping experiences, so we have compiled everything we learned to help make the planning and preparation phase for your own Florida Keys camping trip a breeze.
Let’s dive in!
State Parks In The Florida Keys
There are several State Parks in the Florida Keys offering white sand beaches, bright blue waters, and ample opportunity to get out on the water. While not all offer camping, there is certainly no shortage of things to do in these protected natural wonders.
A complete list of State Parks in the Florida Keys:
- Long Key State Park
- John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
- Indian Key Historic State Park
- Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park
- Curry Hammock State Park
- Bahia Honda State Park
- Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
There are 3 main State Parks in the Florida Keys that offer larger sites perfect for RV stays. We spent 2 weeks at both Bahia Honda State Park and John Pennekcamp Coral Reef State Park and were able to work during the days and spend our evenings and weekends biking along the beach in the sunshine and snorkeling with marine life in the crystal clear waters.
Is there anything better than that!? We didn’t think so.
State Parks in the Florida Keys That Allow RV Camping:
- Bahia Honda State Park
- Curry Hammock State Park
- John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Note: There is also a military campground in Key West, Sigsbee RV Park (for Military Use with ID Card, Active, National Guard, Reservists, Retired, DAV, DoD Civilians)
Everything You Need To Know About Camping At Bahia Honda State Park
This article focuses on Bahia Honda State Park, as it is held by many at the very top of the Florida Keys State Parks to visit and camp. It has 3 separate camping areas, a marina, some of the best snorkeling in the Keys, as well as the longest strip of sandy beach found anywhere in the Florida Keys.
Don’t worry though, as we successfully booked campsites at multiple Florida Keys State Parks, later in the article we will also provide the exact process and strategies we used that will work for any park you want to stay at. If you would prefer to jump straight there, click here.
About Bahia Honda State Park
Located at mile marker 37 in the Florida Keys, Bahia Honda State Park is home to award-winning beaches and a historic bridge that attracts tons of visitors each year.
With 500 acres to explore and sandy beaches on an island chain without much beach to come by, you won’t want to miss the chance to visit this truly one-of-a-kind Florida Keys State Park.
While we may be a bit biased, we believe the best way to fully experience the park is by staying at one of the park’s campgrounds.
Next, we break down the differences between the 3 camping areas in the park and considerations to keep in mind as you prepare to book your campsite!
Camping At Bahia Honda State Park
Campsites in Bahia Honda State Park are hard-packed gravel/stone and have either water and electric hook-ups or no hook-ups.
There is an $8/vehicle entrance fee to visit the park, but this is included in your camping reservation. The park is closed from sunset to sunrise, but you’ll be given a gate code to enter the park after hours along with your reservation so you can come and go as you please.
Reservations for Bahia Honda State Park can be made up to 11 months in advance. Starting in January 2024, Florida residents will have the first opportunity to book Florida State Park campsites and cabins, with non-residents having to wait an additional 30 days to book sites.
- If you are a Florida Resident you will need to log into your Florida Parks account and provide additional proof of residency to register for this Florida Residence booking preference
- 48 sites (sites 1-48) that can accommodate small tents to larger RVs up to 40 feet long
- This campground contains a bathhouse with restrooms and hot showers, as well as a dump station.
- Waterfront sites are 12 to 25 but note that these are also closest to road noise from US 1 Overseas Highway
- Sites 12 and 13 are by the campers’ marina (where you can dock your boat or jet ski during your stay) and 14 is on the channel
- This camping loop is located closest to Calusa and Loggerhead beaches, as well as the concession/dive shop
- Includes sites 49 to 72 that can accommodate smaller RVs and tents
- Maximum RV length is 23 feet, from hitch to bumper. Larger camping rigs cannot navigate the sharp turns in this camping loop and the sites themselves are smaller.
- This camping loop also has restroom and shower facilities and is located right next to Sandspur Beach
Bayside Camping Area
- Sites 73 to 80 are non-electric sites perfect for tent camping.
- These primitive sites have a picnic table, grill, and water.
- There is a small restroom located here, but campers must travel a half-mile to Buttonwood Campground to use its bathhouse with hot showers.
- Three duplex cabins on stilts overlook the bay. Each cabin is equipped with a full kitchen, pots & pans, cooking utensils, and linens. Cabins have central heating and cooling, two bedrooms, a living room with a futon, a kitchen, a dining room, a full bath, and a porch. A wood deck on ground level with a picnic table and grill provides an ideal setting for al fresco dining. These cabins each accommodate up to six people, except for cabin 2.
- Cabin 2 has a wheelchair lift. This cabin accommodates up to four people and has central heating and cooling, one bedroom, a living room with a sofa bed, a kitchen/dining room, a full bath, and a porch. A wood deck on ground level with a picnic table and grill provides an ideal setting for al fresco dining.
- Pets are not permitted in cabins
- Minimum 2-night stay
NOTE: To access the Bayside Campground and cabins, vehicles must be able to go under the new Bahia Honda Bridge, which has a LOW OVERHEAD CLEARANCE of only 6 feet 8 inches.
Things To Do at Bahia Honda State Park
There is certainly no shortage of things to do during your stay at the park:
- Beaches: There are 3 beach areas open to swimming, snorkeling, and water sports in the park: Loggerhead Beach and Sandspur Beach on the Atlantic Ocean side of the park and Calusa Beach on the Gulf of Mexico side of the park.
- Snorkeling: Snorkeling is allowed from any of the beaches in the park. You can bring your own gear, or purchase or rent the gear from the concession/dive shop located at the marina.
- Boating: There are 2 boat ramps and a 19-slip marina located in the park. You can also rent ocean kayaks from the park.
- Guided Trips to Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary: Take a guided snorkeling tour to Looe Key, one of the most beautiful reefs in the Florida Keys just a few miles out to sea from the park. If you are interested in scuba diving or have people in your group who would prefer to dive while you snorkel, we highly recommend trips to Looe Key through Captain Hooks, just a few miles down the road from Bahia Honda State Park.
- Biking & Walking Paths: There are around 3.5 miles of surface road perfect for exploring the park on foot or by bike
- Sunset: Bahia Honda is famous for beautiful sunsets over the Old Bridge. Don’t miss it!
Day Trips From Bahia Honda
While there is certainly plenty to do in the park itself, we highly recommend branching out and exploring other areas in the Florida Keys as well.
As this is the most southern State Park for camping available in the Florida Keys, it can be a perfect base for a day trip (or two) to Key West.
Here are a few stops you shouldn’t miss during your visit to Key West:
- Beach, snorkeling, and the fort tour at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park
- The famous sunset at Mallory Square
- Duval Street
- The Wharf
- Walk along the waterfront marinas
- Mile Marker 0
- Southernmost Point Buoy
- Hemmingway House with the 6-toed cats
- Key West Lighthouse
For an extra special trip, you can’t miss the opportunity to visit Dry Tortugas National Park.
This is truly a bucket list experience and typically books out months in advance. The park is located 70 miles from Key West in the Gulf Of Mexico and features a historic fort from the Civil War, blue waters that are out of this world, and an abundance of marine life living in this section of the third-largest coral barrier reef in the world.
There are 3 ways to arrive at Dry Tortugas National Park:
- A Ferry: The Yankee Freedom is a 2.5 hour ferry ride each way that includes entrance to the park, snorkel gear, and breakfast and lunch. Trips leave from the Key West Ferry Terminal at 8am and arrive back in Key West around 5:30 pm. The ferry costs $210/person ($195/person if you have a National Parks Pass).
- We chose this option for visiting and had a perfect day exploring Fort Jefferson and snorkeling
- A seaplane ride: Key West Seaplane Adventures offers morning, afternoon, or full-day tours to Dry Tortugas National Park. Travel time is cut down from 2.5 hours to just 40 minutes and rates range from $450-$792/adult for half and full-day tours.
- Private boat: You will need to receive permits from the NPS to dock at Dry Tortugas National Park, but if you have the means visiting here with your own boat can give you much more flexibility.
How To Book Highly Competitive Florida State Park Campsites
If you have ever thought about booking a Florida State Park campground, you may have had the experience of going into the reservation system only to find that all sites are booked with no availability in sight.
Unfortunately, unless you get extremely lucky and happen upon a cancellation, to snag a spot at a Florida Keys State Park you will have to be online and ready to book sites the minute the reservation window opens.
The longer you want your stay to be (there is a 14-day maximum for any individual stay) the more difficult it may be to book. We highly encourage you to be flexible when thinking about your stay as you prepare to enter the reservation system.
Maybe you have to arrive on a Monday instead of a Sunday, move sites mid-stay, or leave 1 day earlier than you would like… this could be better than hoping something better will come along only to be left with no site at all.
Steps For Booking Florida State Park Campgrounds
As full-time RVers, we travel all around North America visiting the best National Parks, State Parks, and areas of natural beauty.
Throughout our 2.5 years of full-time RV travel we’ve racked up many attempts at booking hard-to-reserve campgrounds in State Parks and National Parks. After lots of practice, we’ve developed a solid system that increases our odds of snagging these prime campsites.
Using these steps, we have successfully booked 2 week stays at places like Bahia Honda State Park and John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in the Florida Keys. We’ve also booked two week reservations inside popular national parks like Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and Gros Morne National Park and Terra Nova National Park in Newfoundland.
We weren’t always lucky enough to get exactly the dates or sites we wanted and sometimes did not get things on our first try. With perseverance and flexibility, we do believe you can secure campsites at even the most popular and hard to reserve State Parks and National Parks!
Here is exactly how we do it:
1- Go to the National Park or State Park website to find out the reservation window for the campgrounds you want to stay at. Keep in mind that for Florida State Parks this is 11 months out, and for many other State Parks and National Parks, this can be anywhere from 6 months or more out. Once you know the reservation windows, set some sort of reminder for the exact date the window opens for your desired stay (and the exact time that window opens) so that you will not forget.
2 – Research specific campgrounds inside each State or National Park to see which campgrounds can accommodate your size RV. For help with big-picture trip planning, using a tool like RV Trip Wizard keeps things organized and well thought out.
3 – Use campground photos and things like Campendium Reviews or a site like Campsite Photos to research different spots that can fit your RV. Write down a prioritized list of sites that you want to stay in. Don’t forget to consider things like potential obstructions for Starlink if you will be relying on that for connectivity during your stay!
4- Log in to your account about 30 minutes prior to the reservation window opening to make sure you are in the system and know which site or sites you are going after. If you are tag-teaming this with a partner or spouse make sure they are ready as well! It doesn’t hurt to rehearse what buttons you will need to click or what information you might have to input (RV information, plate numbers, credit card info) to secure your site. The quicker you are the better your chances!
5-Do one final refresh of the page in the seconds leading up to the opening of the reservation window to make sure you are active and ready to be let into the site for booking. Things can start acting funny during this time, so try to be patient.
6 – Grab your site, remember to be flexible if you can, and get everything purchased before the time to hold the site in your cart expires.
7 – Take a deep breath. You did it! And if you didn’t, try not to panic. The best thing you can do is get prepared for another go. Use the expert tips below to help you:
- Always make sure you have created a Florida State Parks (or other relevant account) and are logged in prior to the opening of the booking window. This prevents any snafus like losing your site due to being booted out of the system
- Use a world clock for the most accurate time and be sure to refresh your page as the time approaches so that you can get into the system as soon as the booking window opens
- Log into the reservation system the night before the booking window you are hoping to book. As people can book 2 weeks out, it is possible that many sites may not be available for the day you want to arrive. This allows you to see what sites are available that you will be able to choose from. With this, rank the sites you want to try to get so that you can spend less time scanning once the booking window opens. Remember, the key is to be AQAP… AS QUICK AS POSSIBLE!
- Even if you do not get a site at first, don’t give up just yet. Stay in the reservation system for at least 30 minutes (or even a bit more). What happens is that sites will disappear once they are put into someone’s cart. This DOES NOT mean that the purchase will be completed. Whether people have technical issues, have a partner who also has a site in their cart, or decide ultimately they don’t want to go through with it, sites may become available again once the initial time to hold a site in your cart expires. If you are patient and ready you can pounce on those sites!
- Use multiple computers and multiple accounts to increase your odds of getting a site.
Using these steps and these tips, not only were we able to book 4 consecutive weeks of camping in Florida Keys State Parks, but my parents were too! That’s 2 sites booked at each State Park for the same 4 consecutive weeks!
Preparation and planning clearly go a long way. Christmas in the Florida Keys was definitely memorable!
Popular trips and excursions in the Florida Keys
If you want to experience more marine life but are not too keen on getting into the water, a glass bottom boat tour is a fantastic way to get up close and personal with the colorful fish and coral reefs that can be found in the waters around the Florida Keys.
We had a great experience on the glass bottom boat tour directly from John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, but there are also other similar trips offered throughout the Keys.
Sitting towards the middle of the Florida Keys, Islamorada is known as the sportfishing capital of the world and is also known for its coral reefs.
There is plenty to do and see in Key West and it is a must-visit spot if you are visiting the Florida Keys, During the holiday season, the entire city is decked out in lights and decorations and there is always a spot to grab a drool-worthy bite or a drink along the waterfront. Pair that with a fun excursion and you can craft the perfect day trip!