Parks in the Keys - your passport to private paradise
The state has stepped in and carved out 10 parks, doing its part to keep some pieces in a “real” if manicured state of being. And these Florida State Parks are terrific. Where else can you camp right on the beach and feel the whole world spread out in front of you while you easily forget the busy road a couple of hundred yards to your back. Two parks can only be reached by boat (Lignumvitae Key and Indian Key) and one is completely underwater (San Pedro).
Some like Fort Zachery Taylor in Key West are popular beach locations and several others offer water-based fun like canoe or kayak rentals and in some cases snorkel trips. There’s swimming, picnicking, kite boarding, fishing and more.
For beach camping (tents and self contained RVs) there is Pennekamp in Key Largo (it also has boat camping), Long Key on Long Key, Curry Hammock on Marathon and Bahia Honda that also has a few cabins for rental. Reservations can be made online and the earlier the better.
Windley Key Geological State Park (mm 84.9) is on the site of the old quarry used to cut fill for Flagler’s railroad. No beach or fishing here, just a quiet look back in time.
As you wander the paths through hardwood hammock and into a couple of the quarry areas the sound of car tires insistently whine out on US 1. But less than 100 feet from that busy road you can see where the rock was blasted and cut out to make the railway that made all this visitation possible.
Before the railroad the keys were all individual little islands only reached by water. Settlements were small except for Key West and the only tourists were well-off Yankee “sports” who could afford the high cost of yachting to the islands. The railroad, a prodigious undertaking led to the roads and now anyone in south Florida with a tank of gas can be here in a couple of hours.
There are many local parks and a few jump out as places to try. Finding beaches on some keys is a challenge but check out Annie’s Beach at mm 73. There are two parking lots for Annie’s connected by a long raised boardwalk through the mangroves that gives access to tiny pocket beaches, your own private piece of paradise. It’s popular so get there early.
There is some nice roadside fishing and picnic area at mm 78 and at mm 100 at the Holiday Inn marina you can head out to Molasses Reef for some excellent snorkeling or a more relaxed glass bottom boat tour on the Princess II. While you are there don’t forget to have a look at the original African Queen. If you can’t see Bogie and Hepburn hanging out on board you are not holding your head the right way.
There are plenty of other snorkeling and diving options in the area including those at John Pennekamp Park at mm 102.
Do spend some time on the parks website before going to any section of Florida. Often there is a perfect park worth visiting near your route.