In an attempt to cross off some bucket list items, we planned a road trip that would incorporate visiting the Southernmost Point of the United States and driving the Seven Mile Bridge. Bahia Honda State Park is in between both of these awesome destinations and therefore became a place of interest to have an adventure.
During our two week road trip along the east coast of the U.S., we made varying overnight accommodations to enhance our experience. We chose camping for our Keys destination and picked Bahia Honda for its amenities and close, but not too close proximity to Key West.
Our trip was nine months after the devastation of Hurricane Irma so we were not sure what to expect in the area. Our drive down the length of US-1 showed some cleared lots where housing once stood, some boarded homes and businesses, and a handful of debris piles waiting to be cleared. There was the occasional damaged boat or car in someone’s yard that was clearly moved about by the hurricane’s surge waters. There was still an emergency Red Cross station open for residents that were still without homes. Overall, we were very impressed by the recovery all of the islands had made at this point. We had hope that we would still get to experience some of what the Keys were known for.
The Seven Mile Bridge
This famous bridge connects the Middle Keys to the Lower Keys and begins at the end of Marathon. Forty-two bridges connect all of the keys over a chain of coral and limestone, but Seven Mile is the longest. With the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other, it is a drive like no other. We had to drive on this bridge!
US-1 Overseas Highway is a 113 mile highway from Miami to Key West. You could fly from Miami to Key West in 45 minutes, but the drive is worth the additional 2.5 hours at least once in a lifetime. The “bridge” seen on the Gulf side of the highway (Old Seven Mile) is the old Overseas Railroad that was damaged and partially destroyed in the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935. US-1 is built on parts of the old railroad, but the majority has been converted into a fishing pier, walking/jogging route, bicycle path and major route to Pigeon Key. The Old Seven Mile Bridge to Pigeon Key is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It documents the construction of the Overseas Railroad.
At mile markers 36-38.5 on US-1 you will find Bahia Honda Key. Bahia Honda State Park is close to the only inhabitant of this island. It encompasses 524 acres and has the deepest natural channels in the Florida Keys. Their oceanside beach was once rated #1 with 2.5 miles of natural, white sand. However, it was devastated by the hurricane and closed to human traffic so the flora could grow back and the coral could stay protected. (My latest inquiry to the recovery at Friends of Bahia Honda say at least one Atlantic side beach will be open soon.)
Bahia Honda State Park
We camped at Bahia Honda State Park for two nights. The campsites were spacious and very well maintained. Our site had electric which ended up being a huge bonus. We typically consider ourselves self-sustaining on a camping trip, but the heat and humidity were more than we expected. Fortunately, there are Walgreen’s stores everywhere in the Keys and we were able to pick up a nice fan and extension cord for a good night’s sleep. The campsite floor was small round pebbles which made it easy to get comfortable, but difficult to insert tent spikes. We thought the pebbles were a great idea for drainage. Of course it’s Florida, so it rained. There wasn’t one puddle or spot of water at our campground for the entire duration. As an added bonus, the campground is gated and the park is gated after hours. You are given a code which operates both gates so you can come and go as you please. It was a nice touch to deter outside wandering traffic and give you some comfort when you wandered out to the other Keys.
All of our neighbors at the campground were in RV’s. They clearly were there for a longer duration than us. It was interesting to see them build the comforts of home into their campground—lawn furniture, outdoor fans, sunshades, huge barbecues, bicycles, mopeds, and even small boats. At night we could hear their air conditioners running! I’m pretty sure this takes “glamping” to a whole new level.
With the ocean side beaches closed, we spent most of our park time on the bay side— the Bahia Honda Channel. They have a nice beach area with parking, restrooms, rental stations, and concessions. There is a boat ramp and docking for small watercraft. There aren’t too many accessible beaches in the Keys, especially after the hurricane, so we felt pretty lucky to enjoy this one. There was a ton of interesting coral and the sunsets were spectacular.
The Bahia Honda Rail Bridge is one of the most unique sights at this state park. Once a part of the Overseas Highway, it is now part of the park’s trail system. To date, the bridge is closed for repair, but you can get high enough on it to enjoy amazing panoramic views of the area.
US-1 is also visible from the beach, but it was far enough away that we didn’t hear the vehicles. It was even an interesting prop for our sunset pictures.
Things to Note
- The park is also a part of the Great Florida Birding Trail.
- There’s sea grass on the ocean side (south shore) that makes the area smell like sulfur. I’ve read that the beaches are routinely cleaned and the smell is worse during dry summer days. (The sea grass washes up and makes the nasty smell as it decays on the beach.) It was very strong when we were there, but it didn’t always carry over to the bay side or the campground.
- The only bug spray that works if you’re camping here is the super powerful kind that includes chiggers and no see-ums– Deet! We avoid using Deet whenever possible, but an exception was made here.
- Once the park is fully recovered from Irma, you can be sure that they will bring back all of the park activities.
- Bahia Honda is about 45 minutes from Key West.
- Open daily 8:00am until sunset
- Vehicle entrance fee
- $8.00* per vehicle. Limit 2-8 people per vehicle.
- $2.00* Pedestrians, bicyclists, extra passengers, passengers in vehicle with holder of Annual Individual Entrance Pass.
- $4.00* Single-occupant vehicle or motorcycle.
- *Plus $.50 per person Monroe County Surcharge.
- “Pets are allowed in camping areas, but not on beaches, on tour or rental boats, or in any buildings and may be restricted to other designated areas. All pets must be kept on a six-foot, hand-held leash and be well-behaved at all times. Guide dogs for the deaf and blind are welcome in all areas of the park.”-FAQ
- We were impressed with their restroom and shower accommodations. It can never be as good as home when you’re camping, but these units were clean, well stocked and air conditioned. They even had usable mirrors!
- “Three camping areas within the park provide a total of 80 campsites for both tent and RV campers. Rest rooms and hot showers are easily accessible. Call (800) 326-3521 or go to Reserve America for reservations.”
- “Three duplex cabins are furnished with accommodations for 6 people per cabin. Linens and utensils are provided. Call (800) 326-3521 or go to Reserve America for reservations.“
Family Adventure Rating ♥♥♥♥
Cost– State Parks are typically inexpensive adventures. Your cost factor for this one is the travel and stay based on where you are in relation to the park. This park does offer camping of a few varieties to help keep your trip affordable, but you need to book way in advance or🤞🤞. There are also picnic areas and barbecue grills at each campsite if you want to bring food.
Parking & Transportation– There was plenty of parking when we visited. You can park at your campsite and there’s a sizable parking lot by the bay side beach and the marina. Throughout the Keys we found parking to be easy and accessible. Key West has street parking and paid lot parking. We were able to park right next to our destination when we visited. However, we did not go during the winter months when I have heard it is the most crowded.
Day Trip or Overnight– If you live in the Southern tip of Florida, you could make this a day trip and you probably have. For the rest of us, you need to stay at least one night, hopefully more, to see the sights and enjoy some of the amenities. Make sure you plan out your itinerary carefully. There are different awesome things to do and see on just about every Key. It does take time to travel through them especially during peak season and commuter hours (yes, some do commute from here to Miami!).
Experience- Our road trip was a terrific success and driving all the way to the Keys was one of the best parts. It was a terrific destination and excellent bucket list item for exploring all of the U.S. (We can now say we traveled to the Southernmost Point Buoy of the U.S. and we have seen the first sunset in the U.S. at Acadia National Park in Maine.) Bahia Honda State Park was a great choice for overnight accommodations and exploring the area.
Combination- There are so many things to do in the Keys. Don’t let its reputation for being a drinking community sway you. We snorkeled, sailed on a catamaran, kayaked around a mangrove, drove the Seven Mile Bridge, visited the Southernmost Point, visited a beautiful state park, drove a golf cart through Key West, and more! We can’t wait to go back to journey to the Dry Tortugas, visit the Dolphin Research Center, Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum , The Turtle Hospital, and more!