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Bahia Honda State Park

Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys is a 524-acre spot in the Keys that is remote, yet easily accessible. I think it's one of the reasons that the Florida Keys is sometimes referred to as the "American Caribbean".
 

Ever wonder what the name Bahia Honda means? It means "deep bay". An excellent description, as the channel depth made the bridge to Bahia Honda Key the most difficult to build.

Let's take a look at Bahia Honda State Park.

Turquoise Waters, Blue Skies

Bahia Honda State Park has some of the most glorious water you've seen, great for all kinds of activies. Well, all things except maybe surfing. The waters at Bahia Honda's beach are generally calm, clear and warm.

Bahia Honda State Park Lagoon and Beach

And those qualities make Bahia Honda an excellent place for swimming, snorkeling, diving and boating.

Be on the Lookout For...

Birds of all kinds. The most interesting (in my opinion) are the hawks, ospreys, herons, ibis and egrets. Of course it doesn't hurt that they are the biggest birds (makes them easier to spot).

And this may sound kind of weird, but look for the gumbo limbo trees. Also known as the "tourist tree" (because of the peeling bark) you'll recognize them by their wonderful coppery sheen.

So What Is There To Do?

Bahia Honda is one of the those state parks that has tons of things to do:

  • Swiming
  • Snorkeling
  • Diving
  • Canoeing/Kayaking/Boating
  • Fishing
  • Hiking/Biking/Skating
  • Camping/Cabins
  • Picnics
  • Tours

Swim the Seas

Bahia Honda Key is unusual in that it has quite a bit of beach, something of a rarity in the Florida Keys. Three glorious miles of golden sands beckon. And what's beyond the sand? A turquoise ocean. It's the Atlantic you are seeing, and normally the waters are calm, clear and rather warm -- mid to upper 80s in the summer, to mid to lower 70s in the winter. I'm not someone who goes in the water if it's under 80 degrees (and my the way, this is Fahrenheit), but there are plenty of people who consider the 70's to be wonderfully warm. If that's you, there is some great swimming available all year long!

Just a note -- it can sometimes get a bit chilly in the winter. If you consider air temperature the 60's bathing suit weather, then you will likely be happy. Still, it would be wise to bring some sort of "clothing contingency" if it does get a bit too cool for you.

See the Reef - Snorkel and Dive

Bahia Honda State park is home to some wonderful snorkeling and diving. As always, a diver down flag is required. Nearby (well, relatively anyway) Looe Key has a wonderful coral reef. You will need some sort of boat to get to it though, as it's not accessible by roads.

If you forgot to bring your snorkel gear, there are a limited number available for rent at the park's concession. Costs are listed in the Tours! section.

There are snorkeling tours available to Looe Key (see the Tours! section for additional information).

Boating, Anyone?

Calling all canoes, kayaks and other boats! Those beautiful waters of the Atlantic are perfect for you as well. There is plenty of paddling to be done at Bahia Honda State Park.

There is a boat ramp in the park, for those of you bringing a motor boat. The nearby Bahia Honda Channel provides access to the Florida Keys "back country", which has a multitude of smaller keys for your boating and fishing enjoyment.

Boat slips are available in Bahia Honda State Park, at $2/foot with a $30 minimum. There are only 19 slips though. Overnight berthing is available as well, and includes full use of the park facilities. Of note - the controlling depth is 3.5 feet.

Didn't bring a boat of any sort? Don't be sad, kayak rentals are available at the concession. The prices are as follows:

  • Single Kayak: $10 per hour or $30 per half day
  • Double Kayak: $18 per hour or $54 per half day

Here Fishy, Fishy

First off -- you need a Florida saltwater fishing license in the following instances:

  • Non-Florida resident
  • Florida resident, if not fishing from land, bridge or pier (in other words, in a boat of any kind)

If you are fond of grouper and snapper, try the Old Bahia Honda Bridge, off the old sea walls. The shallow flats on the Atlantic side may call to you if you are a fly-fisher. Permit, bonefish and barracuda are popular targets.

Although not technically in Bahia Honda State Park, you can take a boat through the Bahia Honda Channel to the Florida Keys back country. You might only want to consider this if you have a motor boat though -- the currents through the channel can be mighty strong at times.

Know the rules! You can catch all you like, but you can only keep what is legal. What you can keep varies by species, size and time of year. Click for current rules and regulations for saltwater limits. Spear fishing, possession of spear fishing equipment and collection of tropical fish (by any method) is prohibited within the park. The boundaries of the park extend out into the water 400 feet.

A Walk (or Bike or Skate) on the Wild Side

For you skating fans, Bahia Honda State Park has 3.5 miles of roadway are available for your enjoyment. Bicyclists, you can take a ride round as well.

 

Bahia Honda State Park has two nature trails, only one of which is really named.

  • Silver Palm Trail is located at the southeast end of the island at the far end of the park’s Sandspur Beach. This oceanside trail begins by following along the shore of a tidal lagoon. The trail then winds through a coastal strand hammock before ending up back along the beach.

  • The "other trail" is located on the southwest end of the island in the Calusa area. Take it, and the trail leads to the top of the Old Bahia Honda Bridge. The view from the bridge is spectacular, and from the top you can see the whole island. Looking down to the water, Iyou can see fish and sea turtles swimming beneath the surface (if the water is clear when you visit).

Camp It!

Bahia Honda State Park, Camping by the BeachAt Bahia Honda State Park, you have two options for camping:

  • Cabins
  • Full-service campground.

The cabins come with linens and eating utensils, and they are a touch on the pricy side at $140 per night. Still, they sleep six and you are close to all the wonder that the park has to offer.

Note: There is a vehicle height restriction to get to the cabins. Because you will have to go under the new Bahia Honda Bridge, you only have 6 feet 8 inches clearance.

There are three campgrounds in Bahia Honda State Park, with a total of 80 sites available for RVs and tents. Not all areas are suited for both though!

 
  • Buttonwood - can accommodate a large RV to a small tent. However, because the sites are gravel, they are really better-suited for an RV or pop-up. The Buttonwood sites have very little shade and are the largest sites in the park. All sites have water, electricity, a picnic table and barbecue grill. There is also a bathhouse with hot showers and a dump station for sewage. Buttonwood has waterside sites, but here's a hint - numbers 12 and 13 are by the boat docks while number 14 is on the channel coming into the boat docks. This means activity and a bit more noise from the boat motors.

  • Sandspur - the prettiest sites in Bahia Honda State Park, but are very small with low clearance. Tents can fit on all of these sites and a few sites will accommodate small pop-ups. Alas, RVs are not permitted in this area because the sites are just too small. Some sites have electricity, and all of these sites have water and a picnic table and grill.

  • Bayside - is the smallest campground at Bahia Honda State Park with only 8 sites and no electricity. There is a small bathhouse nearby with outside cold showers (brrr!) and no electricity. You can, however, use Buttonwood's hot water and electricity facilities, just a half-mile away. Bayside has a vehicle height restriction, like the cabins, of 6 feet 8 inches, as your vehicle has to be able to go under the New Bahia Honda Bridge. The sites have a picnic table, grill and water.

It is highly recommended that you make a reservation for any of the cabin/camping areas in Bahia Honda State Park, and they can be made up to 11 months in advance. Call Reserve America at 1-800-326-3521 as the Florida State parks no longer handle the reservation booking themselves.

Picnics - Ya Gotta Eat

First off, while there is a snack bar selling food and drinks, you really are better off bringing your own. Of course grabbing an ice cream cone at the concession would be a treat...

Want to reserve your own pavilion for the day? There is only one available, so call ahead to the park office to check availability at (305) 872-2353. It's at the Sandspur area, located at the southeast end of Bahia Honda State Park. The rate is $53.75 for the entire day and it has 8 picnic tables as well as barbecue grills. As an FYI, neither electricity nor water is available at the pavilion.

There are two other free pavilions at the Sandspur area, but they are strictly fist-come, first served. Again, no electric or water but the barbecue grills are available.

In addition, the Calusa area at the northwest end of the island has several small shelters with barbecue grills.

Tours!

Yes, there tours available at Bahia Honda State Park. (Please note that the times and cost may vary - check with the park first, if you have your heart set on a specific date.)

  • Snorkeling: Tours depart daily at 8:30am, 12:00pm and 3:30pm in the summer and at 9:30am and 1:30pm the rest of the year. You will travel to Looe Key Reef, located in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. You will get approximately 1 1/2 hours of snorkeling time at the reef. The remainder of the time, you can enjoy the beautiful ride to and from Looe Key. Costs: Roughly $30 for adults, $25 for those under 18. If you don't bring any snorkel equipment, it will cost $6 for rental. Please note that there is a tour minimum -- if there aren't enough people to justify the trip out to the reef and back, the tour won't go. As always, reservations are recommended.

  • Snorkeling Equipment: If you are not on a tour, the snorkeling equipment rentals are as follows:
    • Mask $3
    • Fins $4
    • Dive Flags $5
    • Half Wet Suit $6
    • Snorkel $3 (you end up keeping it)
    • Safety Vest $5
    • Corrective Mask $5

A Notice About Water, Weather and Insects

As always when in natural Florida, be aware of the strong sun, plentiful insects and possible rainshowers. Make sure to bring sunblock, sunglasses and at least have some insect repellent available. If you only plan to stay out by the water, then an insect repellant is probably not necessary.

A hat is also suggested -- it is so easy to get a sunburn on your scalp, along the part in your hair (ask me how I know...).

Time and Place

Bahia Honda State Park is open year-round from 8 AM to sunset. The entrance and other fees are as follows (please call ahead if you're on a budget - prices do change):

  • Entrance Fees - $6.00 per double-occupant vehicle.  Extra people from three to eight are $.50 a person. If there are more than 8 people, then an extra $1.50 per person over 8 is required. If you are the only person in the vehicle, then the fee is reduced to $3.50.
    • Pedestrian, bicyclist - $1.50 per person.
    • Motorcyclist - $3.00 for up to 2 riders.
    Picnic Pavilion - $53.75 for a full day. There is only one pavilion available for rental. Electric and water are not available.Camping Fees - $31.49 per night, full service campground.Cabins - $136.30 per night plus tax.Efficiency Apartment - $75 per night plus tax.
  • Kayak Rental - from $10 to $18 per hour, or $30 to $54 per half day.

Bahia Honda State Park is on US 1, also known as the Overseas Highway on Bahia Honda Key. The official park address is 36850 Overseas Hwy, Big Pine Key, Florida 33043 The phone number is (305) 872-2353.

To make camping reservations, please call Reserve America at 1-800-326-3521 -- they handle all the reservations. And reservations are highly recommended.

Florida Pieces-Parts

Bahia Honda State Park is 12 miles south of Marathon in the Florida Keys. The closest cities are Marathon to the north and Key West to the south,. The closest decent-sized airport is Key West (although there is a small one in Marathon).

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