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Long Key State Park, Florida Keys

Long Key State Park in the Florida Keys is something of a rarity.

It has a natural, honest-to-goodness beach.  Something the Florida Keys aren't known for.

To make this beach at Long Key even better, the waters off the beach are calm, shallow and clear, making it absolutely perfect for wading, snorkeling and swimming!

Seeing as the Florida Keys is a string of over 700 islands, what makes Long Key so special, that they would put a 980-acre Florida State Park here?

What's in a Name

Long Key was originally named by the Spanish "Cayo Vivora", otherwise know as Rattlesnake Key. Why, you ask? It's because of Long Key's shape -- it resembles a snake with open jaws. Yikes!

Henry Flagler, he of the Overseas Railroad fame, built the Long Key Fishing Club resort as a spectacular fishing getaway. However, that was before the Labor Day Hurricane in 1935. Unfortunately, the hurricane not only destroyed the resort, but also the overseas railway! Needless to say, the fishing resort was put out of business and not rebuilt.

Long Key State Park

Be on the Lookout For...

As my husband would say, it's an insect that I love to hate -- the golden orb spider. They aren't likely to bother you, generally sitting up in their webs (waiting for your admiration, I guess). The webs are magnificent and huge -- well worth seeing.

So What Is There To Do?

Long Key has several activities for your pleasure:

  • Swimming/Snorkeling
  • Canoeing/Kayaking
  • Fishing
  • Hiking
  • Camping
  • Picnics
  • Ranger Programs

Turquoise Seas at Long Key State Park

Long Key State Park has clear, calm waters, making it absolutely perfect for swimming, snorkeling and just plain relaxing. There are ancient coral reefs nearby, which are fascinating to view - get the snorkel gear ready! Check the signs for the areas best for snorkeling and swimming.

Nature Trail on the Water

One of Long Key's "nature trails" in the park is actually wet! It's called the Long Key Lakes Canoe Trail, and is only accessible by (you guessed it) canoe or kayak. It's roughly an hour long paddle through a shallow-water lagoon area.

There is no boat ramp in the park, I'm sorry to say, but there put-ins for canoes or kayaks. I have to admit, after seeing the put-in, it's nice to not have to carry your boat a long way in mud -- with this put-in, you're in the water before you know it.

Didn't bring a boat of any sort? Don't be sad, canoe rentals are available! Check at the head of the canoe trail for more details.

Florida Keys Fishing

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)

You can fish on the Atlantic side or the back country (Florida Bay) side. On the Florida Bay side you can stalk the elusive and shy bonefish for an excellent time. I'd you'd rather search for something edible, get a canoe and float near the mangroves and see if you can find some mangrove snappers.

If you are camping at the park and want to try some shore fishing (and you don't mind traveling a bit) how about try the old bridge between Long Key and Conch Key for some pier fishing? I hear that grouper, hogfish and snapper are waiting to "come to dinner", and it's only a few minutes from the park.

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 to Remember

Crab on Layton TrailLong Key park has two land-based nature trails and one canoe trail. The two land trails are:

  • Layton Trail is about a 15 minute walk. On your stroll, you'll pass through a tropical hammock, dark yet so very interesting. Search for wildlife on this trail, especially if you are looking early in the morning or close to sundown.

  • Golden Orb Trail is about a 40-minute (1.3 mile) walk. The trail is named for the native arachnid common in these parts. I'd just as soon never see the spider, but the webs are truly magnificent! And don't worry, you won't fight though layers or webs walking this trail; you'll have to look to the trees to find them. It's really a neat trail, going down to the beach and then back.

Campground Tales

All 60 of Long Key State Park campsites face the Atlantic Ocean! That means ocean breezes, both for cooling and for helping to keep the bugs away. So basically, you can't get a bad campsite here. Both tents and RVs of average size are welcome (the sites are kind of narrow for an extra-large rig). Shade is abundant and tent campers will be happy to know that the ground is sand and pine needles -- not hard gravel.

There are three bathhouses in Long Key State Park, spread evenly through the grounds. All sites include the following:

  • Electricity - 20 amp hookups for tenters, 30 amp for RVs. There is a $2 surcharge for electricity.
  • Water
  • Grill
  • Picnic Table

There is a dump station available for gray and black water.

Just as an FYI, Long Key State Park locks its campgrounds. If you are a registered camper, you will be given the combination to open the gates.

It is highly recommended that you make a reservation for camping, and it can be made up to 11 months in advance. To make or change a reservation call Reserve America at 1-800-326-3521. Don't call the park - Florida State parks no longer handle the reservation booking themselves.

Food -- Bring It Yourself

Bring whatever you are going to eat and drink, because there aren't any concessions inside the park. With of course the possible exception of an angler bringing home a seafood dinner!

There are picnic areas with ocean views, strictly on a first-come-first-served basis.

Please drink lots of liquids while you are visiting -- if you are thirsty, you are already getting a little dehydrated. Even in the winter, the Florida sun can be strong and the air can be quite warm.

Ranger Programs

several ranger-led walks and talks are available. They include:

  • Guided Walk: Only available from October through July. Every Wednesday at 10:00 AM, you can join a park ranger for a 2-hour walk along the Golden Orb Trail.  Call (305) 664-4815 for more details.

  • Ranger's Choice: Only available from October through July. Every Thursday at 10:00 AM, you can go with a ranger and see what you can see! Some of the programs have included guided trail walks, interpretive talks, snorkeling, and beginning birding programs.

  • Campfire Programs: Only available from October through July, for registered campers only. Every Friday about 30 minutes after sunset, join a ranger for a slide presentation at the campfire circle (which is by the beach, I might add). In the past, topics have inculded coral reefs, sea turtles, natural resources, local history and more.
If you'd like more details on any of these programs, call (305) 664-4815.

If you are wondering why October through July? August and September are the hottest months of the year and also the time of year that hurricanes are most likely to come and visit. In addition, bugs are particularly annoying (and dismayingly active) during these months.

Time and Place

Long Key State Park is open year-round from 8 AM to sunset. The entrance and other fees are as follows:

  • Entrance Fees - $4.50 per vehicle , plus an extra $.50 per person.
    • Motorcyclist - Same as vehicle fees.
  • Camping Fees - $26 per night, full service campground. Fees cover up to four people, additional people (up to 8 per campsite) are charged an addition $3 per person.

Long Key State Park is on US 1, also known as the Overseas Highway on Long Key, Mile Marker 67.5. However, the official park address is P.O. Box 776, Long Key, Florida 33001. The phone number is (305) 664-4815.

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

Located between Islamorada and Marathon in the Florida Keys, Long Key State Park is roughly half way between the two. The closest cities are (quite naturally) Islamorada to the north and Marathon to the south. There is a vary small airport in Marathon, although it's pretty much for private planes. Otherwise, the closest airports are Miami and Key West.

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