18 Feb Exploring Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys
Bahia Honda State Park is said to be one of the most beautiful state parks in the state of Florida. I haven’t visited many of the Florida state parks, but I can see where Bahia Honda would be hard to top. Located about 37 miles north of Key West, the park encompasses over 500 acres and offers beaches, camping spaces, cabins, kayak rentals, snorkeling tours and many trails to explore. Bahia Honda is located right after the 7 mile bridge and in between Marathon and Big Pine Key; the location makes the park feel like you are secluded, but you are still close enough to the other islands to make a grocery store run, grab dinner at a restaurant or do a little shopping. Two of our favorite restaurants in the area are the Keys Fisheries and Tarpon Creek Bar & Grill, both located just north of the park in Marathon.
There are two main beaches within Bahia Honda: Calusa Beach and Sandspur Beach. Sandspur Beach is a mile long and has beautiful white sand–unfortunately, we visited on a rainy weekend, so we didn’t get to enjoy the beach as I had hoped. However, the rain broke up for a bit so we were at least able to go for a brief walk. This beach would be perfect for a refreshing swim, getting some sun on a beautiful day or for exploring the coastline as it curves along the island.
Calusa Beach is a smaller beach located near the Bahia Honda Bridge, and it is perfect for watching the beautiful sunsets that are so prevalent in the Keys. You can watch the sun dip behind the bridge before falling into the ocean and it would be a great spot for sunning on a nice day as well.
One of my favorite aspects of Bahia Honda is the historic old bridge–you can walk along part of the bridge for sweeping views of the ocean and Calusa Beach and it makes for a great spot to watch the sunset as well. This bridge was originally part of the Overseas Railway that Henry Flagler built to connect the mainland of Florida all the way to Key West. After the major hurricane in 1935, the railroad was shut down and the State of Florida ended up turning the tracks into a highway, which is why a road is now built on top of the old tracks. When the new Overseas Highway was built and rerouted, two pieces of the bridge were removed to allow boat traffic to pass through. We learned all about the interesting history of the railroad while on a tour of Pigeon Key and the Old Seven Mile Bridge; the tour of Pigeon Key is worth a stop if you want to get a glimpse into the history of the Keys.
If you want to extend your stay in the park past a daytime visit, you can either camp or rent one of the 6 bay front cabins. The campsites are spread out over 3 campgrounds located in different areas around the park. Many of the campsites appear to be gravel, which makes a great spot for campers, but there are several that have a more sandy base and are more comfortable for tents. That being said, we saw many people set up tents on both types of spaces and some of them overlook the ocean and offer great views.
The cabins are pretty basic–they are state park cabins after all, but we still enjoyed our stay. All of the cabins have two bedrooms and a pull out couch and one bathroom; the website says it can sleep 6, but the beds are a smaller double size, so if your like you space you may want to bring along fewer people. The cabins have a kitchen with dishes and cooking utensils and charcoal grills outside, so if you want to do a little cooking, you will be well equipped. Each cabin is right on the water and they all have a patio that looks out over an inlet of the bay–I really enjoyed sitting outside in the mornings and getting some fresh air. As long as you are expecting very basic accommodations (no TV!), you should enjoy your stay.
Both cabins and campsites are very hard to secure–bookings are opened up 11 months in advance, and they go fast, so if you know you want to make a visit, get your calendar out and be ready when the booking window opens. I’m not kidding when I say the reservations get snapped up quickly–I just happened to log on at the exact right time, and all available cabin reservations were booked within 15 minutes of opening up. If you do want to make reservations without planning a year in advance, check the website regularly for possible cancellations. You may luck out and find an open date that works. The campsites are easier to book as there are more of them, but it can still be a challenge, so don’t delay if you know when you want to visit. There are also a select number of non-reservable campsites, so you can also take your chances and show up in hopes one will be open, but I would have a backup plan because once someone grabs one of these sites, they can keep it for up to two weeks. Prices for the cabins are $160 per night and the campsites are $36 per night; although the cabins aren’t exactly cheap, they are economical compared to the sky-high prices in Key West during the winter.
Despite the rain, we really enjoyed our stay at Bahia Honda. It was a relaxing break and close enough to Key West for a day trip as well, but far enough away from city lights to see some stars; you are really in a good location to take advantage of all the Keys have to offer!