With the only living coral barrier reef in the continental United States paralleling the Keys, state park waters are teeming with tropical fish and colorful coral formations. The four parks also offer some of the destination’s best beaches.
Long Key State Park
Located in the Middle Florida Keys on Long Key, just southwest of the town of Layton, the park was once the site of railroad magnate Henry Flagler’s Long Key Fishing Camp in the early 20th century. The park’s campground is undergoing an extensive renovation as a result of damage sustained during Hurricane Irma. Once completed, the park will offer recreational vehicle and tent-only campsites within the once-luxury destination for the rich and famous traveling on Flagler’s famed Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad. Birding is popular along the 1.1-mile-long Golden Orb Trail that leads visitors through five nature areas. Along the trail, white-crowned pigeons and rare Key West Quail Doves can be spotted. Other attractions include picnic tables with grills, sea kayaks for rent and restrooms with showers. Long Key State Park is located at 67400 Overseas Highway, mile marker (MM) 67.4. Visit floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/Long-Key-state-park or call 305-664-4815.
Curry Hammock State Park
Curry Hammock State Park in Marathon offers the largest uninhabited parcel of land between Key Largo in the Upper Keys and Big Pine Key in the Lower Keys. Year-round birding is popular. The park, with a beautiful mangrove creek and miles of pristine coastline, preserves essential Keys native ecosystems that include mangrove swamp, rockland hammocks and seagrass beds. Secluded protected waters make the park an ideal place to kayak and paddleboard. Curry Hammock is known as a hidden spot for shallow-water fishing. When conditions are windy, the park’s oceanfront is a popular spot to launch windsurfers and kiteboards. The park offers a 28-site oceanfront campground and an unspoiled coastline. Hikers can enjoy a 1.5-mile trail through the park’s bayside hammock. Curry Hammock State Park is located at 56200 Overseas Highway, MM 56.2. Visit floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/Curry-Hammock-State-Parkor call 305-289-2690.
Bahia Honda State Park
This 500-acre park, located on Bahia Honda Key in the Lower Keys, is a top family getaway with award-winning beaches, soft sand, warm shallow water and excellent snorkeling. Railroad magnate Henry Flagler’s famed railroad helped to transform Bahia Honda Key into a subtropical destination appealing to all ages. Construction of Flagler’s Key West extension of the Florida East Coast Railway was completed in 1912. From the old Bahia Honda Rail Bridge, known as the Over-Sea Railroad Bridge, the park offers stunning views. The original trestle railroad structure, with a highway built on top, is a must-see point of interest for visitors. The park was named after the deep natural bay, a harbor for sailors, under the bridge. Bahia Honda means “deep bay” in Spanish. The park also is a nesting grounds for sea turtles, including the hawksbill, and an excellent place to watch sea wading birds and shorebirds. Bahia Honda’s scenic beaches front both the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. They include Calusa Beach, adjacent to the Bahia Honda Bridge, and the mile-long Sandspur Beach just north of the park entrance. The Sandspur area on the park’s north side is undergoing a $2.96 million restoration of its mile-long Sandspur Beach, its 24-campsite Sandspur campgrounds, a 155-car parking area and two shower towers at the day-use area. Overnight visitors can enjoy 80 total campsites — 48 sites for both RVs and tents, and 32 tent-only sites, 16 with electricity and water and 16 nonelectric sites with water — and six cabins on stilts. Other park amenities include pavilions, freshwater showers, restrooms, grills, picnic tables, beach wheelchairs and a mobi floating chair for in-water accessibility. An on-site concession and gift shop has a variety of food, souvenirs and beachwear. Kayaks and bikes are available for rent. Concessionaire Coral Reef Park Co. offers daily snorkel trips to the reef at Looe Key. Bahia Honda State Park is located at 36850 Overseas Highway, MM 37. Visit floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/Bahia-Honda-State-Parkor call 305-872-2353. To reserve bayside cabins up to 11 months in advance, visit floridastateparks.reserveamerica.com or call 800-326-3521.
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
Florida’s southernmost 56-acre state park in Key West is the island city’s favorite beach park, known for excellent snorkeling, swimming, picnicking, fishing and nature trails. Among locals, it’s a popular gathering spot for families and friends. Fort Zachary Taylor was built from 1845 to 1866, one of 47 built to defend the nation’s southeastern coastline. The fort, named after President Zachary Taylor, played important roles in Civil War and Spanish-American War history. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1973. A beachfront Cayo Hueso Cafe offers a wide variety of snacks, beach sundries, souvenirs, snacks and sandwiches. Snorkel and water gear, lockers and beach chairs can be rented. Fort Zachary Taylor State Park is located at 601 Howard England Way in Key West. Visit floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/fort-zachary-taylor-historic-state-park or fortzacharytaylor.com or call 305-292-6713.
Florida Keys state park information: floridastateparks.org
Florida Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS
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