If your life of commutes, cubicles and meetings has got you down, all you have to do to escape is close your eyes and imagine gentle ocean breezes with tall palms swaying overhead. Imagine waking up to a beautiful sunrise, the sounds of the surf gently lapping the beach, seagulls squawking overhead and the muffled sound of a fishing boat putting offshore. Imagine lazy days soaking up the sun, building sandcastles or napping in a hammock, and peaceful nights that start with incredibly romantic sunsets. Sound good? Of course it does! Surprisingly, this Calgon®-take-me-away moment can be more than just a daydream. It can become a reality... when you camp in the Florida Keys. In fact, you can snag some of the best off-season rates between May and October, so making your dream a reality is affordable as well.
Campgrounds are scattered throughout the Keys and you can choose from every type of camping experience — from primitive camping to “roughing it” in a luxury RV. Campsites vary according to location. Many offer waterfront campsites — some on the beach and some along canals. Some campgrounds offer pools, spas and plenty of activities, while others offer only the simple pleasures of Florida — natural surroundings, awesome sunsets and quiet nights.
A unique experience for experienced and well-equipped campers is the primitive camping at Dry Tortugas National Park. Located about 70 miles west of Key West, the park is only accessible by your own boat or the Dry Tortugas Ferry Service. Although day trips to the park are popular, not many are up for the camping regimen. It means packing up all of your own equipment and supplies (including water) to share limited space and virtually no services. It means adhering to strict rules, like no wood fires and no ropes attached to trees; and, it means taking your own trash back to the mainland with you. Still, who can resist the breathtaking sunsets and nighttime skies?
Recently, my niece and her family camped for the weekend at another park located in the Keys — Long Key State Park. Their beachfront tent campsite came complete with a picnic table, grill, electric and water. The campsite and the facilities were clean, well-marked and a good size.
She noted that there wasn’t too much shade. That is a problem plaguing the entire Keys this year. It stems from last year’s hurricane season. Much of the islands experienced prolonged flooding from storm surge during Hurricane Rita. Many trees and shrubs will not tolerate salt water and the islands lost some mature trees that usually provide welcome shade. These will replenish in time, but meanwhile an awning is almost a necessary camping accessory during the sunny summer months.
Other necessities? Do pack water or beach shoes. They are a necessity to enjoy the beach because of the pebbles, shells and hermit crabs. This is pretty typical of most Keys beaches… they are a bit rough. Be sure to bring along floats when you camp. In many areas the water is shallow and not suitable for swimming; however, there is still plenty of fun to be had with floats, beach balls and other water toys.
Just because the Keys are islands, don’t think they are without bugs and critters. My niece found out that raccoons frequent campsites at night and “noseeums” will find their way into your tent through the screen. She forgot the first rule of camping in Florida… never, never leave home without bug spray!
Overall, camping in the Keys is an experience of a lifetime. Whether you go to just enjoy the camping experience or take advantage of area tourist attractions or water sport activities, one thing is certain… the sunsets are absolutely unforgettable and photo opportunities endless.