BAHIA HONDA STATE PARK
  BAHIA HONDA KEY, FLORIDA
  Best Beach In The Florida Keys
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 This lovely park in the lower Florida Keys is a photographerís nirvana... bursting with picture post card views. Quintessential Florida scenery abounds... healthy palm trees gently rustling in the fresh sea breeze against a backdrop of white sand, turquoise water and a cloudless sky.

Bahia Honda State Park occupies most of the land on tiny Bahia Honda Key, about 30-35 miles east of Key West. The park is 524 acres. The entire island is roughly 600 acres. It is known primarily for its scenery and beaches. But beyond the scenery, the park has much to offer. It is active and well-managed. It has many available activities... camping (RV, tent and cabins), guided snorkeling, scuba diving, picnicking, swimming, guided walks and short, but informative nature trails. The park also has a nature center, boat ramp, marina, equipment rental center (presumably for fishing and snorkeling), snack bar and gift shop.

Perspective

Our group of five adults visited this park on Monday, January 31, 2005. 24 hours before our visit, we drove 4 hours at 35-40 mph through a nasty snowstorm to reach the Pittsburgh airport, where we boarded our plane destined for our sub-tropical paradise. Although I am an experienced traveler, all of my long-distance travel had previously been during the summer. This was the first time my friends and I had ever left a cold Ohio winter in favor of a warmer climate... so we were eager to spend a day at the beach. We were quite pleased to visit this park on a cloudless 80-degree January day.

Beaches

The three Bahia Honda beaches have some outstanding qualities and some very negative ones. All of the beaches are extremely narrow. They all have a very narrow band of sand (15-20 feet at high tide) between the high coarse grass and the ocean. Secondly, they all have an unsightly 3-4 foot wide band of seaweed and debris. Although, the seaweed may be aesthetically displeasing, it doesnít emit a foul odor, as one might suspect upon first seeing it. Finally, the water at these beaches is typically very gentle. Usually, there are no waves or just small waves... no white water.

The smallest of the three beaches is Calusa Beach. It is a very tiny beach facing a US1 bridge. We tried this beach first, but did not stay long. One enterprising member of our group decided to acclimate himself to the cold January water by running full-blast into the water. Unfortunately, he didnít realize that the sandy beach bottom quickly turns to jagged rock just a few feet into the water. He didnít withstand any lingering injury, but his plaintive wails indicated that the sharp rock on his feet, combined with the cold salt water made for a most unpleasant experience. The water at Calusa Beach is perfectly calm, so this is a good beach for families with young children. Calusa Beach has a bathhouse with outdoor fresh water showers and several small picnic shelters.

Although we didnít go there, Loggerhead Beach is another relatively small beach area and is located on the south (Atlantic) side of the island, opposite of Calusa Beach. The shallow Loggerhead Beach is known for its shallow sand bar just a offshore.

I had read that Bahia Honda State Park was once home to the second-best beach in North America. Since Calusa Beach was obviously not within the top 100... or 200..., I knew something was amiss. Therefore, I took a look at the park map and realized we had turned right when we should have turned left. We took a 10-minute drive (15 mph) to the east end of the island and discovered Sandspur Beach. As it turns out, Bahia Hondaís Sandspur Beach was once named the second best beach in North America (source unknown), and in 1992, Dr. Stephen Leatherman, professor and director of the International Hurricane Center at FLORIDA International University named Sandspur Beach the best beach in the United States and they have posted a sign as a testament to this honor. Mild sarcasm aside... Sandspur Beach is quite pleasant. Itís the biggest and nicest beach in the park, but it falls short of the accolades you may read about elsewhere.

Sandspur Beach is very long and very skinny. Itís about 2 or 2Ĺ miles long, but as mentioned, the actual sand beach is extremely narrow. Just one row of visitors lines the beach. Nobody can be in front of or behind anyone else. Aside from the ever-present seaweed band, the beach is quite beautiful. Donít bring your surfboard or boogie board, the water is very calm under typical conditions. The best thing about Sandspur Beach is its extremely gradual grade, with no dropoffs at all. The water remains shallow for hundreds of feet. You can walk WAAAY out from shore and still touch bottom. And best of all, the firm sandy bottom is pleasant upon the feet and the water is very clear. You can see your feet when the water is up to your neck. Since itís so calm and shallow, this beach would be ideal for families with toddlers or small children. In January, the water is kinda cold. There werenít too many swimmers, but we Ohioans couldnít wait to jump in. Yeah, the water was cold, but when I totally submerged myself, it took just a few seconds to become comfortable with the water. (reminder... this is in January). The beach wasnít crowded and it wasnít hard to find a place to lay our towels. The Sandspur Beach area has three large picnic shelters and a bathhouse with outdoor fresh water showers. This beach is very scenic, but some may be turned off by the seaweed mounds, narrow beach area and lack of any surf.

Nature Trails

The park has two short, easily-negotiated nature trails. I walked the Silver Palm Trail on the islandís east end near Sandspur Beach. Brochures are available at the trailhead. The well-labeled trail winds through dense, sub-tropical foliage as well as a saltwater lagoon.

Snorkeling

There are a few good snorkeling areas just a few hundred feet from shore. The park also offers daily snorkeling tours to the nearby Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary, a spectacular coral reef teeming with sea creatures. The trip takes about 45 min. to an hour each way and they allow about 1 Ĺ hours of snorkeling time. Tours are $28 for adults and $23 for kids. Equipment rental is $6 extra per person. Equipment rental is also available for those who would just like to snorkel off the islandís shores.

Fishing

The park boasts several good fishing areas. The most popular area seems to be on the western end of the island near the old Bahia Honda Bridge, where anglers reel in snapper and grouper. The Atlantic side of the park is popular with fly fishermen who catch, barracuda and bonefish. Florida short-term fishing licenses are relatively inexpensive and are available at any bait and tackle shop. One of the closest tackle shops to Bahia Honda is Reef Light Tackle on the West end of Big Pine Key, about 6-8 miles west of the park.

Camping

The park has 3 air-conditioned duplex cabins and 3 small campgrounds with a total of 80 campsites, some sites are on the waterfront. Buttonwood Campground is the largest. It can accommodate tents as well as large RVís. Each site has an electric and water hookup, picnic table and a grill. Sandspur Campground has electric and water hookups, picnic tables and grills. It can only accommodate tents and small pop-ups. Bayside Campground is the smallest, with 8 sites and no electric. These campgrounds are extremely popular. For the cabins, reservations are necessary 11 months in advance. Although they save a few sites for last-minute guests, these sites go quickly and reservations should be made well in advance (perhaps months). Cabins are $120 per night. All camping is $26 per night. To reserve a cabin or a campsite, call 1-800-326-3521 or go to www.reserveamerica.com.

Photography

The entire island is quite scenic, but I believe the prettiest and most photogenic spot is on the west tip of the island. Palm trees are plentiful, there is a bit of rolling terrain and the old Bahia Honda Bridge provides an interesting and historical backdrop.

Fees, Hours, Etc.

Entrance fees are $2.50 each for the first two persons in your group... 50 cents for each additional person. The park is open from 8 AM to sunset. Buildings are open from 8 AM to 5 PM.

It came a surprise to learn that the Florida Keys has very few beaches, so if a day at the beach is on your Florida Keys itinerary, then this is probably the best that the Keys has to offer. Again, we had a very enjoyable time... just donít expect Malibu, Daytona or Copacabana. This scenic park provides a pleasant and peaceful Florida Keys experience.

Bahia Honda State Park

36850 Overseas Hwy.

Big Pine Key, FL 33043

(305) 872-3210

Bahia Honda State Park Website:

www.floridastateparks.org/bahiahonda

 

 

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OLD BAHIA HONDA BRIDGE
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 NEW BAHIA HONDA BRIDGE
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SANDSPUR BEACH
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SANDSPUR BEACH
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SANDSPUR BEACH
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SCENERY
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SILVER PALM TRAIL
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SILVER PALM TRAIL
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PELICANS