Every RVer loves Key West, the southernmost spot in the US with its own distinctive and laid-back party vibe. But so many RVers traveling that 113-mile Overseas Highway between Miami and Key West miss so much by not slowing down and spending time in the lesser-known Florida keys for RV camping.
The area is steeped in history and kissed by sunshine, bursting with tropical beauty and fabulous camping surrounded by crystal clear turquoise water. Other keys are much less developed than Key West because so many rush past to get down to mile marker 1.
“The Keys,” as they’re called, are linked together by the Overseas Highway (officially US-1), and divided into five regions: Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine Key, and Key West.
But those are regions. And each region has numerous other keys or small islands. In all, between Miami and Key West, are more than 800 keys. Some are super tiny. Many need a boat to reach. Others are great for sunbathing, snorkeling and shelling. Some are private.
But together, they form a vast network of natural beauty that quietly calls out to the passing RVer to stop and explore, decompress and take in the view before heading down to Key West and the party town known as the “Conch Republic.”
For the purposes of this article, we want to concentrate on the first four regions, suggesting places to camp in the Keys and a few things to see and do.
Key Largo has been celebrated in movies and songs almost as much as Key West. It’s the first key headed south on US-1, at the very top of the Florida Keys. It is famous for the awesomely clear water and draws scuba divers and snorkelers from around the world.
The John Pennekamp State Park encompasses parts of the world’s second-largest artificial reef. It is a must-visit. Take the two-mile tour out to Dry Rocks Reef where you’ll find the Christ of the Abyss statue. It’s a two-ton, 8.5-foot bronze statue in 25 feet of water that can easily be seen by snorkelers.
At the Pennekamp State Park, there are 47 campsites located next to a beautiful beach – 39 with full hookups (30-50-110 amp). There are also several Good Sam RV Parks within 50 miles. Check them out below!
Campgrounds Near Key Largo
- Boardwalk RV Resort: Technically located in Homestead, this park is a great stop heading south from Miami and can also be a great basecamp for visiting Everglades National Park.
- Miami Everglades RV Resort: This resort is about an hour north of Key Largo, so it’s also a great stop as you head south on Florida’s east coast.
The next region south is Islamorada. It is made up of the islands; Plantation Key, Windley Key, Upper Matecumbe Key, Lower Matecumbe Key, and the offshore islands of Indian Key and Lignumvitae Key.
Where Key Largo is Mecca for SCUBA divers and snorkelers, Islamorada is known as “The Sport Fishing Capital of the World.” Lots of fishing charters are based here and offshore fishing is truly fantastic. On land, be sure to visit the Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park at Mile Marker 85.
There’s no camping at this park but this is one of the few places you can see a coral reef above the surface of the water. It’s also a great place to strap up your backpack and enjoy one of the park’s five short self-guided trails.
You can walk along a quarry wall to see fossils of the ancient coral reef formed nearly 125,000 years ago. It really gives you an understanding of the underwater geology of the keys. After that, visit the Florida Keys History & Discovery Center, which explains the history, people, and events that shaped the Florida Keys.
Campgrounds Near Islamorada
- Fiesta Key RV Resort: Located on its own private island, this is a great place to unwind and it’s only about 15 minutes from Islamorada.
As you continue southbound on the Overseas Highway towards Marathon, you’ll drive right past two more spectacular Florida State Parks – Long Key and Curry Hammock. Both of these parks have campgrounds and if you can get a site we’d highly recommend it!
Long Key State Park was once the home of the upscale Long Key Fishing Camp. It was a magnet for the world’s saltwater anglers before it was wiped out by a hurricane in 1935. The state park officially reopened in 1969. But alas, it was also significantly damaged in 2017 by Hurricane Irma but recovery efforts are expected to be mostly completed in 2022. This is a great place for kayaking, snorkeling, and, onshore birding.
Curry Hammock boasts one of the best stretches of beach in the Keys. So get your folding chairs ready and, if you’re an early riser, get out to enjoy a beautiful sunrise from this spot. It is also a great place to put your paddleboard in and explore the nearby mangrove forests.
While in the Marathon region, be sure to visit The Dolphin Research Center. It focuses on marine mammal care, research, and education and houses 22 dolphins and three sea lions. The Center has a 90,000 square foot lagoon for the dolphins to play in and offers several programs to swim, play, and interact with the dolphins. You can easily spend an afternoon here.
Campgrounds Near Marathon
- Jolly Roger RV Resort: This park sits on a spacious 11 acres and most of the sites offer plenty of shade and comfortable grass under your feet. Enjoy nearby fishing, a heated/chilled pool, and high-speed internet here.
- Grassy Key RV Park and Resort: The perfect big rig friendly place to situate yourself centrally in the Keys and enjoy waterfront views from the park.
Big Pine Key
As you leave the city of Marathon, you’ll drive across the Seven Mile Bridge which spans the channel between Knight’s Key and Little Duck Key. There are amazing water views along the entirety of the bridge and even better sunsets.
Remains of the Old Seven Mile Bridge run parallel to the new. More than two miles of the older structure remain open to foot traffic and the span is a popular spot for biking and fishing.
After the Seven Mile Bridge, you’ll hit Bahia Honda State Park. This gorgeous state park is unique among other islands in the Keys due to its white-sand beaches and deep waters close by offshore, which provide exceptional snorkeling.
Much of 2021 was spent finishing up restoration from the damage of Hurricane Irma but camping is again open. It is in this region of the keys that you will find the diminutive animals known as key deer. They are about the size of a large dog and found nowhere else.
As such they are an endangered species and the National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine Key is dedicated to the herd’s preservation. It’s been closed to the public because of COVID the past couple of years but hopes are it will reopen in early 2022.
Campgrounds Near Big Pine Key
- Big Pine Key Resort: If you want to enjoy close proximity to diving, snorkeling, fishing, and an epic setup for Keys sunsets, look no further.
- Sunshine Key RV Resort and Marina: Situated on its one 75-acre island known as Ohio Key, enjoy swimming, kayaking, and gorgeous sunsets here.
I hope we were able to convince you to take your time as you drive through the keys. If you’ve never been, you may be surprised to learn that there aren’t as many beaches in the Keys as you’d expect. Fortunately, you do have some choices among the best campgrounds on the beach in Florida.
When you are finished with Big Pine Key, you’re just a half-hour away from Key West.
Party On…. and Happy Trails!
Mike Wendland is a veteran journalist who, with his wife, Jennifer, travels North America in a small motorhome, blogging about the people, places, joys, and adventure of RV life on the road at RVLifestyle.com. Mike has written 10 RV Adventure guides, including one on the Florida Keys.