The Florida Keys are an ancient coral reef turned chain of islands. In their heyday, they were a tropical paradise only accessible by boat, then later train. Today, an endless river of tourists floods US 1 as it hops from key to key over 113 miles to its terminus at the infamous Key West. While the romance of a tiki hut cabin or lonely campground may have faded into the pages of some weathered Hemingway novel, it's still possible to soak up all of the glassy shimmer of the Gulf of Mexico meeting the Atlantic Ocean, the plethora of exotic birds as their shadows trace the shoreline and even find a hammock worth swinging away your afternoon.
If you haven't heard, the deal with camping in Florida is simple yet dubious. In most of the Sunshine State, private RV parks come with high price tags and really small spaces, while Florida Keys state parks tend to be much more affordable and spacious--but tend to book up months in advance. When it comes to the Keys, though, the rule doesn't always hold true. There is simply limited space on these tiny islands, and so even the state parks in the Keys tend to come with smaller campsites.
Key Largo Camping
As you begin your descent through the Keys, your stone will first skip off of the largest of these little islands, Key Largo. Right from the start, you're afforded the full range of what the Florida Keys have to offer, from swanky, expensive and tightly packed private RV parks like Key Largo Kampground & Marina to the highly coveted but only slightly more scenic John Pennekamp State Park. If you've come looking for a little slice of the Keys to call your own, though, and are used to the spaciousness of other Florida State Parks, you'll likely be disappointed with the elbow room in the state park's campground itself.
In this particular case, and with fees at John Pennekamp in the $40 - $50 range, you may be able to find a slightly more spacious spot, at a similar price at private parks like Kings Kamp RV Park.
Why Key Largo? Well, it's the easiest to visit, as it's only about an hour south of Miami. Given that fact, and that it's the largest, it also boasts more than its fair share of places to do the whole waterfront seafood and cocktails for sunset thing, plus oodles of other activities like kayaking, fishing and parasailing.
Long Key Camping
Nestled between the bustling little tourist towns of Islamorada and Marathon, Florida, Long Key is a short stretch of island about halfway down the Keys known for its spectacular fishing and birding opportunities.
If tossing your line into the Gulf of Mexico sounds like the perfect way to while away your days, the park offers kayaks for rent, or you can bring your own watercraft. Should glassing a feathered friend be more up your alley, point your binoculars skyward to find everything from bald eagles to the elusive flamingo.
Didn't score that reservation in time? Long Key State Park makes a perfect resting point on your way up and down the Keys, too. Who knows? Maybe you'll pull in and that magic cancellation will show up just in time.
Otherwise, Fiesta Key RV Resort is a popular place to find a waterfront site and experience the allure of camping somewhere that you can watch both the sun rise and set over the water from the same spot.
Marathon Key Camping
Marathon is a city that spans several small keys, and trends toward the teeming side of the scale when it comes to sheer number of RV parks.
The area plays host to Curry Hammock State Park, one of the largest natural areas left in the Keys, as well as a handful of privately owned RV parks including Jolly Roger Travel Park, where campers can get close enough to feel the sea spray if they're willing to shell out the $100 per night fee.
All around, Marathon as a location makes for the perfect basecamp for exploring the Keys. It's centrally located, is jam-packed with amenities like grocery stores, restaurants and mechanics, and has no shortage of places to park your home.
Big Pine Key Camping
As home to Bahia Honda State Park--arguably the best place to camp in all of the Keys, maybe even Florida--Big Pine Key continues the general theme of its more northern siblings, but with an extra tinge of nature, a little less hustle and bustle, and maybe even a slightly brighter sun in the sky.
Can't get into Bahia Honda? Though it's a completely different experience, across the street you'll find Sunshine Key RV Resort, where you can still soak up all of the azure rippling goodness of the salty water as it does its diamond dance, and make short work of a trip to the state park itself.
The town of Big Pine Key itself is a great place to find some truly eclectic old school Florida Key restaurants, stock up on groceries, or snag a kayak for some of the best key hopping in one of the more intricately puzzling portions of the islands.
Sugarloaf Key Camping
While KOAs can vary drastically in their individual experiences from one to another, Sugarloaf Key's KOA is perhaps the most authentic camping experience one can have in the Keys. Why? Because even last minute, you may be able to score a spot, they boast the most actual tent camping south of Mainland Florida, and you can even have a campfire.
The penny you pay will still be on the prettier side, but Sugarloaf Key serves as the perfect trampoline for visiting Key West without completely absorbing yourself into the full on debauchery of America's favorite party.
Key West Camping
Ah, the beer-soaked streets, t-shirt shops pouring into the sidewalks, overpriced all you can eat lobster dinners and The Old Man and the Sea inspired ashtrays...what's not to love about Key West camping?
If Mile Marker 0 and the end of The Keys are your destination, you're in luck, as RV campgrounds in Key West, Florida are rather abundant. You won't find yourself parked on legendary Duval Street, but depending on your budget, you can be close enough to hear the faint echoes of Spring Breakers or far enough out to shoot your own private Corona commercial between the palms.
Bluewater Key RV Park is the farthest from Key West proper, but offers the absolute lushest of lush experiences in exchange for signing away a sliver of your personal fortune. Think private palapas, 30' wide sites, oceanfront views and plenty of privacy.
Not looking to toss the entire contents of your wallet into the sea? Leo's Campground, also the closest to downtown (aside from a military campground which permits only active duty service members with a few exceptions), provides a not-as-many frills, basic, clean experience for less than a third of the price.
While the Keys may not be the easiest place to maneuver an RV, at times feel touristy cramped, and for much of Springtime are an overwhelming Solo cup and dance party affair, they're also absolutely worthy of any traveler's bucket list. If you can manage to navigate your way through the pricing, reservations and long lines of traffic come Sunday afternoon, you may find yourself just enough paradise left over to at least make those northern winter months feel a little shorter.