Stretching like pearls on a necklace, Florida’s barrier islands form the most southern points of the US. But while most tourists drive straight to Key West, there is a true hidden gem for nature lovers waiting in the Florida Keys:
Bahia Honda State Park features picturesque beaches, turquoise-blue waters, rare plant species and a colorful variety of waterfowl and fish. Here, you can see the “real Florida”, far away from the hustle and bustle of big cities – a perfect place to relax.
In this article, we will tell you what you should know before visiting this tropical Eden: from the best travel time and the flora and fauna to the most beautiful sights and activities at Bahia Honda State Park.
Bahia Honda State Park – important Facts
You want to get the most out of your visit to Bahia Honda State Park? Then, you should know these important facts:
The history of Bahia Honda State Park is inextricably linked to one person: Henry Morisson Flagler. In 1904, this oil magnate and pioneer of Florida tourism built a railroad to Key West. Although the project was thwarted by tropical storms, it succeeded in putting Bahia Honda on the map, leading to more and more visitors. The island first became a county park, and in 1961, it was declared a state park.
Location and Directions
The 494-acre park is located on Bahia Honda Key, an island in the far south of the state. It is situated about halfway between Marathon and the popular holiday island of Key West.
All of the Florida Keys’ barrier islands are connected by the Overseas Highway – a scenic route that makes arrivals by car super-easy. From Miami, motorists need about 2.5 hours.
Of course, you can also get there by boat: The Bahia Honda Marina features 19 slips with electricity and water as well as a pumping station, showers, toilets and waste disposal facilities.
You can reserve a slip via the telephone number (305) 872-3210 or the VHF channel 16.
Like the other islands of the Florida Keys, Bahia Honda features warm temperatures and plenty of sunshine all year round. Nevertheless, there are seasonal differences:
The dry season from November to April brings moderate temperatures of 25–28° C and low precipitation – ideal conditions for hiking, sunbathing and snorkeling.
In summer, you should account for more rainy days, hot temperatures and high humidity. While the showers are mostly heavy but short, there is the risk of tropical storms. The traces of Hurricane Irma are clearly visible on Bahia Honda, and exxperience shows that most storms occur between August 15 and October 15. However, warning systems can detect hurricanes quite early now.
On Bahia Honda, the flora of North America meets that of the Caribbean – resulting in a wide variety of species. The island is home to the largest population of the rare silver palm, which delights the eye with its bright, fan-like leaves. Gumbo-limbos can easily be identified by their reddish bark, the geiger tree is a colorful import from the West Indies, and sea-lavender lets the coastal areas shine in a sea of purple.
In addition, limestone soil brings forth an abundance of flowers, which in turn serve as food for the endangered butterfly species “Miami Blue”.
With its rich coastal landscape, Bahia Honda State Park attracts a large number of waterbirds: including pelicans, spoonbills, night herons and cormorants. Wood warblers like to spend the winter here, and the railway bridge in the island´s southwest is an ideal place to spot falcons.
Off the coast, the wildlife is equally diverse: rocks, coral reefs and seagrass meadows provide a refuge for angelfish, parrotfish, striped sergeants and barracudas. Larger marine species include manta rays, sharks, dolphins and sea turtles: even loggerheads, which have become a rare sight elsewhere, are regularly spotted off the coast of Bahia Honda.
Bahia Honda State Park is open every day from 8 am until sunset. The Concession Building, where you can buy snacks, souvenirs and clothes, also opens at 8 am and closes at 5 pm.
All visitors to Bahia Honda State Park must pay an entrance fee that varies according to the mode of transport:
- 2 USD for pedestrians and cyclists
- 4 USD for motorcycles and single-person vehicles
- 8 USD for vehicles with 2–8 passengers.
In addition, a county tax of 50 cents per person is due.
Bahia Honda State Park – Things to do
Whether on water or on land, alone or with knowledgeable guides, Bahia Honda State Park offers a wide variety of things to do for the whole family:
Swimming and Sunbathing
If you want to relax, enjoy the sun and splash around in the warm water, there are three beaches to choose from at Bahia Honda State Park:
The first one is Sandspur Beach, which many visitors consider the most beautiful beach in all of Florida – or better: considered. As of now (September 2021), the damage caused by Hurricane Irma is still being repaired here. For this reason, Sandspur Beach is currently closed.
Equally picturesque and situated 1.2 miles further west are Calusa and Loggerhead Beach. Not only do these beaches feature powdery, white sand and crystal-clear water. Here, you can also see the half-destroyed but still impressive railway bridge of the Flagler Overseas Railroad.
Snorkeling and Diving
If you want to snorkel or dive at Bahia Honda State Park, you have two options:
On the one hand, you can do so directly off the coast. There, you will find seagrass meadows and rocks that are home to crabs, colorful tropical fish, rays and nurse sharks. Snorkeling trips near the highway bridge are particularly worth-while. Please note, however, that strong currents can occur. A diver’s flag is mandatory to warn boaters.
If you want to experience the true underwater splendor of the Florida Keys, we recommend an organized snorkeling tour to the Looe Key Marine Sanctuary, 12 miles away. There, you can marvel at 50 species of corals and 150 species of fish.
Prior experience is not necessary for the tour and the equipment (mask, snorkel and diving fins) can be rented for a deposit. There is no age restriction. However, participants must be able to swim.
Snorkeling Tour Information:
- Times: 9.30 am, 1.30 pm or 4.45 pm
- Ticket sales: Concession Building (at Loggerhead Beach)
- Duration: 1–1.5 hours
- Costs: 29.95 USD (adults), 24.95 USD (children).
Due to its small size, Bahia Honda State Park does not offer long-distance hikes. However, there are short routes that showcase the natural beauty of this area.
The most popular one is Bahia Honda Bridge Trail: a 700 yard-long, marked loop that is easily walkable, even for beginners. It starts with a gentle climb and then leads over an old section of the Overseas Highway. There, you will have a great view of the half-destroyed railway bridge – still a masterpiece of engineering.
Unfortunately, Hurricane Irma ravaged much of Bahia Honda’s Atlantic coast in 2017. This is why the popular Silver Palm Nature Trail on the south side is no longer accessible. As compensation, you can walk around the southern tip of the island and admire the Overseas Railway Bridge from below.
The abundance of species at Bahia Honda State Park does not just attract snorkelers. Fishing fans can make the catch of a lifetime here – directly on the beach, off the rocky west coast or on a boat trip. Fishing under the highway bridge might no longer be an insider tip, but is still worth-while if you want to catch big, silvery tarpons. In addition, snappers, groupers and barracudas also populate the waters around Bahia Honda.
If you want to explore the picturesque coast of Bahia Honda State Park, kayaking is the perfect activity for you. You can launch your vessel at two boat ramps: either at the Loggerhead parking lot or at the marina. There, kayaks can be rented for 12 or 18 USD (single or double kayak).
Bahia Honda State Park – Accommodation
If you want to spend more than one day at Bahia Honda State Park, you can choose from the following accommodation options:
Bahia Honda State Park features three campgrounds with restrooms and running water. For more information, you can check the following table:
|Electricity||Hot water||RVs allowed|
|Buttonwood||x||x||max. length: 71 ft|
|Sandspur||some sites||max. length: 13 ft|
Buttonwood, the park´s biggest campground, offers sites directly on the water (but without shade).
Sandspur is known for its beautiful surroundings, but cannot accommodate large RVs. As of September 2021, this campsite is closed due to storm damage.
Bayside is the smallest campsite of the park. Vehicles must fit under the Bahia Honda Bridge, so they cannot exceed 7 ft in height.
Please note: The oceanfront sites are in high demand. To secure your spot, you can make reservations up to 11 months in advance.
Cabins and Hotels
Are you looking for a more comfortable stay? Then, the six cabins at Bahia Honda are a great choice. They can accommodate six people and are equipped with bedrooms, living rooms, bathrooms, kitchens and air conditioning. In addition, they feature picnic areas and barbecue grills.
If there is no cabin available – just like on the campsites, the number of visitors increases rapidly in winter – the hotels of Marathon are only 9 miles away and offer a variety of rooms in different price ranges.
FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions
Does Bahia Honda State Park have Wi-Fi?
Public Wi-Fi is only available at the park´s concession building next to the Loggerhead Parking Lot.
How much does it cost to enter Bahia Honda State Park?
The entrance fee is 2–8 USD, depending whether you arrive on foot, by bicycle, motorbike or car.
Is Bahia Honda State Park open after Irma?
Yes. Although the cleanup is still going on, you can visit the state park and its beaches. Only Sandspur Beach and the adjacent Silver Palm Nature Trail are closed to visitors.
Can I snorkel at Bahia Honda State Park?
Yes. Snorkeling is possible directly off the beach and the rocky western coast. Alternatively, you can book a snorkeling tour to the Looe Key Marine Sanctuary.
Does Bahia Honda State Park offer camping?
Yes, the state park has three campgrounds that are suitable for both tents and RVs. Some sites are equipped with electricity and hot water.
Is Bahia Honda State Park dog-friendly?
Yes. Dogs are allowed if they walk on a leash. They are also allowed at the campsites – but not on the beaches of Bahia Honda State Park.