Return to the Keys

Discussion in 'Americas' started by mlg, Jan 3, 2019.

  1. mlg

    mlg Adventurer

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    When I was 16, my two older sisters and my older brother hopped in the family wagon and headed east. Specifically we were headed for Key West. It was a great trip, took us nearly a month there and back. The only problem was, when we got to Miami, my siblings decided it was time to turn back. They claimed we were just out of money and we couldn't go any further. Now, if you check google maps, you'll see we were an hour from Key Largo and 3 1/2 hours from Key West. I protested, I whined, I got mad. But in the end my vote didn't count. We turned around and drove home to Arizona. I have never gotten over it. I'll be 50 in march. It's time to put this one to rest. So, sometime in late march I'm heading for Key West on my big ugly triumph. I'll be camping as much as possible (I only have slightly more money now than when I was 16) I plan to spend some time in New Orleans (I love Jazz) and a few beaches (One more secret bucket list item to check off) and of course the Keys. So my question is, how is the camping? Here in AZ we can just pull off to the side of the road and find a spot. I know that doesn't work to well in other states, so I'm looking for advice on how to do that and of course suggestions of what I shouldn't miss. I don't want to have to do this again. HAHA
    #1
  2. knight

    knight Been here awhile

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    State park camping is expensive , the closer you get to Key West the less chance of finding an available spot

    A hostel in Key West wanted a $180 a night plus $30 for parking a motorcycle

    I camped at Long Key ,had to carry my stuff in and leave the bike unattended
    #2
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  3. kantuckid

    kantuckid Long timer

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    Keys camping is heavily booked! It's also very pricey as there's not much real estate down there. We have snowbirded in FL since I retired in 2001 and make our state park reservations on the required Reserve America website beginning as soon as we return from each winters visit. The booking window is eleven months and you'll be lucky to get much on a ocean side park. We do our spots every few days using that 11 mo window for each park. There is no other solution as too many people and too few spots. There are some puter tricks which some obviously use but not any I know. Using a tent helps a huge bunch though and most state parks, not all!, will get you in somewhere (except the keys, of course) in a tent.
    RV is a much different story unless one drives up and hits the jackpot.
    Private camping in the keys is probably the better idea but expect to pay a Hampton Inn price point for a tent spot in the Keys. Our 1st park come January is also the furthest south, Koreshan SP near Ft Myers/Estero Beach, as we try to stay warm then work our way up ending in St Augustine in March. Koreshan is south enough for great weather and the tent area is the best campsites in the whole park!
    If wanted anything resembling the Caribbean my preference is Mexico over all the other choices! Living in AZ makes it a no-brainer for me.
    I don't mean to discourage you but the Keys state parks I have never found a way to get more than a day stay there and too far to drive and too much traffic for a day stay. Do it as you wish but enjoy a flat traffic choked road most of the way down there...
    I happen to not care much for the Keys as you can tell. I don't mean this as a slight, it's just not my sort of place and I'll stop there but could say more. If I could go there and camp without being in a high priced hard to get private CG, jammed too close for my taste, I'd consider it just for the climate. As it is we stay between the two mentioned parks during our winter visit and most years enjoy the weather just fine. A number of FL parks we like and visit each winter but even those are tough to get into. If you have questions just ask. BTW, the gulf coast can be very wet when your crossing!
    I no longer take my scooter to FL as the whole state lacks riding interest for me-other than our mtn bikes which is does have great places to ride them!!! Riding there to enjoy the sun is one thing but flat describes it all as 287' is the highest spot in FL. It's a cruiser MC place not very exciting and way too much traffic for my taste. Areas in panhandle will be a bit chilly in March but doable weatherwise, just not beachy weather.
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  4. knight

    knight Been here awhile

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    You have got to do it once

    or you will never know how boring the riding is or how much traffic along with all the cops can actually fit on that road

    The speed limit signs should say "if you're lucky"
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  5. ineptizoid

    ineptizoid I'm scared hold me

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    Our highest spot is actually 345’, I’ve ridden up there a few times, had to rejet for altitude but I made it:D
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    OK, so everything said about the Keys is true—it’s crowded, expensive, the riding ain’t great, heavy speed enforcement, but the place is beautiful and unlike any other part of the U.S. It’s definitely something to see/experience at least once.

    I visited in February a few yrs ago, camped at Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge for a couple nights, watched the sunset on Mallory Square, walked all over Fort Zachary Taylor, enjoyed some time on the beach at Bahia Honda SP, ate conch fritters in Marathon, and scarfed down the cheesiest pizza I’ve ever had at No Name Pub on Big Pine Key. Weather was superb, and I had a blast seeing & experiencing the place. I wanna go back, even!

    Camping at Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge ain’t cheap at $53+tax/night: https://www.bpkfl.com/Rates.html But the bathrooms are clean, you’re only 30 miles from Key West, and the little Key deer roam thru the campsites providing amusement.
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    I say go, and I don’t think you’ll regret it!
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  6. Shield9

    Shield9 n00b

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    We love Key West and have been multiple times on our Harley. Never had any issues with crowds or traffic and if we had listened to all the horror stories we never would have made the trip. GO!!
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  7. kantuckid

    kantuckid Long timer

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    Mine wasn't intended to be a Key's horror story but I still found the traffic to be heavy all the way down and all the way back (much like a parade under LEO supervision) and it's too expensive for me. In the everglades it thins out a bunch.

    It's nothing new and a well known fact that many seek crowds while others (like me) do not.
    The Key's has an attraction that works for (too) many people, so it seems, as it is heavily populated, that's just reality.
    $expensive parking$ in KW tells that story. We rented scooters for what was to be a day, I kept mine a few hours and rode while my wife and SIL turned theirs back in as too much traffic for their comfort.
    If you like riding on a bridge for a couple hundred miles, out and back ---->take that choice.

    I stand corrected on FL's highest elevation! Regardless the paved roads are ALL flat. On a mtn bike it gets way more interesting than a PTW.
    Truth is we stopped going to Florida for a couple of years after spending days on end playing cards inside our RV and cold, rainy weather, we knew we could be home and live our regular life. When we started back on snow birding the weather began to cooperate and has been pleasant for a number of years since. We added AZ to our winters trips and now alternate somewhat with either FL or FL & AZ. Generally speaking your sunny, warm weather odds lessen as you travel above the citrus zone in FL.
    The panhandle has some great spots for outdoors activities once the weather turns, Black river SP as one e.g..
    #7
  8. mlg

    mlg Adventurer

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    Thanks for the info everyone. I'm planning on going still. Hopefully life won't get in the way!
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  9. bout2ride

    bout2ride Adventurer

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    my daughter just returned from a xmas vacation there, after her initial report of driving down and experiencing traffic of 4 hours to go only 17 miles, well, I don't have the patience. :muutt
    #9
  10. Oilhed

    Oilhed MarkF Supporter

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    My wife and I went to the Keys in Feb. when I turned 50. A great respite from a New England winter. Although we flew to Miami and rented a Fiat 500.

    I found a great little motel in Islamorado that caters to fishermen. Good prices, great sunset & walking distance to a beach & bar.
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    #10
  11. danh600

    danh600 Been here awhile

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    I use to really love the Keys. We live a few hours north and went a few times a year. Now it's just too expensive and crowded. We don't go anymore. However I think everyone needs to go once. Riding over the bridges and seeing ocean on both sides is a really nice ride.

    First off never go into the Keys on a Friday. Never come out of the Keys on a Sunday. Try to visit on week days. The best plan is to stop somewhere on the mainland the night before. There are a couple good hotels and campgrounds around Homestead. Stay there for a night and leave for the Keys at day break the next morning. Traffic will be much lighter and you have plenty of time to get have a nice leisurely ride down to Key West. Keep in mind there is only one road in and out. So any accident or traffic situation and you are stuck. But generally if you are going south on an early week day morning you will be fine.

    A place to stay is a tough one. State Parks are full most of the time as someone already posted. https://floridastateparks.reserveamerica.com/welcome.do
    Go on that website every chance you get until you find a open sight. Good Luck.

    Don't mean to be a party pooper, but the Keys generally take some planning and some money.

    Really depends on why you want to go. Key West is a party place. The middle Keys are great for fishing. Riding A1A is a nice experience sometimes.
    If you are going for the Beaches there are way better ones in other parts of Florida.

    I do have to say if you could swing it a few days camping at Bahia Honda would be awesome. Long Key is also cool. Your tent is feet from the ocean.
    #11
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  12. Maggot12

    Maggot12 U'mmmm yeaah!!

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    I've never been either, but it's on my list.

    Don't care what anyone says about the negatives. There's a reason it's busy and expensive.

    Couple days there and I'll scooby doo away.

    #12
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  13. halobum

    halobum Been here awhile

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    Other than Key West, is there a Key that is developed enough to support a girlfriend that thinks roughing it is room service at a Holiday Inn? I've been to to Key West in the late 90's and have no real desire to see what it has become since. She's never been, I'm thinking stay at a "developed" place midway and do a day trip to KW for her. Thoughts?
    #13
  14. boatpuller

    boatpuller Long timer

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    1. there is an airport on Key West with commercial flights. Use it!
    2. Don't day trip to the keys, stay at least one night. The Keys are best if you don't have to drive.
    3. Try to sleep near Duval street, for the above reason. It's a great walking district on the west side of KW.
    4. FL is just not a great motorcycle state, and you'll have to ride through all of it to get to KW.
    #14
  15. danh600

    danh600 Been here awhile

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    Most of the Keys are developed. All kinds of places to stay from Key Largo down to Key West. Just do a search on google maps. Actually you have a good idea. If you are going to see the sights and to enjoy the water staying in the middle keys or somewhere other than Key West is not a bad idea.
    If you really want to do the Duval crawl you probably want to be in a Hotel in KW.

    Marathon is also a pretty decent sized town with lots of hotels and restaurants.

    Riding down there is nice, but plan on a day on the water. The Keys are nice, but what is really nice is what's just off shore.
    Depending on your budget get on a boat. Even the cheap little snorkel boats are fun. You see some nice reefs. Charter a boat if your budget is bigger. The reefs off the keys are amazing.

    You can take a ferry or a float plane to the Dry Tortugas. Amazing experience.

    I really am not trying to discourage anyone from going. Just know what you are getting into. It's not some secluded chain of Islands. It's fun and beautiful. We use to go every year. We don't go much anymore, but only because we have other places we want to see. Over the years my wife and I have moved away from boats and more into motorcycle trips.
    #15
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  16. Dan Alexander

    Dan Alexander still alive and well

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    I went there in the early 90's in the height of a summer trip :hair man it was warm. They set a record for the highest low the night I was there. Too hot to camp once we came down off the Blue Ridge. 99 degrees and 99% humidity outside Atlanta.

    But ... we almost stayed in Homestead as it was getting late but decided to keep going. Great plan! Rode the causeways as the sun was setting and the moon rising and it was an awesome sight. Barely any traffic. Ocean and sky blending in together with stars and lights of boats together and twinking in the distance. Never forget it.

    Went snorkeling out to some reefs the next day. First one off the boat and I look over to see a barracuda staring me down. Someone else jumped off the boat in between us luckily :lol3 Dive boat captain said if you don't bother them they won't bother you. Not expensive and fun.

    So ... don't miss it but go in the summer when the locals are all hiding inside.
    #16
  17. kantuckid

    kantuckid Long timer

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    I realize I come across as a naysayer for the Keys but it's simply too crowded for my taste. I get the attractions it presents for some but I can spend my time & money where the snorkling is far better and believe me I've tried it in the Keys. I know if you were there much longer than I was you'd probably catch clearer water than did I but if you study the subject you'll find that only if you go out to the fort on a day trip will you be very likely to have water thats near to clear for the best diving. I have wasted my money a couple of times then found the water murky on group snorkle boats there.
    We go to FL most winters sine I retired in 2001 and not one time have I seen more than one day of open campsite at any of the keys state parks. I use the eleven months open window rule on Reserve America and I suppose you could possibly drive over a hundred miles out there and try to score a drive up campsite from a no show. In upper FL the rules vary between state parks as to what per centage of drive up camp sites they keep. We see certain locals who have a "magic hold" on campsites in some state parks. One guy weve seen for years in a ceertain park rotates his pusher diesel RV every two weeks and it pretty much stays at that park on a campsite, meanwhile he owns a ranch a few miles away. We are lucky to put together 4 or more days in that same park, using the Reserve America eleven month window! FL is a very popular place and many of the campers live there plus all the snowbirds escaping winter equals a busy place. That said, it's mostly real peaceful once your inside most state parks. Activities like we enjoy-riding or mountain bikes or being on the water are much easier and cheaper to do when not in the Keys. Estero Beach/Ft. Myers @ Koershan State Historical Park is our furthest south reservation. Even when we end our snowbirding at St Augustine @ in Anastasia State park it is heavily resered and can be chilly even in Marc on some days. Futher south your lucky to get a one nite stay near a beach state park, mostly we never get those parks and some I have never been in once as nothing is available eleven months in advance! The keys it's waay more difficult to get into any campsite.
    #17
  18. enormiss

    enormiss Been here awhile

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    I'll be in KW in March for two nights as a side trip/ride from bike week in Daytona.
    Was there in 2000 and the traffic did suck but not enough to discourage a return.
    We booked a motel in December but there were still camp sights right in KW then, as said $$$.
    My opinion is you have to go at least once...
    #18
  19. CSK24

    CSK24 adventurer

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    I'll +1 on all of this. I've been in Miami 15 years and have ridden to the Keys more times than I can count. It was way cheaper and way less crowded 10 years ago but show me a place that isn't. You should absolutely go!

    From Florida city you have 2 route choices: you can ride US-1 also called "The Stretch" which is 1 and 2 lane stop and go for 25 miles. It's an easy ride in the morning and a shitty ride in the afternoon (usually). The other option is to take Card Sound road which splits off East at the tip of Florida City. It's a nice, wide open, 2 lane road with very little traffic. The best part: there's a salty old joint called Alabama Jacks just before the bridge that serves the absolute conch fritters you've ever had. Fill up your belly and push south from there. Make a right over the bridge and head south and eventually you'll dead end back into US-1 in Key Largo.

    There are plenty of places to crash in the upper keys but things get tighter as you progress south past Lower Matecumbe Key (Islamorada). You used to be able to pitch a tent on the side of the road in Islamorada (on the beach) but I haven't tried in years. Not sure if they frown on that sort of behavior now. You should also make a point to stop in Islamorada at MM (mile marker) 88 and check out Lorelei and Morada Bay for a bite. Excellent beach dining choices.

    My advice: make 2 days of the ride down. Stop somewhere mid way, like Islamorada, to enjoy the scene and eat plenty of fresh fish. It's 2 hours to Key West the next day and if you leave before 10am you'll have smooth sailing the whole way. All of the fun bridges are on the second half of the ride.

    Key West is Key West. The end.

    I hope you go! If you have any questions DM me and I'll be happy to help.
    #19
  20. danh600

    danh600 Been here awhile

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    I will second CSK24 recommendation of conch fritters at Alabama Jacks.
    #20