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Friday, April 12, 2013

Five-Star State Parks: Bahia Honda Florida Keys

In honor of the Florida State Parks System’s 75th anniversary, we head outdoors, FT+L-style. As it turns out, roughing it is — thankfully — not what it used to be. 

Photo by Claudia Miller
Bahia Honda Park 
Big Pine Key 

BASICS: Between Marathon and Key West, Bahia Honda consistently ranks as one of the best beaches in the United States thanks to its sandy shores and crystalline waters in the shadow of Henry Flagler’s ill-fated railroad. 

STAY: Hidden on the north side of the park are six two-bedroom cabins on stilts that afford striking bay views. Sleeping up to six, they’re furnished with the basics, including air conditioning, a full kitchen and a waterside grill, but it’s the view that’s the real star here. Prepare for fierce competition from return guests who stalk these rooms year-round. No TV, phone or Wi-Fi welcome. 

PLAY: Do some recon to see which of the beaches here suits your mood. Sandspur is our fave, with its isolated wide shoreline and sea-oat-covered dunes—a rarity in the Keys. Low tide is prime time on Loggerhead, revealing long sandbars where you can walk hundreds of feet from shore. 

DIVE: Take the ranger-led tour out to the Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary, part of the only living coral barrier reef in the continental United States. Brightly colored corals provide a backdrop for angelfish, hogfish and snapper, as well as camouflaged critters like grouper, horseshoe crabs, stingrays and moray eels. You can easily find yourself surrounded by a school of yellow and black sergeant majors or eye to eye with a four-foot barracuda. 

DINE: Take a quick jaunt back over the Seven Mile Bridge to Marathon for dinner at Lazy Days, known for chef Lupe’s signature fresh catch encrusted with bread crumbs, sautéed and topped with tomatoes, scallions, Parmesan and Key-lime butter. The waterfront view is lauded as one of the best in town. 

DON’T MISS: Hike through one of the two remaining natural habitats of the endangered Miami blue butterfly to the top of the Old Bahia Honda Bridge. Offering a unique view of a vertical section of Flagler’s railroad, which was destroyed in the 1935 hurricane, it’s the perfect panoramic perch for sunset.

Originally published in Florida Travel + Life magazine

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