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Key Largo Camping: Your Ticket to a Cheap Florida Vacation

Key Largo Camping
The Sunset as Seen from Key Largo's Blackwater Sound

Key Largo camping offers you the opportunity to be in the Florida Keys for a relatively small amount of money. Reducing your lodging costs might mean more to spend on snorkeling or diving, eating out, shopping and other fun stuff.

If you already have an RV, you've already absorbed that cost so you might as well get your money's worth out of it, and bring it to the Keys.

But what if you don't have an RV? Well, not to worry. It is possible to spend a perfectly comfortable night in a good weatherproof tent--rain or shine.

Key Largo Tent Camping
You Don't Need an RV to Camp in Key Largo

Just be sure you have a decent, weatherproof tent.

Oh, and there's one other thing. I'd highly recommend a Therma-Rest mattress. Mine cost about $70 a few years ago, and when it comes to camping, it was the best money I've ever spent.

These compact self-inflating mattresses take the misery out of sleeping on the hard and sometimes cold ground. I don't know about you, but as for me, once I crawl into my tent and settle down in my sleeping bag atop my Therma-Rest, I'm so comfortable might as well be in the Holiday Inn.

Key Largo Campgrounds

Okay, so where is there to camp on a Key Largo camping trip?

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.

The Entrance to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

Topping the list of Key Largo camping places is John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, located right on US 1 (as are most places in the Keys) at Mile Mark 102.5 Oceanside. The campgrounds were closed for a time for renovation, but opened again in early 2011.

Pennekamp was the USA's first underwater park. The name comes from the late John Pennekamp, former editor of the Miami Herald with an environmentalist mindset, whose efforts were instrumental in establishing the park in 1963. Aside the Park's land area, its boundaries run for about 25 miles, extending some three miles out to sea, which means, of course, to see most of the park you're going to need a mask and snorkel or maybe a ride on a glass-bottom boat.

As far as vacationing, there's a lot to do right here in the Park.

The Beach at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
The Beach at Pennekamp

You can, for example, relax on the Park's beach, and let the sun melt away your cares as if they were chunks of ice in an open cooler.

A Dive Boat at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Pennekamp Dive Boat

Or, you can catch a dive boat out to the reefs for SCUBA or snorkeling.

A Rental Boat at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Pennekamp Rental Boat

Or rent one of the Park's boats and take yourself out to the reefs.

Regarding the reefs. This is world-class diving. The abundance of shallow coral reefs makes for great SCUBA and snorkeling. In fact, Key Largo is known as the "Dive Capital of the World."

Kings Kamp
Another Key Largo Camping spot I've enjoyed is Kings Kamp. In fact, in the summer of 2010 my wife and I spent the better part of two weeks here, camped right on the water in our 15' Aliner camper.

Waterfront Campsite at Kings Kamp in Key Largo
Waterfront Camping

It was great. We could step out our front door, walk maybe 50 feet and be in the water for a swim or a snorkel in the bay's underwater grass beds. We used our time in Key Largo to explore the island, snorkel, eat seafood, shop, and see some more of the Florida Keys.

Located at Mile Marker 103.5 Bayside, Kings Kamp has campsites right on the water. You can even launch and tie up your boat here.

A View of Kings Kamp in Key Largo
A Small Friendly Place

Kings Kamp is a small but friendly place. Some people live here most of the time. Others come down from Miami to spend most week-ends here--away from the grind of city life. In the evenings, they sometimes gather by the bay for a relaxing sundowner. Watching the sun go down is just part of life in the Keys.

The Sun Sets over Blackwater Sound in Key Largo
Day's End At Kings Kamp in Key Largo

Kings Kamp does have sites for tent camping. Restrooms and hot showers are available. The only potential problem here is there is only one for men and one for women, so these facilities are limited.

Key Largo Kampground and Marina
Located at Mile Marker 101.5 Oceanside, this Key Largo camping facility is tucked away a bit off US 1, so it can be a little tricky to find.

Key Largo Kampground and Marina
Key Largo Kampground and Marina

Even though they have numerous tent and RV sites available for overnighters, Key Largo Kampground and Marina is mostly a condominium campground, meaning many people own their own spot, which is often equipped with a semi-permanent structure such as a mobile home. Some of the owners rent out their property for extended periods. So, if you're looking for a place to escape the northern winters, I suppose this could be it.

Campsite at Key Largo Kampground and Marina
Key Largo Kampground Has Both RV and Tent Sites

The tent and RV sites are attractive and fairly shady, which can be important in the hotter months.

The Pool at Key Largo Kampground and Marina
Key Largo Kampground Pool

When you're not out somewhere else in Key Largo, you can enjoy the heated pool. The fact that the pool is heated is important in the cooler months because wintertime temperatures in the Keys can occasionally be a little chilly.

Adequate washrooms with hot-showers are available, plus they also have on-site laundry facilities.

What to Do on Your Key Largo Camping Vacation

Okay, now that we've covered where to stay on your Key Largo camping vacation, let's talk about what there is to do here.

SCUBA and Snorkeling
As mentioned above, this IS the dive capital of the world, so there's plenty to see out on the reefs for both SCUBA enthusiasts and snorkelers.

Here in Key Largo, there's no shortage of dive boats to take you out to any of the numerous shallow-water coral reefs that lie just a few miles offshore.

For advanced SCUBA divers, there are also some deep-water wrecks including the Spiegel Grove, the Bibb, and the Duane.

While in Key Largo one summer, my wife and I booked an afternoon snorkeling trip aboard the Sundiver III. We enjoyed our trip. Our captain and crewman were friendly and informative. I particularly enjoyed being aboard the roomy 46-foot snorkel boat. It got us out to the reefs and back again in a speedy manner, and it didn't have the crowded, cattleboat feel.

Sundiver Snorkel Boat
The Sundiver III Was Roomy and Fast

Key Largo offers so much in the way of snorkeling and SCUBA, an avid diver could stay here for months, maybe a lifetime, and not get tired of the Key Largo's underwater world. If diving is your thing, Key Largo is one place you'll want to see.

Visit the Everglades
Everglades National Park is only about 35 miles from Key Largo, and it's well worth a day trip. Once you enter the park, you can enjoy the 38-mile drive along the main park road down to Flamingo. See the first page of my three-page series devoted to that trip.

Wanna do some serious Everglades exploring? You can rent a skiff in Flamingo and explore the vast Everglades Backcountry of Whitewater Bay. The Flamingo Marina provides backcountry charts, but by all means bring a compass (or two), and a GPS. I'd also recommend bringing a hand-held marine radio. It's easy to get lost in the backcountry if you're not familiar with it, or if you don't navigate well.

If you're not up for exploring on your own, you can take a pontoon boat tour of the Everglades. They have both a Florida Bay tour and a backcountry tour. Both tours are around two hours long, maybe a little less. You can see the Everglades and let somebody else do the driving and the navigating.

Make a Day Trip to Key West
Depending on your situation, you may want to take a day out of your Key Largo camping trip and make a day trip to Key West.

You'll at least glimpse the rest of the Florida Keys, and you'll get to explore one of the oldest, most off-beat towns in Florida, which just happens to be the birth place of that most delicious of all southern confections: key lime pie.

I always enjoyed visiting the Ernest Hemingway house in Key West. You might like that, too.

The distance in the Keys is surprising. It's a little over a hundred miles to Key West, so start out early if you're planning to do the trip in a day. If it's likely you'll never return to the Florida Keys, you might want to make the long trip down. It's a scenic drive and you'll get to at least lay eyes on the entire Keys archipelago.

Go Kayaking
You can stop in at Florida Bay Outfitters at Mile Marker 104, and arrange for a tour or just rent your own kayak and go find your own way to any of a number of great sites. I enjoy looking around their place of business. Plus, they're knowledgeable about local conditions and events.

Enjoy Good Food
Food on this Key Largo camping trip can go from cheap to expensive, whatever you're looking for. As far as restaurants go, my wife and I like the Conch House at Mile Marker 100.2 Oceanside. Be sure to enjoy the key lime pie.

Harriette's Restaurant at Mile Marker 95.7 Bayside is a popular breakfast spot in Key Largo.

If you want to dine in or cook out, there's a Publix grocery store in the Tradewinds shopping center at around Mile Marker 101.5 Oceanside. In my opinion, Publix is by far the best of Florida's supermarkets.

While enjoying your Key Largo camping vacation, don't forget to just relax. The pace is slower and more carefree in the Keys than in most places.

You might even develop a case of "Key-itis." Symptoms include an aversion to shaving, dislike of any footwear other than flip-flops, general lack of ambition, compulsive desires to listen to Jimmy Buffet music, and thoughts of remaining here in the Keys and never returning to your job or where you came from. If this happens to you, you're probably beyond help. But good luck anyway.

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