It seems many families have a vacation spot that generations return to year after year. There may be a cabin in the woods, a city on a beach, or a house on a lake. Our family has Key Largo. My grandparents started visiting when the island was little more than mangroves and mosquitoes. I first visited almost 30 years ago and have returned close to every year since. We have stayed in a large proportion condos complexes and hotels on the island. We even rented a trailer once, but nothing was ideal. So this year we were thrilled to be able to bring our very own trailer to one of our favorite spots.
Admittedly, it is very hard for us to be objective about a place that is so sentimental. I have wonderful memories of swimming off the beaches or sunning on the docks in nearly every stage of my life. But visiting as a recent blog-writer allowed me to view the campground with an outsider’s lens. And I feel that I must share some of downsides of the campground.
- The sites are small. The above picture seems lovely, but full disclosure requires noting that it is taken from middle of the neighboring site. Key Largo is about a mile wide. Land in this tropical paradise comes at a high price, so as many lots as possible are crammed in. The lots are not as small as the parking lot we experienced in Ft. Lauderdale, but you can definitely hear your neighbors fighting (ask me how I know).
- There are a lot of permanent trailers. Key Largo is more of a lifestyle than a place. So there are a lot of people who will go to great lengths to call the place home. Some will live in 90+ degrees in a tent with no air conditioner. Others live in ancient mobile homes that have fared poorly in past hurricanes. True natives of the Conch Republic spend more time on or in the water and will live however necessary to be able to enjoy the beautiful scenery. The campground works to maintain standards, but the winds, sun, salt air, and Keys laid back attitude make that an uphill battle.
- There are no “real” beaches. If you dream of waves lapping pure white silted shores, the Keys are not for you. The Florida Keys are overly developed coral reefs. The living reefs form a barrier against incoming waves a few miles out and the resulting protected cove creates a unique ecosystem. Mangroves and seagrass plains shelter smaller fish and nesting areas. I have grown to love the still waters filled with jellyfish, rays, and baby sharks but they are best explored by boat, whether kayak or commercial cruise. I always feel a pain of sympathy when a tourist asks where the beach is. With the exception of a few small, man-made spots, the answer is about two hours north.
- There are a lot of *bleeping* bugs. This is a huge sigh for me. The bugs in Key Largo are bad and I am afraid they are particularly bad in this campground. Mosquitos are present, but the insects that will drive you to the point on hating nature are the no-see-ums. These tiny, blood-sucking gnats are so small, you may not notice their bites. Their presence is often only felt in the numerous itchy welts present the next day. And here is the worst part: THE DARN THINGS ARE SMALL ENOUGH TO GET THROUGH STANDARD SCREENS. That can mean closing the windows open to the cool ocean breezes.
But all of those flaws are easily worth withstanding for the beautiful blue skies.
The campground features some nice amenities including a heated pool, play area, and a reasonably clean bathroom.
At mile marker 101, we think the campground is the ideal location for exploring the key. John Pennekamp State Park is within biking or kayaking distance.
Although the campground is reasonably large, only about 40 sites are available for rental. So book early!
* Thanks to Mom for taking pictures!