Bahia Honda State Park

Monroe County

red knot
36850 Overseas Highway
Big Pine Key


There might not be a more beautiful state park in Florida than Bahia Honda. There might not be a more beautiful spot, period. The park is set on 524 acres of a coral reef island in the lower Florida Keys, the waters of the Gulf and the Atlantic lapping its shores.

Bahia Honda — Spanish meaning deep bay — offers a mix of habitats, from beach and dune, to tropical hammock and mangrove forest. There's also a tidal lagoon. You can hike it, bike it, canoe or kayak it. Or, you can just relax and take it all in.

History: In the early 20th century, Bahia Honda Key was a hub of activity as Henry Flagler extended his Florida East Coast Railroad to connect the Florida Keys with the mainland. The Bahia Honda Bridge was a significant link in the railroad line, spanning nearly a mile across the Bahia Honda channel. The Overseas Railroad operated from 1912 until the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 destroyed a significant portion of it. In the aftermath, Florida began converting parts of the railroad into the Overseas Highway for automobile traffic, including the Bahia Honda Bridge. Although the state owned the land, Bahia Honda first operated as a Monroe County park partly as a place where motorists could stop, take a break and maybe eat a picnic lunch. It became a state park in 1961. The bridge closed to traffic in 1972 with the construction of a modern bridge, but it still stands as a historic landmark.

Map makers since Spanish explorers first sailed these waters in the 16th century have given the island various names and iterations, including Vaya Honda (1595) and Baia Onda (1743), the rather odd Rice Island (1772) and Cabbage Island (1775). One William Roberts gave it the name Bahia Honda in 1763. Map makers continued to use other names for the island into 19th century, but obviously Bahia Honda stuck.

What You'll See: The setting, about 37 miles "north" of Key West, makes it a haven for shore and migratory birds, including the great white heron and the endangered white-crowned pidgeon. Bahia Honda also attracts myriad butterflies; it has the only natural colony of the extremely rare Miami blue, which had been thought to be extinct until discovered here in 1999. The nature trails are well-marked with interpretive signs. One leads to the Old Bahia Honda Railroad Bridge and one of the most iconic views in the Keys. Species we spotted include sandpipers, cormorants, red-winged blackbirds, mockingbirds, warblers, cassius blue, mangrove skipper and gulf fritillary butterflies, bay cedar, beach bean, ocean-blue morning glory, lantana, nickerbean, sea daisy, wild bamboo and a whole lot more. In fact, botanists have been visiting the island since 1870 to study the collection of plants found here.

Amenities: The park has several beaches for swimming, campgrounds, canoe and kayak rentals, fishing and boating, nature center and a snorkeling tour of the Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary, if you're so inclined. If you don't have the gear, there are concessionaires that rent it. Restrooms, drinking water and parking are available.

Of Note: Bahia Honda State Park is actually situated on Bahia Honda Key, despite the Big Pine Address. There is an entrance fee; check the website, link above, for details. Hours are sunrise to sunset, 365 days a year. Also note that the park tends to be busy at certain times and park-goers may be turned away and advised to return later when the park reaches capacity.

Nearby: National Key Deer Refuge is about 10 minutes up the road toward Key West. Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Gardens and Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park are two stops on the Great Florida Birding Trail in Key West, about 30 to 45 minutes up U.S. !.

Links: The Institute for Regional Conservation's inventory of plants is here. The Great Florida Birding Trail's take on Bahia Honda is here.

Virtual Tour

Cover Photo: A red knot we spotted near the base of the old bridge.
Getting There ...
Despite the Big Pine Key address, the state park is actually on Bahia Honda Key, just before Pig Pine if you're heading toward Key West.

Photo Gallery for Bahia Honda State Park

Click on the photograph to see an enlarged image. Click on the name to read more about the species.

Published by Wild South Florida, PO Box 7241, Delray Beach, FL 33482.
Photographs by David Sedore. Photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without permission.