Camping in Biscayne National Park is a unique experience because the only way to reach the campgrounds is by sea. So to reach the campground on Elliot Key you need to own a boat, pay for the ferry from the mainland, or have incredible swimming skills. I chose the ferry option and took a 20ish minute boat ride to Elliot Key (also when they say ferry don’t expect anything fancy. It’s a small motorboat with a shark painted on the side). The camping area is small with picnic tables. There is a small visitors center that was closed when I visited and looked like it hadn’t been used in a while. There is also a bathroom with running water! Most of the island is forest with a trail system running throughout. At the moment the trails are mostly inaccessible because of recent hurricanes. On a weekday night you will likely have the whole place to yourself! However there isn’t much to do on Elliot Key unless you have a boat. The Biscayne National Park Institute charges a small fee to bring your kayak along and when I get the chance to go back I will for sure do that! I would love to kayak around the island and snorkel at the reefs (something that costs a lot of money to be ferried to). Most of Biscayne is underwater but even if you don’t have access to snorkel gear and a boat it can still be a relaxing camping trip on an island to yourself (unless it’s a weekend). Just be sure to bring bug spray!
To camp at Elliot Key it is $25 to dock your boat and a tent site.
If you don’t have a boat like me then you will have to pay the ferry fee of $59 per person (kinda pricey) plus a $15 dollar camping fee.
All docking/camping fees are waived from May 1st to September 30th.
Thanks! – Josh
Elliot Key is the largest island in Biscayne National Park. Before the park was a park, the wealthy folks that wanted to build mansions on the islands attempted to build a highway traveling up the eight mile long island in order to ruin the nature so it wouldn’t be wanted for a national park (that’s a somewhat loose retelling of the story but pretty much what happened). Anyways they called it Spite Highway and now what’s left of that road is a trail in the National Park. I went camping on Elliot Key last weekend and after setting up camp we decided to do some exploring on the trails. We went to the trailhead and ran into some signs claiming that the trails were closed. We disagreed and went in through the other trailhead closer to the swimming area. Pretty quickly we ran into a large fallen down tree right in the middle of the trail that we had to climb around. Figuring there wouldn’t be too many more we pressed on into the island’s interior. At first I didn’t really notice any bugs but the further we went and the more trees we climbed over, the more mosquitoes I felt surrounding me. We came to a sign in the trail that probably used to say something but was a blank slate now.
About thirty minutes in we came to a crossroads and took the left road thinking it was easy to the islands other side. We hiked and hiked, climbing over, under, and around fallen trees all the while being slowly sucked to death by a million mosquitoes. I never realized how buggy the Florida keys were (I also forgot bug spray like a dummy). There are literal clouds of mosquitoes surrounding us. It sucked (get it, because of the mosquitoes sucking lol). Anyways we felt determined to reach the Atlantic and swim around with some fish so we carried on.
The further we went, the more trees and trash (lots of light bulbs) brought to the island by hurricane Irma. We started off quite determined to reach the islands other shore but after what felt like an eternity in bug hell our Atlantic aspirations dwindled down and were replaced by just wanting to be back at our campsite. We turned around and headed back on the trail and then came to the crossroads once again. Believing that the way back was straight ahead we went that way but after twenty minutes of hiking through buggy muck we realized we were going the wrong way. The island is 8 miles long but only half a mile wide and we had definitely gone more than half a mile. So we went back to the crossroads, looked left, saw the trailhead with the “trail closed” signs, and sighed in relief and annoyance at missing the exit. We hiked out of the woods and straight to our tent to hide from the mosquitoes. The rest of the trip was spent playing poker, relaxing by the bay, and swimming around. Overall the two days on Elliot Key were pretty relaxing and now I know to bring plenty of citronella next time. If you ever go to Biscayne, learn from my mistakes and bring bug spray and don’t go hiking on closed trails! I still had some fun climbing through the forests though. It was really cool to see the plant life growing on the island!
Thanks! – Josh