Hipcamp recently asked outdoor-adventurer/blogger/all-around-epic-woman, Johnie Gall (a.k.a. Dirtbag Darling), to give us the scoop on Florida Keys camping. Her top pick: Big Pine Key. Although known to most for its impressive fishing, Johnie’s guide shows us all the island has to offer for the non-anglers among us.
Things to expect on Big Pine Key: sugary white sand beaches, pungent salt marshes, a 35 mph speed cap (hey, it’s there to protect the endangered Key Deer, a dog-sized species found only on this island), and fish guts. A lot of fish guts. That’s because this Key is known for its world-class fishing—think Tarpon, Mahi-mahi, and Snapper—the reason why charter boats are many and luxe amenities are few.
You have to admit, the idea of a fresh caught seafood dinner sounds pretty appealing, but if you aren’t that into reeling in a line, there’s still plenty to do on Big Pine: take a trip to one of the area’s protected coral reefs like Looe Key, where you can swim over Elkhorn coral, nurse sharks, sea turtles and cuttlefish; hike through 9,200 acres of freshwater wetlands and mangrove forests in the National Key Deer Refuge; or, for an afternoon dip in the Atlantic, head to Bahia Honda, a beautiful beach at mile marker 37 where you can snorkel, bum a shower, and hike to the top of the defunct Bahia Honda Rail Bridge.
The best way to cap off a day on Big Pine is to live like a local. And by local, we mean Jimmy Buffet. Catch the Sunset Celebration that takes place every night at Mallory Square Dock in Key West—get there a few hours before the sun takes a dive to catch the street performances (we love Dr. Juice’s tumbling act and the cat circus run by Dominique the Cat Man)—before ordering the Cheeseburger in Paradise at Margaritaville and browsing the Wyland Gallery.
All photos courtesy of Johnie Gall / Dirtbag Darling