Just down the beach from our sunny picnic spot at Bahia Honda State Park, a toddler in a pink bathing suit scampered to her parents, carrying a handful of sand that she had scooped from below the gently unfolding surf. Her giggles carried on the wind as she dropped the sand into a vivid blue pail beside her mothers beach chair, and went back for more.
She must have made a dozen trips before picking up the pail and carrying it now somewhat heavy with wet sand to the lapping waves edge, where she ceremoniously dumped it, and literally fell down laughing.
I watched with wonder at how little it can take for a child to have fun, if the circumstances are right. And nowhere are the circumstances more right for having fun than at one of the Keys fabulous state parks.
Our family favorite is Bahia Honda, which has a beach that was once rightly named one of Americas most beautiful. Typically uncrowded and with a gentle surf, its perfect for even the youngest swimmers.
The park also has an air conditioned nature center with aquarium and environmental activities; picnic spots; concessions; a swimming lagoon; friendly and informative staff; and a dizzying array of ranger programs, including nature walks and talks. There is even a junior ranger program for the younger set.
Mangroves, dunes and shorelines offer birders of all ages an opportunity to mix and mingle with a variety of feathered friends, and park visitors should always be on the lookout for rare butterflies, as well as lizards and raccoons.
For those wishing to stay past sundown, camp sites are available or not. Camp-grounds can accommodate any size camping rig from tents to RVs. There are also a handful of rustic cabins at the park. Sites and cabins are usually booked months in advance, so early reservations are needed.
Hikers will enjoy the parks two nature trails. One of them leads to the Old Bahia Honda Bridge, which is partially open to foot traffic and allows access to a stunning island vista. Make sure the camera batteries are charged, because this is a shot you wont want to miss.
But heres perhaps the best part a family of four can spend the entire day at Bahia Honda for a park admission fee of only $7 an amazing value for an island experience like no other.