Competitive camping

Ever since we found ourselves in Long Key State Park last November, completely by happenstance, we knew we wanted to return. I guess that means we joined an already long list of Long Key fans who become fierce competitors when it comes to booking a site there.

When I started looking for sites in the Keys for our trip down there last fall, I immediately skipped over Long Key since it was supposedly closed. The website said the park was under construction and closed as of Oct. 1. But by November, the construction hadn’t yet started and they were allowing same-day walk-in campers. But they hadn’t updated their website to reflect this so I has no idea.

We just happened to be camping next to someone “in the know” at the less than desirable campground at Pennekamp State Park. And I just happen to be a chatty Patty. So when I struck up a conversation with our camping neighbor he told me about the walk-in arrangement at Long Key. We called the park to confirm, then we stopped setting up our campsite at Pennekamp and planned to pack it up and head to Long Key the next morning. We ended up going from this:

Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

To this:

Long Key State Park, Long Key, Fl.

We found ourselves in this beautiful park with a site right on the ocean (all the sites at Long Key are ocean-front). Since it was a pretty well-kept secret the park was still open, there was hardly anyone else there. It was almost like having our own private island.

One day in to our stay, we decided to extend our vacation. The ranger I was dealing with told me how lucky we were to be there in high season, and then to have the option to extend the trip. She said that it’s usually pretty competitive to get a site there, and pretty much anywhere in the Keys, at that time of year. We suspected as much since we had only ended up at Pennekamp after not finding a campsite anywhere else in the Keys with availability for three consecutive nights – during the week!

A few weeks after we left Long Key, they updated the website to reflect the fact they were accepting walk-ins, which they continued to do even after construction began. I kept checking back a few times a week on the off-chance reservations would open back up and we could plan a return trip down there for this coming fall.

About four weeks ago, they updated the website once again to say they would stop accepting walk-ins for two weeks starting July 2 because they were nearing the end of their project and would be re-paving the road going in and through the campground. At this point, we had 100% committed ourselves to doing the trip down there again and had actual dates for when we wanted to come. I started checking the website, literally, several times a day to see if the reservation system had opened back up.

About a week and a half ago they updated the site once again to say reservations were opening up at 8 a.m. eastern time on Friday, July 13 for trips after Nov. 1 and through the 11-month booking window. Remembering what the ranger said about the competitiveness of winter camping in the Keys, we set our calendars and made plans to be on the computer at 7 a.m. local time on Friday to get our reservations.

I was on the computer by 6:45 a.m., just in case it opened up a few minutes early. I kept refreshing the website until the clock struck 7 a.m. At this point Brian had joined me with his own computer. He was checking for any available sites, I was checking for a specific site we wanted as our first choice. We kept hitting the refresh keys but it quickly became apparent the web person was a little slow making the change to the site to allow the reservations to open up.

After about five minutes, I panicked and thought, “GRAB THE PHONE!!” I figured if it took long enough for the website to update, all the sites would be gone from people booking over the phone.

I dialed the number and got a busy signal. Dialed again. Busy signal. And again. And again. Beep. Beep. Beep…. GAH!!

I found myself going through this patterns of:
1. dialing the phone number
2. hitting the button for speaker phone.
3. turning to the computer hitting refresh.
4. hanging up phone after busy signal
5. refreshing the web browser once again
6. Hitting re-dial on the phone
7. repeat steps 1-6

I think I repeated this routine at least 40 Times. I felt like I was back in high school trying to be the 13th caller to win Duran Duran concert tickets from the local radio station.

At about 7:20, I got through on the phone. I was placed on hold through an automated system that said they were experiencing a high call volume. But I got through. Progress! While on hold, the website was also updated.

I GOT IT!! I clicked on the campsite I wanted, and it took me to the reservation page! It was like hitting the lotto! well, maybe not *just* like hitting the lotto, but it was pretty darn exciting.

I went through the process of booking the site online while remaining on hold, just in case. I completed the transaction within a few minutes and by 7:30 we had our confirmation! Before hanging up the phone, I read the confirmation over twice, just to make sure I hadn’t, you know, booked for 2013 or something similarly stupid.

Just for kicks and giggles, I went back online about 10 minutes later to see what was still available. They were down to less than 10 sites, out of 67. By the end of the day, all they had were bout five sites, all of which were tent sites. This was just for the week we are going. The reservations were open for trips in November through next July! Competitive? You aren’t kidding!

Now I’m wondering if we should look in to selling our site on the black market. Supply and demand, baby!!

Nah. I think I’ll keep this all for myself:

Long Key State Park


Sunrise at Long Key from our campsite.


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About travelerontherun

I am a chronic adventurer who loves to see and experience new places. What I really love most is experiencing those places after parking my RV and lacing up my running shoes.
This entry was posted in Camping, Rving, traveling, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Competitive camping

  1. Amy says:

    Too funny! But the view is definitely worth it! How beautiful! I’m not a camper, but I could probably survive a weekend in that camp spot!

  2. Yeah, I don’t think one would have to be a camper to love this place! It’s amazing!

  3. Oh my gosh! I was so nervous reading this. WHen you picked up the phone and were on hold, I thought we were dunzo. BUT we came through with the site in hand!!!!! *And the corwd goes wild* YAY! That is like intense to say the least.

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