Playing In Paradise
Get the most out of your visit
The Lower Florida Keys offer a wide variety of activities, but the natural beauty of the Lower Keys is an attraction in itself. So much so that our only road in and out of the Keys, US 1, is one of only 30 roadways in the nation to have earned the prestigious title, All-American Road. US 1, Florida’s only All-American Road, begins just north of Key Largo and runs through the Lower Keys to Key West. It is connected by 42 bridges over the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico and provides a stunning drive.
Quiet solitude and the laid-back lifestyle of the area provide a perfect, relaxing get-away. Friendly locals welcome visitors to the islands they love and they are anxious to share information. Except for the fortunate few that can claim to be true "Conchs" (born and raised in the Keys), most residents were once visitors themselves.
Visitors driving through the Lower Keys often see our little natives, Key Deer, in their natural environment, munching low-hanging leaves or nibbling on grass beside the road. The Key Deer are not fenced, but instead have the run of the National Key Deer Refuge, which encompasses approximately 9,200 acres that include pine rockland forests, tropical hardwood hammocks, freshwater wetlands, salt marsh wetlands and mangrove forests. Most of the Key Deer inhabit approximately 2,300 acres on Big Pine Key, which is set aside as a haven for this protected species. The deer, which grow to just 2-1/2 feet tall and weigh less than 75 pounds, can usually be observed in the early morning and early evening hours. Note: It is illegal to feed or entice the deer. Please drive cautiously at dawn and dusk.
The Lower Keys offer a myriad of exquisite colors from crystal blue waters to fiery sunsets. The landscape’s lush bougainvillea, hibiscus, orchid and frangipani paint a brilliant background for our indigenous trees such as the shade-producing mahogany, poisonwood, the aerial-rooted banyans, the peeling gumbo limbo, the delectable sea grape and the graceful mangrove.
Tropical treats like Key limes, tamarinds, mangos, sapodilla, avocados, papayas, coconuts, pineapple and starfruit are grown here. The mangrove tree is one of the very substances that helped to create the fabulous Keys. This "man-like" tree grows in the shallow salt water areas of the Florida Bay or backcountry. Layers of silt and sea grass collect under their branches to eventually make a small island.
There are many points of interest for visitors interested in experiencing life in the Lower Keys click on tabs to read more:
BAHIA HONDA STATE PARK
MM37, Lower Keys, 305-872-2353, 305-872-3210
Recently named one of the top ten beaches in America, the beachfront park features a marina, dive shop, cabins and camp sites. Visitors may enjoy swimming, diving, fishing, boating, hiking, picnicking, cabins and camping. The park was created by the covering of an ancient coral reef by mangroves, beaches and sand dunes. Birdlife here includes beautiful and rare species such as the white-crowned pigeon, great white heron, roseate spoonbill, reddish egret, osprey and pelican. This is a great place for a family outing.
COUPON BIGHT STATE AQUATIC PRESERVE
South of Big Pine Key, this aquatic preserve incudes a sheltered tropical lagoon and open ocean environments. Mangrove and saltmarsh wetlands, marine grassbeds, coral patch reefs and expansive areas of hardbottom communities distinguish this unique preserve.
JACK C. WATSON MEMORIAL TRAIL
MM30 Big Pine Key
This trail is 2/3 of a mile long and winds through typical Big Pine Key habitat consisting of slash pine and palms.
MM30 Big Pine Key
Focusing one's senses can create a “sense of place." Allow yourself to become a part of what you are experiencing - the unique pine rocklands of the Florida Keys.The Frederick C. Mannillo, Jr. Wheelchair Accessible Nature Trail is on Key Deer Boulevard, a short distance past the Blue Hole. (see map below)
Mile Marker 17, Sugarloaf Key
One particularly unique attraction, the Bat Tower, has a quirky history. The Bat tower is located on Lower Sugarloaf Key at Mile Marker 17. Originally owned by an English sponge farmer named C.W. Chase, the tower property was sold to Richter C. Perky. Mr. Perky intended to establish a fishing camp there. In 1929, as a solution to the pesky mosquito problem, Perky built a bat tower to house the mosquito-eaters (sort of an early version of a bug zapper). Unfortunately, Mr. Perky's thousands of dollars flew off as quickly as the bats did when he placed them in his tower. The Bat Tower now stands as a monument to one man's folly.
THE BLUE HOLE
Mile Marker 31, Big Pine Key
Within the Key Deer Refuge lies a "borrow pit" from the railroad days called Blue Hole. The Blue Hole has an off-street parking area and a walkway leading to an observation deck. Alligators in various sizes, freshwater fish and turtles call Blue Hole their home. This attraction is a natural for great photos or videos and is located along Key Deer Boulevard on Big Pine Key. Further down the road lies the wondrous Jack Watson Memorial Nature Trail and Watson's Hammock. This 0.7 mile, self-guided trail winds through typical pine rockland habitat consisting of slash pine and thatch palms. The 0.1 mile Manillo Trail spur, completed in 1997, is accessible to the disabled.
Big Pine Key and No Name Key are part of the Great White Heron National Refuge, so our islands provide a natural haven for birds. Frigate birds, cormorants, pelicans, egrets, ibises and herons are just some of the birds that inhabit these islets and the Lower Keys. The endangered Bald Eagle still remains in this area. There is an annual Bird Watching & Wildlife Festival in September that features field trips to Dry Tortugas National Park, the National Key Deer Refuge, Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock State Park and other national, state and private natural areas. The week’s events include talks and walks covering the flora and fauna of this one-of-a-kind subtropical island chain.
activities abound in the Lower Keys: offshore, backcountry and bridge fishing are at your fingertips. Diving and snorkeling are favorite activities, as is water-skiing, sailing, boating and windsurfing. Kayaking, canoeing and paddleboarding are also popular methods of exploring the beautiful waterways of the Lower Keys. So much water...and so little time.
is the best way to see one of the Lower Keys’ natural wonders: Looe Key, which is not really a Key at all, is a spur and groove reef that is part of the Keys-wide Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Designated as a Marine Sanctuary in 1981, Looe Key was named after the H.M.S. Looe, a British frigate that sank there in 1744. Ballast stones of the H.M.S. Looe remain in the Sanctuary as eerie tombstones. This 5.3 nautical mile park is fully protected from spearfishing, fishing & shell collecting. Looe Key is known as the most spectacular living reef in North America for its diverse population of corals and its colorful array of tropical fish. Because of its unique shape and varying depths, Looe Key is ideal for scuba diving & snorkeling at all skill levels. The Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce holds their internationally famous Annual Underwater Music Festival at Looe Key every July.
Besides beautiful Looe Key, the Lower Keys also offer superb diving in the patch reefs and shallow ledges. A mini-wall of 60-100 feet is also a favorite dive spot. Lower Keys dive shops are completely equipped for all snorkeling, diving and related activities. Outside of the Sanctuary, spearfishing and lobstering (season, Aug.6-Mar. 31) are permitted with proper licenses.
The newest attraction to the Lower Florida Keys underwater paradise is the "Adolphus Busch Sr." On December 5, 1998 the Lower Keys Artificial Reef Association sank the wreck, creating a new underwater recreational site. The 210 foot freighter sits perfectly upright in 110 feet of water. Scuba divers can explore the inside of the ship, while snorkelers can view it from the top, as the ship's towers rise to within 40 feet of the surface. Located halfway between Looe Key Reef & American Shoal, a series of floating markers serve as mooring bouys. (Lat 24.31.81N/Long 81.27.64W)
Local dive shops have trips to Looe Key twice daily (usually at 8:30 a.m. & 1:30 p.m.) as well as night dives. Many private charters provide flexible times to Looe Key and other popular diving and snorkeling areas.
CLICK HERE for current FWC fishing regulations for the Florida Keys.
Whether you are an expert or a novice, the Lower Florida Keys have something for every angler. Anytime of the year you can find something that will take your bait. Offshore fishing produces such species as the blue and white marlin, shark, wahoo (the fastest fish in the ocean), mackerels and most any kind of tuna imaginable. And then there is the barracuda, one of the most underrated of game fish. It is capable of powerful runs and impressive jumps.
Other fish often found on the reef include mackerels, sharks, jacks, and cobia. Springtime in the Keys means tarpon. These migrating giants take a few months off to feed on mullet or pinfish and relax in the channels under and around many of the bridges. Only in the Keys can an angler venture only yards from shore and do battle with up to 200 pounds of aerial, acrobatic fish!
an All-American Road
The Florida Keys Scenic Highway (FKSH) corridor runs from Mile Marker 110, north of the spectacular Jewfish Creek Bridge, to Mile Marker 0 in Old Town Key West. The scenic highway corridor also extends five miles on each side of the highway. So, the FKSH truly encompasses all of the Florida Keys, its natural wonders, and its communities...Read more, Click here.
The Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce has met the standards of Florida Keys Green Living & Energy Education Green Business Program.
You can be low-key
in the Lower Florida Keys
If you've had enough of an overcrowded and weary world, the islands of the Lower Keys are the place for you... Read More, Click Here