FLORIDA KEYS — Ten state parks throughout the 125-mile-long Florida Keys & Key West island chain include some of Florida’s most appealing waterfront views and beaches. Most parks are only footsteps from Florida Bay’s aquamarine waters to the west and the turquoise hues of the Atlantic Ocean to the east.
Florida state parks offer some of the destination’s best and most secluded beaches, fishing, boating, snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking and paddleboarding. Upper Florida Keys parks are rich with fascinating Florida history, upland and coastal landscapes and underwater sea life.
In the Middle and Lower Florida Keys, four unique state parks — Long Key, Curry Hammock, Bahia Honda and Fort Zachary Taylor — are easy to explore and offer some of the best recreational opportunities in the 125-mile-long island chain.
With the only living coral barrier reef in the continental United States paralleling the Keys, state park waters are teeming with tropical fish and colorful coral formations. The four parks in the Lower Keys also offer some of the destination’s best beaches.
The six state parks in the Upper Keys include:
Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park
This 2,805-acre park in the northernmost Florida Keys is among Key Largo’s treasures, with one of the largest tracts of West Indian tropical hardwood hammocks in the United States. It also has more than 6 miles of paved trails, most accessible to bicycles and wheelchairs. The park is home to 84 protected species of animals and plants including the Key Largo woodrat, American crocodile, wild cotton and mahogany mistletoe. The park is named after Anna Dagny Johnson, an environmental activist from the 1970s through the 1990s. She led the Upper Keys Citizens Association and other environmental organizations that fought development of north Key Largo. The park is located on County Road 905, 0.5 miles north of the intersection with the Overseas Highway at mile marker (MM) 106. Visit floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/dagny-johnson-key-largo-hammock-botanical-state-park or call 305-451-1202.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
The first undersea park in the United States, Key Largo’s John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park at MM 102.5 encompasses approximately 70 nautical square miles. With 47 full-facility camping sites for RV and tent campers, the famed park offers scuba diving, snorkeling and glass-bottom boat tours of the Florida Keys’ living coral reef. Visitors can enjoy unmatched snorkeling to see colorful coral reefs. Divers can experience the thrill of discovering the underwater Christ of the Deep statue, symbolizing peace of mankind and resting in nearly 25 feet of water, at Key Largo Dry Rocks. Pennekamp’s visitor center has a 30,000-gallon saltwater aquarium, six additional 100- to 200-gallon aquariums and nature videos. There’s also kayaking, paddle-boarding and salt-water fishing in designated areas. The park offers 2.5 miles of marked mangrove wilderness and tropical hammocks in upland areas. There are three designated swimming areas with beaches on Largo Sound. A beach wheelchair is available upon request. The park was added to the National Register of Historic Places April 14, 1972. Established in 1960, it’s named after John Pennekamp, a Miami Herald newspaper associate editor and columnist who also helped to create Everglades National Park. Visit floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/john-pennekamp-coral-reef-state-park or call 305-676-3777.
Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park
Land at this 300-acre park, located on Windley Key at MM 84.9 near Islamorada, was formed by fossilized coral known as Key Largo limestone. Until the 1960s, the park’s quarry was used to produce Keystone, a decorative stone. The land was once owned by the Florida East Coast Railroad, which used the stone in building railroad magnate Henry Flagler’s Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad in the early 1900s. Visitors can walk along eight-foot-high quarry walls to see cross sections of ancient coral and learn about the quarry’s role in Florida history during the 20th century. The park has a welcome center, picnic tables, hiking trails and five short self-guided tours. It’s open Thursday through Monday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Windley Key is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Visit floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/Windley-Key or call 305-664-2540.
Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park
This 287-acre park, with virgin tropical hardwood hammock, offers a rare look at island-style living in the Upper Keys in the 1930s. Wealthy Miami chemist William Matheson bought the tiny island, located about a mile west of the Overseas Highway at MM 78.5 in Islamorada, in 1919. Matheson also built a caretaker’s home with a windmill for electricity and a cistern for capturing rainwater. The park is accessible only by private or tour boat. To get to Lignumvitae, visitors can rent a private boat or kayak from several local vendors in the Islamorada area. The park’s web site has a full list of recommended vendors. The island is open Thursday through Monday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with an entrance fee of $2.50 per person. Guided tours are offered from December through April, Friday through Sunday, at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. for an additional $2 per person. Visit floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/Lignumvitae-Key or call 305-664-2540.
Indian Key Historic State Park
Accessible only by boat, this remote 8-acre island is located off MM 78.5 in Islamorada. It was developed by wrecker John Jacob Housman as the site of a lucrative business that salvaged cargo from shipwrecks in the 1800s. Indian Key was Dade County’s first county seat in 1836 and once was the Keys’ second largest community, behind Key West. Housman’s lucrative salvaging business succumbed to a Seminole Indian attack on Aug. 7, 1840. Visitors to the park can swim, sunbathe and hike. There’s an observation tower and self-guided interpretive tour. It’s open 365 days a year, opening at 8 a.m., closing at sunset. Individual fees of $2.50 are collected at the “iron ranger” box. To get to Indian Key, visitors can rent a private boat or kayak from several vendors in the Islamorada area. Visit the park website for a full list of charter options. For more details, visit floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/Indian-Key or call 305-664-9814.
San Pedro Underwater Archaeological Preserve State Park
This underwater archaeological preserve features a submerged shipwreck, the 287-ton San Pedro, a Dutch-built ship that sank in a hurricane in July 1733. The ship’s remains were discovered in 1960 at Hawk Channel, located about 1.25 nautical miles south of Indian Key and off MM 78.5 in Islamorada. Snorkelers and divers at the 18-foot-deep underwater park can discover San Pedro’s remaining ballast stones, strewn across a 90-foot-long by 30-foot-wide area, seven replica cannons and anchor. Boats transporting snorkelers and divers can tie up at mooring buoys. Visit floridastateparks.org/SanPedro or call 305-664-2540.
Four State Parks in the Lower Keys include:
Long Key State Park
Located in the Middle Florida Keys on Long Key, just southwest of the town of Layton, the park was once the site of railroad magnate Henry Flagler’s Long Key Fishing Camp in the early 20th century. The park’s campground is undergoing an extensive renovation as a result of damage sustained during Hurricane Irma. Once completed, the park will offer recreational vehicle and tent-only campsites within the once-luxury destination for the rich and famous traveling on Flagler’s famed Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad. Birding is popular along the 1.1-mile-long Golden Orb Trail that leads visitors through five nature areas. Along the trail, white-crowned pigeons and rare Key West Quail Doves can be spotted. Other attractions include picnic tables with grills, sea kayaks for rent and restrooms with showers. Long Key State Park is located at 67400 Overseas Highway, mile marker (MM) 67.4. Visit floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/Long-Key-state-park or call 305-664-4815.
Curry Hammock State Park
Curry Hammock State Park in Marathon offers the largest uninhabited parcel of land between Key Largo in the Upper Keys and Big Pine Key in the Lower Keys. Year-round birding is popular. The park, with a beautiful mangrove creek and miles of pristine coastline, preserves essential Keys native ecosystems that include mangrove swamp, rockland hammocks and seagrass beds. Secluded protected waters make the park an ideal place to kayak and paddleboard. Curry Hammock is known as a hidden spot for shallow-water fishing. When conditions are windy, the park’s oceanfront is a popular spot to launch windsurfers and kiteboards. The park offers a 28-site oceanfront campground and an unspoiled coastline. Hikers can enjoy a 1.5-mile trail through the park’s bayside hammock. Curry Hammock State Park is located at 56200 Overseas Highway, MM 56.2. Visit floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/Curry-Hammock-State-Park or call 305-289-2690.
Bahia Honda State Park
This 500-acre park, located on Bahia Honda Key in the Lower Keys, is a top family getaway with award-winning beaches, soft sand, warm shallow water and excellent snorkeling. Railroad magnate Henry Flagler’s famed railroad helped to transform Bahia Honda Key into a subtropical destination appealing to all ages. Construction of Flagler’s Key West extension of the Florida East Coast Railway was completed in 1912. From the old Bahia Honda Rail Bridge, known as the Over-Sea Railroad Bridge, the park offers stunning views. The original trestle railroad structure, with a highway built on top, is a must-see point of interest for visitors. The park was named after the deep natural bay, a harbor for sailors, under the bridge. Bahia Honda means “deep bay” in Spanish. The park also is a nesting grounds for sea turtles, including the hawksbill, and an excellent place to watch sea wading birds and shorebirds. Bahia Honda’s scenic beaches front both the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. They include Calusa Beach, adjacent to the Bahia Honda Bridge, and the mile-long Sandspur Beach just north of the park entrance. The Sandspur area on the park’s north side is undergoing a $2.96 million restoration of its mile-long Sandspur Beach, its 24-campsite Sandspur campgrounds, a 155-car parking area and two shower towers at the day-use area. Overnight visitors can enjoy 80 total campsites — 48 sites for both RVs and tents, and 32 tent-only sites, 16 with electricity and water and 16 nonelectric sites with water — and six cabins on stilts. Other park amenities include pavilions, freshwater showers, restrooms, grills, picnic tables, beach wheelchairs and a mobi floating chair for in-water accessibility. An on-site concession and gift shop has a variety of food, souvenirs and beachwear. Kayaks and bikes are available for rent. Concessionaire Coral Reef Park Co. offers daily snorkel trips to the reef at Looe Key. Bahia Honda State Park is located at 36850 Overseas Highway, MM 37. Visit floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/Bahia-Honda-State-Parkor call 305-872-2353. To reserve bayside cabins up to 11 months in advance, visit floridastateparks.reserveamerica.com or call 800-326-3521.
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
Florida’s southernmost 56-acre state park in Key West is the island city’s favorite beach park, known for excellent snorkeling, swimming, picnicking, fishing and nature trails. Among locals, it’s a popular gathering spot for families and friends. Fort Zachary Taylor was built from 1845 to 1866, one of 47 built to defend the nation’s southeastern coastline. The fort, named after President Zachary Taylor, played important roles in Civil War and Spanish-American War history. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1973. A beachfront Cayo Hueso Cafe offers a wide variety of snacks, beach sundries, souvenirs, snacks and sandwiches. Snorkel and water gear, lockers and beach chairs can be rented. Fort Zachary Taylor State Park is located at 601 Howard England Way in Key West. Visit floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/fort-zachary-taylor-historic-state-park or fortzacharytaylor.com or call 305-292-6713.
Florida Keys state park information: floridastateparks.org
Florida Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS
Social: Facebook • Twitter • Instagram • YouTube • Pinterest • TikTok • Keys Voices Blog