FLORIDA KEYS — Ten secluded state parks throughout the 125-mile-long Florida Keys include the Keys' most scenic wide-open spaces for social distancing, solitude and outdoor recreational activities such as hiking, swimming, snorkeling and paddling.
Florida state parks offer some of the destination's best and most secluded beaches, fishing, boating, scuba diving and kayaking. These parks are rich with fascinating Florida Keys history, upland and coastal landscapes and underwater sea life.
Most parks are only footsteps from Florida Bay's aquamarine waters to the west and turquoise hues of the Atlantic Ocean to the east. Following here are highlights of the parks, deservedly acclaimed among the Keys' prime natural attractions.
Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park
This 2,805-acre northernmost Keys park has one of the United States' largest tracts of West Indian tropical hardwood hammock. With more than 6 miles of shaded trails, accessible to both bikes and wheelchairs, the park is home to 84 protected species including the endangered Key Largo woodrat, wild cotton, mahogany mistletoe and American crocodile. Located at County Road 905, a half-mile north of the intersection with U.S. 1 at marker 106. Visit floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/dagny-johnson-key-largo-hammock-botanical-state-park or call 305-676-3777.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
The first undersea park in the United States, Key Largo's John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park encompasses about 70 nautical square miles. With full-facility campsites for RV and tent campers, it offers scuba diving, snorkeling and glass-bottom boat tours. The nearby underwater Christ of the Deep statue is at Key Largo Dry Rocks. A visitor center has a 30,000-gallon saltwater aquarium, six 100- to 200-gallon aquariums and nature videos. There's also kayaking, paddleboarding and saltwater fishing, a mangrove wilderness and tropical hammocks. Established in 1960, it was named after John Pennekamp, a Miami Herald editor-columnist who also helped create Everglades National Park. Named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, it's located at mile marker 102.5. floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/john-pennekamp-coral-reef-state-park or call 305-676-3777.
Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park
On Windley Key, this 300-acre park was formed by fossilized coral known as Key Largo limestone. Its quarry was used to produce Keystone, a decorative stone, until the 1960s. The park's land was 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. With 1.2 miles of trails winding through a fossilized reef, the park has five short self-guided tours. Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays, it's located at mile marker 84.9 near Islamorada. Visit floridastateparks.org/WindleyKey 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 during the 1930s. Wealthy Miami chemist William Matheson bought the tiny island in 1919. To get to Lignumvitae, visitors can rent a boat or kayak from several Islamorada-area operators. It's about a mile west of the Overseas Highway at mile marker 77.2 in Islamorada and is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Visit floridastateparks.org/LignumvitaeKey or call 305-664-2540.
Indian Key Historic State Park
Accessible only by boat, this 8-acre island was developed by wrecker John Jacob Housman as the site of a lucrative business that salvaged cargo from shipwrecks in the 1800s. Indian Key, once the Keys' second largest community (behind Key West), was Dade County's first county seat in 1836. Visitors can swim, sunbathe and hike. To get to Indian Key, located off mile marker 78.5 in Islamorada, visitors can rent a private boat or kayak. For kayak rentals, call 305-664-9814 or 305-517-4177. Visit floridastateparks.org/IndianKey or call 305-664-2540.
San Pedro Underwater Archaeological Preserve State Park
This 18-foot-deep underwater archaeological preserve features a submerged shipwreck, the 287-ton San Pedro, a Dutch-built ship that sank in a hurricane in July 1733. Diving and snorkeling enthusiasts can explore San Pedro's remaining ballast stones, strewn across a 90-foot-long by 30-foot-wide area, seven replica cannons and an anchor. It's near Hawk Channel, located 1.25 nautical miles south of Indian Key and off mile marker 78.5 in Islamorada. Visit floridastateparks.org/SanPedro or call 305-664-2540.
Long Key State Park
On the Middle Keys' Long Key and just southwest of Layton, this park was once the site of railroad magnate Henry Flagler's Long Key Fishing Camp in the early 20th century. Along a 1.1-mile-long Golden Orb Trail, white-crowned pigeons and rare Key West Quail Doves can be spotted. There are primitive walk-to camp sites, picnic tables with grills, sea kayaks for rent and restrooms with showers. The park can be found at 67400 Overseas Highway, mile marker 67.4. Visit floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/Long-Key-state-park or call 305-664-4815.
Curry Hammock State Park
This 1,000-acre park in Marathon, with miles of natural 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, kiteboard and paddleboard. A 1.5-mile-long nature trail appeals to hikers. The park is situated at 56200 Overseas Highway, mile marker 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 an award-winning beach, soft sand, warm shallow water, excellent snorkeling, campsites, cabins and concession operations. Henry Flagler's famed railroad, completed in 1912, helped to transform Bahia Honda Key into a subtropical destination. The old Bahia Honda Rail Bridge, known as the Over-Sea Railroad Bridge, offers stunning views and visitors can hike to part of the original trestle railroad structure. Named after the deep natural bay under the bridge, the park is a nesting grounds for sea turtles, including the endangered hawksbill, and a quiet place to watch wading birds and shorebirds. With beaches fronting both the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, Bahia Honda is located at 36850 Overseas Highway, mile marker 37. Visit floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/Bahia-Honda-State-Park or 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 is Key West's favorite beach park, known for its snorkeling, swimming, picnicking, fishing and nature trails. Among locals it's a popular gathering spot for families and friends. Fort Zachary Taylor was built in the mid-1800s as one of 47 forts constructed to defend the nation's southeastern coastline. Named after then-President Zachary Taylor, the fort played important roles in Civil War and Spanish-American War history and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1973. A beachfront concession offers a variety of sandwich and snack fare, beach sundries, souvenirs, snorkel and water gear, lockers and beach chairs. The park lies at 601 Howard England Way. Visit floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/fort-zachary-taylor-historic-state-park or call 305-292-6713.
Florida Keys state park information: floridastateparks.org.
Florida Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS