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This is One of America’s Best Places for Eco-Adventures

Sponsored by Monroe County Tourist Development Council

01.13.20

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The Florida Keys offer exciting land and water adventures with a focus on preservation.

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As your kayak moves toward a mangrove tunnel, you paddle softly so you don’t disturb a Hawksbill sea turtle nearby. You float by and continue your journey through the shallow lagoons, looking for brown pelicans.

Connecting with nature by becoming part of it is what makes visiting the Florida Keys such a unique experience. Because these islands are natural habitats for so many native plants and animals—many of them endangered—traveling here means respecting what’s here and leaving the smallest footprint. It turns out that’s also the most fun way to do it.

Whether you’re sailing, swimming, or hiking, here are some of the awesome—and environmentally friendly—adventures to experience in the Keys as you hop from one island to the next.

Key Largo

The northernmost and largest island of the Florida Keys, Key Largo is known as the diving capital of the world.

  • Swim past coral reefs. Go diving or snorkeling and see the only living coral reef in the continental United States at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. America’s first undersea park is filled with reefs, seagrass beds, mangrove swamps, and unique sights like the Christ of the Abyss underwater statue.
  • Meet the dolphins. Key Largo is known for its dolphin therapy programs, like at the nonprofit Island Dolphin Care. Help to feed the beautiful mammals or simply float on a raft while they swim around you.
  • See manatees. Designated as a World Heritage Site, Everglades National Park is a habitat for rare and endangered species like manatees and the American crocodile. Look for them on a half-day kayak or canoe trip through the Everglades’ interior.

Islamorada

A collection of six islands, Islamorada offers exciting land-based adventures that highlight the area’s wilderness and history.

  • Trek across an old coral reef. To better understand the impact of time on nature, wander through a tropical forest on top of an ancient coral reef at Lignumvitae State Park and Botanical Site on tiny Lignumvitae Key.
  • Grab a pole. The “sport fishing capital of the world,” where backcountry and saltwater fly fishing were pioneered, is the perfect place to go angling for bonefish, tarpon, and sailfish.
  • Hit the trail. At Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park, follow the self-guided trail and walk across fossilized coral reefs, parts of which were used to build the railroad in the early 1900s.

Marathon

Made up of 13 islands, Marathon boasts many species-specific sanctuaries, making it a haven for nature lovers.

  • Slow down for turtles. A working medical facility for injured sea turtles, the Turtle Hospital has a mission of “Rescue, Rehab, Release.” Because it’s a working hospital, you’ll need to join a guided tour, during which you’ll get to feed one of the turtles.
  • Kayak through tidal creeks. Paddle slowly through one of the designated “trails” at Curry Hammock State Park to see mangroves as well as lagoons, sandbars, and grassy flats—you can even do it in a glass-bottomed kayak. Look for horseshoe crab, starfish, and dolphins along the way.
  • Tiptoe through the trees. Crane Point Hammock is 64 acres of land, raised just above the water, with just enough soil to support all kinds of plant life, including the area’s famous tropical hardwood trees, animals, and insects. Watch for white crowned pigeons, racoons, ibis, and butterflies as you walk the easy, two-mile trail.

Lower Keys

You’ll find nature in the wild all along the Lower Keys, a quiet oasis of small islands with shallow grass flats, mangrove islands, and pristine waters.

  • Spot a deer. In the thick pine forests of the National Key Deer Refuge, you’ll find the tiny, graceful Key Deer—a subspecies of the better-known North American white-tailed deer. Endangered but starting to thrive, Key Deer are only found here in the Lower Keys.
  • Go birding. Established in 1938, Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge is a place of refuge for America’s largest wading birds, as well as other migratory birds, and it’s open for human visitors, too. Begin your birdwatching at the Visitor Center at Big Pine Key.
  • Go beachcombing: Slip out of your sandals and dig your toes into the white sand as you walk along the water’s edge at the award-winning beaches at Bahia Honda State Park and hunt for seashells.

Photo by Bryan Goff

Key West

The shallow, watery wilderness surrounding Key West make this an ecotourism playground for divers and snorkelers.

  • See reefs and a fort. Dry Tortugas National Park, located 70 miles west of Key West, is accessible by private boat, ferry, or seaplane. Snorkelers and divers can check out the important coral habitat there, while history buffs can explore the mammoth, 19th-century Fort Jefferson.
  • Learn about the Keys’ unique ecology. Visit the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center (part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary) to learn about the diverse ecosystem here and see a living coral reef at the Living Reef exhibit.
  • Go gardening. The Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden features more than plants; it’s also a wildlife refuge and activity center. You’re as likely to come across a Broadwing Hawk on a migration stopover as you are a free yoga class…which you’re welcome to join!

Learn more about all the magical adventures you can experience in The Florida Keys & Key West.

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