Road Trips and Destinations

Camping Road Trip along the Florida Keys


More from Outdoor Living Newsletter December Outdoor Living Newsletter
 

Overseas Highway and Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys

Where is the weather always warm, even in the winter? Where is the best place for scuba diving, snorkeling, and exploring the underwater world that is full of the astounding colors of coral reefs and rare fish? That would be the Florida Keys. Here you'll also find one of America's most scenic drives on the Overseas Highway, one of only thirty impressively titled All-American Roads, which extends over 100 miles into the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other. Once you've seen water so turquois as here, you won't be able to stop talking about it to all your friends!

When to Go

You can go year round. From December to May the Florida Keys are most heavily populated with college youth and tourists from the farthest reaches of the world, but this is when you'll have the best water conditions for scuba diving and snorkeling, minimal humidity, and warm weather. To avoid crowds, still have warm weather and perhaps best of all, reduced mosquito problems, then you may want to visit in March or September through November.

How to Get There

The closest airport is Miami International Airport - About 65 miles or approximately 1.5 hours' drive.

From Miami take US Highway 1 which goes from Miami to the Keys via the Overseas Highway.

How Long Should the Trip Be?

You require two day minimum for a trip along the Florida Keys. If you have the time we would recommend a three or four day trip in order to get the full experience of this very memorable area.

What to See and Do

Two-Day Visit - Key Largo to Big Pine Key - 65 miles.

The entire first day of you Florida Keys adventure will be enjoyed at Mile Marker 102.5 where you'll find John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, America's first underwater state park. Whether you've scuba dived or snorkeled before, you are in for an extraordinary experience as you explore the many incredible reefs off of Key Largo.

  1. The first thing to do at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is register for a Scuba tour which is available for $55 per adult plus gear and is 4 hours long or a Snorkeling tour which is $30 per adult plus gear and is 2.5 hours long. John Pennekamp's scuba tour frequents Molasses and French reef and the Christ of the Abyss, 8 1/2 foot, 4,000 pound bronze sculpture of Jesus Christ. John Pennekamp's snorkeling tour visits the shallower inner reefs and Christ of the Abyss. The inner reefs they visit changes daily and to find out which reef they are scheduled to see during your visit you need to call them. If you're not into snorkeling or scuba diving then enjoy a glass bottom boat tour with the Spirit of Pennekamp that lasts 2.5 hours. One of the major highlights of the boat tour is seeing Molasses Reef with sand patches dividing coral and wreckage, and passing turtles, parrot fish, angel fish, and more.
  2. Spend the rest of your day canoeing or kayaking through the 2.5 miles of mangrove trails. It's like gliding through a forest on water. This is one of the Keys most epic activities and is fun for all ages. A unique feature of the mangrove trails at John Pennekamp is that the water is crystal clear and the things you can see from your kayak are fascinating. Spend 2 to 3 hours paddling around. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park offers canoe and kayak rentals 8:00 am until 3:45 pm Prices for canoes are $20 per hour. Our sit-on-top style kayaks are $12 per hour for singles, and $17 per hour for doubles. For more information visit the John Pennekamp Coral Reef Sate Park Canoe and Kayak webpage.

    Spend the night at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park campground or at a campground nearby.

Day Two

  1. Start the second day at Theater of the Sea, located at mile marker 84.5, 17 miles from John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. They open at 9:30 and general admission is $28.95 for adults. General admission allows you to see dolphin, sea lion, and parrot shows all day long if you want and a guided tour of the marine life exhibits, lagoon side beach, and an incredible bottomless boat ride. The shows are structured to be both educational and entertaining. Learn about the history, anatomy, and how to care for these incredible sea friends. To see all the shows will take 2.5 hours, but in addition you can actually swim with the dolphins for an added charge. While swimming with these intelligent, friendly beauties you'll be able to request trained behaviors, such as hugs, kisses, and dorsal tows, which are kind of like piggy back rides from a dolphin! Give yourself 3 to 4 hours depending on what you intend to participate in.
  2. Next you'll drive 35 incredibly scenic miles to Crane Point Museum and Nature Center at mile marker 50.5. Here you'll find 1.5 miles of beautiful walking trails. The nature trail begins with Hammock Loop where you'll learn of the different varieties of trees you'll see in the hammock. It can be fun to try to identify them. Another main attraction on the trail is a butterfly garden, Butterfly Meadow, which is a beautiful treat. Then there is the Marathon Wild Bird Center where they rescue injured and sick birds until they are healthy and released. The final spot on the trail is The Point, which rewards you with a pretty view of the Florida Bay.
  3. The next stop is at mile marker 47. Either catch the shuttle or walk or bike 2.2 miles along Old Seven Mile Bridge, a nationally registered historic landmark, to Pigeon Key, a 5 acre island under the bridge once a railroad camp. There are historic buildings and a museum on Pigeon Key about the history of the keys. You'll find displays about the history that occurred here while Henry Flagler built the bridge that was then a railway connecting mainland Florida to the Keys. There is an entrance fee of $11 per adult. Take 2 or more hours enjoying this marvelous area.
  4. The final stop of the day is Bahia Honda State Park at mile mark 37, an incredible place to camp for the night and enjoy a sunset walk on the beach or catch an unparalleled sunset view from the Bahia Honda Rail Bridge. As you doze off into a relaxing sleep you'll hear the rolling ocean waves that are only a few steps away.

    Spend the night at Bahia Honda State Park.

Three-Day Visit - Key Largo to Key West - 102 miles

Day One and Day Two

Complete the two-day visit itinerary.

Day Three

  1. Explore Bahia Honda State Park. The white-sand beaches here are renowned as the most beautiful in the Keys and feels like a tropical luxury resort, so take it in and enjoy them all morning long. The largest of the beaches is Sandspur, which is a favorite on the southeast end of the island. Try nearshore snorkeling which is excellent here, especially for beginners because of how shallow the waters are; 4 to 6 feet.
  2. Still at Bahia Honda State Park, take an easy nature walk on the half mile long Silver Palm Trail. It's a 20 minute stroll in what seems like the Caribbean. The trail includes tropical hardwood hammock, coconut palms, saltwater lagoon mangroves, sand dunes, and you'll be right along the beach. To find the trailhead head to Sandspur's large parking area near the beach and you can also getself-guiding brochures here for the trail.
  3. The outdoors excitement of the Keys is endless, but a change of pace for a bit of culture will make your trip even more memorable. Drive 35 miles to Key West. Here you'll find the illustrious author, Ernest Hemmingway's actual home, the Hemmingway Home and Museum, in which he wrote a large majority of his literature. Hemmingway Home is both a Literary Landmark and an architectural marvel. One cute oddity you'll see here are the six toed cats that have descended from a cat that Hemingway owned. A visit here is a must for those visiting Key West and it may prove to be quite inspiring. Tours run every fifteen minutes.
  4. The final stop of the day is close by at Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park which is another excellent beach. It's a bit rocky, so bring flip flops, but the water is great and the area is beautiful. People often enjoy snorkeling offshore here. To top off the day, catch an unbelievably beautiful sunset.
  5. If you're staying the night at a campground or RV Park near Key West spend the evening exploring Key West. Make sure you try a Key Lime Pie. Otherwise allow 2 hours minimum to drive back to Key Largo.

Four-Day Visit - Key Largo to Key West and Back to Upper Matecumbe Key - 180 miles

Day One, Day Two and Day Three

Follow the itinerary for the first three days as set out in the Three-Day Visit.

Day Four

  1. Photograph the Southernmost Point buoy at mile marker 0. The opportune moment is at sunrise where you'll have both no lines and you'll catch a heart stopping sunrise. Don't forget to photograph mile marker 0 on U.S. Highway 1 too!
  2. Drive back towards Key Largo and stop at the National Key Deer Refuge at mile marker 30. The first site in the National Key Deer Refuge grounds is Blue Hole on Big Pine Key, the only freshwater lake in the Florida Keys. Many people come here to try and see the well-known Florida 'gators. The walk around the refuge is often considered an in and out attraction, thus after Blue Hole you'll make your way to No Name Key, where you'll see the endangered Key deer, the smallest of the white-tailed deer and they cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Spend 30 minutes minimum.
  3. The last stop of your Florida Keys road trip is Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park, 50 miles from the National Key Deer Refuge and located at Mile Marker 78.5. It is a less visited area because it can only be accessed by tour boat or you can renting your own kayak or power boat from Robbie's Marina. This island is very special because it has a virgin tropical hardwood hammock forest, which has mostly been lost to development on the other islands. Another, challenge of accessing the island is that you can only explore the state park with a tour, not on your own, so it is highly recommended to call to confirm that tours are being held, as they are normally run Friday through Sunday but scheduling can vary. The challenge of being able to actually see the island adds to its worthiness of a visit. There are two daily tours each lasting 1.5 hours held at 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m, so aim for the 2 PM one and please be sure you arrive at Robbie's Marina 45 minutes before the tour to get tickets and take the tour boat service over. The tour price for an adult is $2 plus a $2.50 entrance fee.

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Photos

Christ of the Abyss, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Key Largo FL.
* Scuba diving fun at John Pennekamp Coral Reef Park
Lady and dolphin performing in a show at the Theater of the Seas
Great family entertainment at Theater of the Seas
People biking and hiking the Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys with the views of aqua blue water to the horizon
Hike or bike the Seven Mile Bridge surrounded by glistening aqua blue waters
White sand beach at Bahia Honda State Park
Some of the best beaches in the keys are to be found at Bahia Honda State Park
Ernest Hemingway House, Key West, FL
* Hemingway wrote lots of poems and other works from his home in Key West
Cannon at Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, Key West, FL
Explore the history of Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
Mile Marker 0 on US Hwy 1 in Key West, FL
The end of US Hwy 1 in Key West
Deer at National Key Deer Refuge, FL
Smallest of the white-tailed deer only found at National Key Deer Refuge
* Photo courtesy of Andreas Lamecker
 

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