Henry Flagler’s railroad to Key West turned the remote island of Bahia Honda Key into a tropical destination. Today, the island is home to one of Florida’s southernmost state parks, known for beautiful beaches, magnificent sunsets and excellent snorkeling. Visitors can picnic on the beach and take a swim or relax and enjoy the balmy sea breezes that caress the shores year-round. Anglers can fish from shore or bring a boat and launch at the boat ramp. Kayaks and snorkeling gear can be rented. Boat trips to the reef for a snorkeling excursion are available. Bahia Honda is an excellent place to see wading birds and shorebirds. The nature center introduces nature lovers to the island’s plants and animals. Full-facility campsites and vacation cabins are available.
Location: 36850 Overseas Highway, Big Pine Key, Florida 33043 (305) 872-2353
Hours of Operation: The park is open from 8:00 a.m. until sundown, 365 days a year.
The Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary is widely regarded as on of the most spectacular reefs in the Florida Keys. Named after the H.M.S. Looe, which sank in 1744, the sprawling sanctuary varies in depth from less than six feet to more than 100 feet, making it an ideal snorkeling and diving site for beginners and experts alike. Looe Key boasts an impressive array of large star and brain coral, as well as colorful parrotfish, barracuda, loggerhead turtles, tarpon as big as a man and every other tropical fish imaginable. Be sure to plan a snorkeling or dive trip for the day for one of the greatest day’s of your life!
The Blue Hole is an abandoned limestone quarry. The rock material removed was used to build many of the original roads on Big Pine Key. Since there is no inlet or outlet to the Blue Hole, its existence is dependent on rainfall and from salt water which flows through the surrounding limestone. Fish, turtles, alligators and the occasional wading bird can be found in the Blue Hole Alligators can be seen hugging the shoreline, lazily sunning themselves. Do not feed or molest the alligators–it is dangerous and illegal! Access for the disabled is provided.
These two trail heads are located right next to each other in the parking lot about 1/4 mile north of the Blue Hole on Key Deer Blvd.
1. The Fred C. Manillo Wildlife Trail- An 800-foot wheelchair accessible pathway, ending at the observation platform overlooking a freshwater wetland.
2. The Jack C. Watson Wildlife Trail- A 2/3 mile loop through pine rock-land forest and freshwater wetlands.
Location: Take US 1 to the only traffic light on Big Pine Key, turn on Key Deer Blvd. and go approximately 1.5 miles until you see the signs for The Blue Hole on the left.
To the west of Looe Key lies the wreck of Adolphus Busch, Sr., sunk in 110 feet of water in 1998. this artificial reef is bursting with marine life. An often seen 350-puond jewfish usually can be seen as well as large grouper and millions of silvery bait fish. the sea growth on the Bush’s hull creates a giant wall of marine biology. Snorkel or dive, the ships tower rises up to within 40′ of the surface of the water. Because the ship is in deep water, you’ll have good visibility most of the time. There are four mooring buoy’s at the Busch. Two are for fishing and two are for diving. Enjoy this amazing experience!
Down on Sugarloaf Key beside the airport is this strange little brown building. It’s the” Bat Tower.” A guy named Perky, in the 1920’s had this idea that if he built this tower the bats would come live there. He wanted the bats here to feed on the large mosquito population. The bats never came. The tower still sits along with the mosquitoes there. A suggestion for a good morning exercise and excursion is to bike ride or walk from the Sugarloaf Motel to the end of the road. Located to the right of the Airport, can’t miss it! Traveling by vehicle, then turn bayside by the only blinking light in town, the old James Bond airplane is your land mark. Parents just watch that your daring one’s don’t try to climb up the tower, because you know the thought will cross their mind. Enjoy!
“Oh, those cute Key Deer! Wait, where is my camera” is just what you are going to be saying when you see these adorable and docile animals. The National Key Deer Refuge was established in 1957 to protect and preserve Key deer and other wildlife resources in the Florida Keys. The refuge is located in the lower Florida Keys and currently consists of approximately 9,200 acres of land that includes pine rockland forests, tropical hardwood hammocks, freshwater wetlands, salt marsh wetlands, and mangrove forests. These natural communities are critical habitat for hundreds of endemic and migratory species including 17 federally-listed species such as Key deer, lower Keys marsh rabbit, and silver rice rat. Don’t forget to visit the National Key Deer Headquarters to meet the rangers and learn more about the Key Deer and other wildlife habitat.
Location: The refuge visitor center is located ¼-mile north of the traffic light on Key Deer Boulevard in the Big Pine Key Shopping Plaza.
For those who want to really commune with nature, flats or backcountry fishing may be for you. This is fly-fishing at its finest, and you really can’t beat the feeling of outsmarting a cautious and sly bonefish, tarpon or permit. These fish are not in the least edible so, when you catch them, you will simply have a photo opportunity before you have to return your catch to its watery home. Flats fishing guides leave for their destination at the crack of dawn. Make sure you take your food and plenty of drinking water. If you haven’t been in the sun for a while, long sleeves are advisable, but sunscreen is a must. You will also be happy to have a hat with a sun visor. You can find information at Bait and Tackle Shops, and marinas as well. Of course, many captains have Web sites that will hold information concerning their boats, their experience, and their recent luck. Good luck and have fun!
Florida Keys kayaking
This wonderful activity brings you as close to the marine environment as you can get. It’s a wonderful way to explore the Florida Keys backcountry and be one with the wildlife that call it home. An added benefit of kayaking is the fitness factor. Any kayak design is good for excercise of the body and the mind. So, just go paddling! Be sure to pick a calm day, bring lots of water, wear a hat and use sunscreen!
We hope you enjoy Your Fabulous Florida Keys Vacation!