Another park in the upper Keys which I had NOT heard about is Harry Harris Park in Tavernier at M.M. 93.5 which has fishing, swimming basin, children's playground, picnic areas with charcoal grills, softball field and basketball courts. It has very nice boat ramps and is a good place to launch for access to both Key Largo and Islamorada. The beach is man-made.
Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical Park 1 mi north of U.S. 1 on Rte. 905, OS, North Key Largo, FL, USA is near John Pennecamp. I had never heard of this park.
From Fodors.com: "Rest rooms, information kiosks, and picnic tables .. 2,400-acre Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammocks State Botanical Site .. explore the largest remaining stand of the West Indian tropical hardwood hammock and mangrove wetland. Nearly 100 species of protected plants and animals .. including the endangered American crocodile, Key Largo wood rat, Key Largo cotton mouse, and Schaus swallowtail butterfly. Interpretive signs describe many of the tropical tree species along a 1¼-mi paved road (2½ mi round-trip) ... Rangers give guided tours and encourage you to taste the fruits of native plants. Free. Daily 8-5. Tours Thurs. and Sun. at 10
Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park (another park I had no idea about) is located on the bayside at Mile Marker 85.5, just south of the Snake Creek drawbridge. Purchased by Henry Flagler in 1908 to quarry limestone rock for the Overseas Railroad bed and bridge approaches, the park offers visitors the unique opportunity to “look inside” an ancient coral reef formation and view the historic remains of Flagler’s quarrying activities. Walking the trails offers visitors the chance to see over 40 species of trees and plants that are native to the Florida Keys Park is open Thursday-Monday, 8:00a.m. - 5:00p.m.
Around the Marathon area there are several parks.
One, which I have not visited, is LONG KEY STATE RECREATION AREA at Long Key m.m. 67.5
Long Key was once referred to by the Spanish as "Cayo Vivora", which means Rattlesnake Key. The name was used to describe the shape of the island, which resembles a snake with its jaws open. I think that is a better name than Long Key which is sort of 'vanilla'. Open from 8 a.m. until sundown 365 days a year.
Long Key has camping, canoe rental, fishing, snorkeling, swimming, picnic area, nature trail. It is one of the few state parks that allows campfires. Admission is $3.25 per vehicle and .50 per person. Offers natural shoreline for swimming & snorkeling. Quiet, peaceful park.
Between Grassy Key and Marathon at M.M. 56 on Little Crawl Key is Curry Hammock State Park
It is a 1000 acre park which spans 4 islands. It's easy to reach being right off the main highway. The park offers surf fishing, swimming and snorkeling in the Atlantic, and picnicking. There are restrooms and it is free.
Sombrero Beach, one of the best beaches in the Keys, is in Marathon at m.m. 50. There is swimming, snorkeling, picnic areas and it is FREE. The park has small playground and limited picnic facilities, an outdoor shower and bathrooms.
Bahia Honda State Park is arguably the most beautiful place in all the Keys. Here visitors can follow the path of the original railroad bridge to get an amazing vantage point of the park's tropical scenery and beaches. Due to the presence of coral reefs, beaches in the Keys are generally not very large or soft. Bahia Honda, however, is the most well endowed key in that department.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is the most visited part of America's only natural reef. While I have never been diving, I can say that snorkeling is an out of this world experience. Snorkeling feels as if you are flying over strange, bustling cities, where schools of fish jam the highways and the buildings are made of colorful, towering coral formations that gradually taper off into forests of sea grass. If you can, get a snorkel boat to the Christ of the Abyss statue.
Their are many places to purchase snorkeling trips, give it a try, you won't be disappointed. You will be in the largest aquarium (The Ocean) in the world. If you have never snorkeled before, the variety and numbers of beautiful fish will astound you! Better yet, if you are an experienced boater you can a rent a boat quite cheap and go where you like and spend as much time as you like in the water. If you are in the upper keys area and decide to book a snorkeling trip, I would recommend "The Quicksilver" snorkeling catamaran. It is located in front of the Ramada Inn at mile marker100. They have a 2-3 hour AM trip and a 4-5 hour afternoon trip. What makes them special? The day we went we had Capt. Terry at the helm and LeAnn for his mate. She was very personable and knowledgable. We had our 4 year old granddaughter with us and she paid much attention to her. We didn't know if they would allow her to get in the water (she doesn't swim} but, we put on her swimmies, put on her inflatable vest, mask, snorkel and flippers and they helped her off the side of the boat! They were so helpful I had to leave LeAnn a tip! She went way beyond the call of duty and enjoyed doing it. If your in the Key Largo area give "The Quicksilver" a call and ask for LeAnn as a mate, Capt. Terry also put up the sails as we headed in...very cool. As we headed into the channel LeAnn gave us all a little history lesson on this area. We have been on many snorkeling trips, but this one was by far the most personable and the staff was extremely helpful. Try them out, you won't be disappointed!
If you are going to swim in the FL Keys, here is where I recommend it. The water is nice and a strong (but not too strong) current seems to keep all that smelly sea weed away.
The park is probably best known for the Old Bahia Honda Bridge. A small piece of it is still accessible, and offers a great view of the park and surrounding water.
The park also offers: boating, camping, lodging in 6 cabins, kayaking, snorkeling, bicycling, fishing, swimming, picnicking; and there is also a concession and gift shop.
If you would like a nice beach, stop at Bahia Honda (pronounced Baya Honda) State Park. It’s located just 12 miles south of Marathon. It’s a natural beach, one of the few in the Keys. Most are man made with imported sand (because the Keys are coral and rock) It’s beautiful. I think it was once voted one of the top 10 beaches in the continental US. Once when I was swimming there a dolphin swam up to me and nudged me. I was about 13 and it scared the you-know-what out of me! My grandmother, watching from the shore, calmly said, “Hold on to him, he want to play.” So I grabbed its dorsal fin and took a little ride. I got scared and let go. He circled me and swam off. It was magic!!!
The parks offers camp sites and cabins. I have never stayed in the cabins but they look great... they are up on stilts looking out over an inlet.
From Key West to Key Largo, there are more than 9 parks or recreation areas, many of which have features not found in any other place in the country.
One of these is the NATIONAL KEY DEER REFUGE on Big Pine Key (about MM 30) which is FREE.
These tiny deer are not found anywhere else in the world. It is believed that the Key deer migrated to the Keys from the mainland thousands of years ago. When the Wisconsin Glacier melted, and the sea rose dividing the land into small islands now known as the Florida Keys and trapping the deer. The Key deer are a subspecies of the Virginia white-tailed deer. The shoulder height of the Key deer is between 24 - 28 inches. At birth, the Key deer weighs only 2 to 4 pounds. They feed on native plants and can tolerate small amounts of salt in their water. Photo 4 is of stuffed specimens in the Crane Point Museum in Marathon.
With only 250 to 300 of these tiny deer remaining, Federal law prohibits the disturbance and feeding of the deer. Driving on Big Pine Key may give you a photo opportunity. (Be sure you have your camera ready - I didn't so I just have a photo of the road where we saw one) Trying to approach, feed or touch the deer is forbiden because it only encourages them to lose their natural fear of humans and become easy targets for would-be poachers.
In addition to driving out to look for the Key Deer, there are also two interesting walking trails which are part of the refuge and one of them is handicapped accessible.
Fort Taylor has two parts. One part is the actual fort which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. Two years later, the fort was designated a National Historic Landmark. Guided tours are available daily. Photos two to five are of this section of the park.
The other part is recreational:
# The area along the west side of the park is ideal for fishing. The main ship channel is approximately 33-feet deep and provides the angler with access to a variety of saltwater fish. Saltwater fishing licenses are required in Florida.
# Shaded picnic areas are available for visitors to enjoy their catch of the day. These areas include tables, grills and several outside shower and bathhouse facilities.
Gates open at 8:00a.m. and close at sunset daily. Guided tours at noon and 2:00 p.m.. Admission is $1.50 for walk-ins. By automobile, the fee is $2.50 per person for the first two people and .50 for each person in excess of two.
South of Key West by 90 miles is Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas. You can only get here by boat or sea plane.
Another beach place in Key West is SMATHERS BEACH on the south side of Key West on South Roosevelt Blvd. Private vendors offer various items for rent in this area such as beach chairs, umbrellas , kayaks, windsurfers and jet-skis. Para-sailing rides are also available.
Keep heading southwest from Islamorada, and soon you will see Long Key State Park. Here, you can walk through undeveloped tropical forests that are representative of the Keys wilderness of a century ago. Get back on the road and you will come to Grassy Key. At the Dolphin Research Center here you will have a rare opportunity for one-on-one contact with these intelligent mammals.
At MM 37 is the very famous BAHIA HONDA STATE PARK. There are 80 camp sites available and they can be reserved in advance. This park offers three duplex cabins that sleep six people each but when I checked in July, there was only one day available at one cabin from then to February.
Equipment Rentals: boats, dive and snorkel gear,
fishing rods, kayaks, bicycles, and even beach
Activities: fishing, snorkeling, diving, swimming,
picnic area, nature trail, parasailing. Bahai Honda is noted for a very nice beach area and for snorkeling. A portion of Henry Flagler's railroad remains at the park.. Admission is $4.00 per car and .50 per person
At M.M. 40 (Little Duck Key) is Veterans' Memorial Park - Florida Keys. This park is located at the south end of the Seven Mile Bridge. It has a nice beach, with picnic areas and restrooms.
Not counting the Florida Everglades, there are a number of parks in the Florida Keys. One of the most well known parks in the upper Keys is JOHN PENNEKAMP CORAL REEF STATE PARK on Key Largo at m.m. 102.5 This is primarily known as an underwater park.
John Pennekamp was the first undersea park in the US, and covers about 178 nautical sq. mi. extending 3 miles into the Atlantic, and 25 miles long the Keys. The ecology includes coral reef, seagrass beds and mangrove swamps.
Equipment Rentals: boats, dive and snorkel gear.
Activities: canoeing, kayaking, fishing, glass bottom boat tours, picnic area, swimming, scuba diving, snorkeling trips, and viewing rafts.
There is a nature trail, and a bike path. The visitors center had a 30,000 gallon above ground tank. They also offer films about the park, reefs and the sea life that lives there. Admission begins at $2.50 for one person.
Indian Key Historic State Park M.M. 78.5 is one park I have wanted to visit. It has a wide variety of birds including hawks, falcons and warblers which constantly forage in the thick vegetation. There is an obervation tower for views of the landscape. It is only about 10 acres, but is historically significant in Florida history. It is only accessible by boat (there are boats available at a nearby marina). There are ranger led tours at 9:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m., Thursday through Monday. The tour fee is $1 per person. You can go to the park on Tuesday or Wednesday although you won't get the tour.
On the other side of Islamorada is Lignumvitae Key which is a Botanical State Park. The plants include native trees like mastic, strangler fig, poisonwood, pigeon plum and gumbo-limbo. On the key is the Matheson House, built in 1919. which has a windmill to supply power to get water from the rain filled cistern. This park like Indian Key must be accessed by boat . The park is CLOSED on Tuesday and Wednesday. Guided walks are available at 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Thursday through Monday at a fee of $1.00 per person.
A third Islamorada park is San Pedro Archeological Preserve State Park. The San Pedro was a 287-ton, Dutch-built ship which sailed as part of the fleet of New Spain in 1733. The San Pedro is among the most picturesque of the 1733 wreck sites, due to her location in a white sand pocket surrounded by turtle grass and the prolific marine life that inhabits her grave. A large pile of ballast stones, 90-feet long and 30-feet wide, marks her final resting place. This underwater park in 18 feet of water is about 1.25 miles south of Indian Key. There are 7 replica cannons, and anchor and an information plaque. Don Pedro Island State Park is only accessible by private boat.
ANNE'S BEACH is on Lower Matecumbe at M.M. 73.8. It allows pets. Activities: fishing, swimming, picnic areas. It has a nice little beach area. Very nice for sunbathing.
Everybody has their own favorite spot in the keys, and while Key Largo is by no means as cute as Key West, it has some excellent bay shores and it's also where John Pennekamp marine park is located, providing the best underwater sports activitie sin the Florida Keys.
This preserves one of the keys best coral reefs and an area of mangrove swamp in front of it. The park has snorkel trips, beaches and kayak rentals.