Indian Key is one of the best Florida Keys kayak trips
~ INDIAN KEY — Anyone who has driven down the Overseas Highway through the Florida Keys has dreamed about those little round green islands in the midst of that incredible turquoise water.
They look like a tropical paradise; you just want to pull over, get in your kayak and explore one.
You can: I recommend you head for Indian Key. It’s an easy paddle by canoe or kayak, and the fascinating history you’ll find there makes it well worth visiting.
As if that weren’t enough, Indian Key is a really nice snorkeling spot, too.
Because of its rich history, Indian Key is preserved forever as a state park. In 1836, Indian Key was the county seat for all Dade County. It was home to a community of wreckers — folks who salvaged goods off the many ships that ran afoul of the nearby reefs. It had two-story houses, a hotel where John Audubon stayed, a post office, stores and warehouses. Indian Key thrived until August 7, 1840, when Seminole Indians attacked. About 50 to 70 residents escaped, 13 were killed, including a well-known local, Dr. Henry Perrine, a medical doctor and botanist. The town never recovered.
What you’ll find on the Florida Keys island now is an evocative scene — ruins overgrown with jungle-like vegetation, streets signs marking paths that follow the grid of original streets and crumbling foundations of buildings. As you meander, informative signage offers details about the Indian Key community. With no fresh water on the island, it’s a bug-free location.
To get there, you can launch your kayak from the ocean-facing park along US 1 between mile markers 77 and 79. You can rent kayaks from nearby Robbie’s Marina (mile marker 77 on the gulf side), where a double for a half day goes for $55. The advantage of leaving from Robbie’s is that you get to paddle over an incredible gathering of huge tarpon that are always at Robbie’s being fed by visitors. Here’s more on Robbie’s Marina and its tarpon, a favorite Florida Keys stop.
Indian Key was once a coral reef and its shoreline is made up entirely of prickly, sharp-edged reef rocks. This makes for good snorkeling, but you need to be careful where you pull up your kayak. There is a dock that is too high for kayakers to use. (What an outrage.) If you paddle around the highway-facing side of Indian Key, there is a stretch of shore where the rocks are lower and you can pull up a kayak.
To snorkel, look for a shell-encrusted bench on the island opposite the dock. That’s a good place to get in and out of the water.
The kayak trip to Indian Key is largely over shallow water and seagrass flats. While I’ve made the paddle a few times and never seen much wildlife, it clearly offers potential for spotting everything from dolphins and manatees to sharks and rays. The kayak trip takes 30 or 40 minutes at a leisurely pace with great views of the Florida Keys.
If you want to visit Indian Key State Park without kayaking, there are excursions run out of Robbie’s Marina that visit both Indian Key and a nearby island known for its trees and plants, Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park.
How to visit Indian Key Historic State Park:
- Renting kayaks at The Kayak Shake at Robbie’s Marina
MM 77, 77522 Overseas Hwy, Islamorada, FL 33036
Half-day rentals for double kayaks $55, single $40, stand-up paddleboards $50. (As of 11/15)
- Indian Key Historic State Park state web site
- Boat tours: $37.50 for a 2.5 hour tour to both Indian Key and Lignamvitae Key.
- More on Indian Key’s history and some historic photos.
The Hungry Tarpon restaurant, within Robbie’s Marina, is a wooden shack that’s been in that location since 1947. It offers tables overlooking the marina, good fish sandwiches and an excellent breakfast. Its dinner menu offers fine dining. (On her Christmas 2012 vacation in Florida, Martha Stewart said she loved the fish tacos at Hungry Tarpon, where she ate twice. Here’s her detailed blog post.)
Another nearby great place for a drink or sandwich is Lorelei’s Cabana Bar and Restaurant at MM 82 Bayside.
Parks in the vicinity include Anne’s Beach at MM 73.4 and Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological Site at MM 85.3.
Resources for planning a Florida Keys vacation:
- Mile marker guide with dozens of stops to help make the most of your drive south.
- Florida Keys wildlife: Places to see animals
- Tiki bars: Soak up the Keys atmosphere
- 12 great kayak outings in the Keys
- Top 10 pit stops on Overseas Highway
- Free beaches in the Florida Keys
Things to do in the Middle Keys:
- The Old Seven Mile Bridge and Pigeon Key
- Feed the tarpon at Robbie’s Marina
- Sea Turtle Hospital in Marathon