Florida Keys / Historic / Kayak & Canoe / Snorkeling

Indian Key: Kayak to Florida Keys history — and snorkel too


Indian Key is one of the best Florida Keys kayak trips

Florida kayaking: Indian Keys State Park

Florida kayaking: Indian Keys State Park

Florida snorkeling at Indian Key State Park

Clear water and coral reef rocks make for good snorkeling around Indian Key.

Florida history at Indian Key State Park

Overgrown ruins dot the Indian Key island park

Indian Key State Park

The rocky shoreline of Indian Key State Park

Florida kayaking: Indian Keys State Park

Clear water washing over coral reef rocks at Indian Key

Florida kayaking: Indian Key State Park

Kayaking to Indian Key, beyond the Overseas Highway

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 $60. 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.

More information:

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.

More things to do in the Florida Keys:

 

 

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9 Comments

  1. Hello, thank you very much for this great guide! We are two european students planning backpacking holidays in October in Florida so this is very helpful for us. We are very excited about trying kayaking (we only did river kayaking so far) but we are afraid to leave our luggage (two really big backpacks) just somewhere. Is there some kind of luggage storage that is really safe at the places where we can rent a kayak? Or in campgrounds or the ranger station? thanks

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  3. Hi Bonnie,
    Just wanted to let you know that we enjoy your articles very much. We love to kayak and snorkel. Since we have children we need to keep it safe and know what to expect. We went to Indian key on your suggestion and it was amazing. On the kayak ride out the water only got to about 3 feet deep at high tide. We saw large star fish all the way out-about 20 minutes. My daughter loved the island’s NE side. Rocky and great for snorkeling or exploring. Saw urchins, lobsters, all kinds of fish, Hugh conchs and many sponge formations. The island has pathways to learn about its history too. We loved it. On to our next adventure-that you have written about. Thank you. Linda

    • Linda,
      Thank you so much for taking the time to write about your experiences. I love sharing my favorite places in Florida with people, and Indian Key is one of them.

  4. Treena Brooke says:

    Hi Bonnie,
    I am wondering if this is a safe trip to take kids ages 9 – 17? Can inexperienced kayakers manage or is it for well paddled travellers only?
    Thank you

    • Treena,
      I have taken my kids (when they were in the 7-12 age range) on this very paddle trip. They should wear life jackets, of course. But the island is clearly visible the whole time and the water you are paddling over is so shallow you pretty much see the bottom the whole way. I would consider it a good family paddle trip.

  5. Pingback: Indian Key: Kayak to Florida Keys history — and snorkel too | EYES! On News

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  7. Have you checked out this site before? http://www.floridamemory.com

    I found a great photo of some old-timey folks hangin’ out on Indian Key: http://fpc.dos.state.fl.us/small/sm1128a.jpg

    Caption says “Men on Indian Key, 1919″

    If you’re gonna call some historic, I need photos!

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