Some visitors think the Florida Keys are just a string of pretty bridges to go over on your way to Key West.
Kayakers and other recreational visitors, though, know otherwise. I’ll happily stop 30 miles short of Key West and spend my long weekend on Big Pine Key.
We recently stayed at a great base for kayakers or anyone else seeking a rustic Old Florida experience in the Keys — the Old Wooden Bridge Cabins on Big Pine Key.
The first cabins were built in 1943 of dense Dade County Pine — perhaps the secret to their survival through many hurricanes. They are small cabins with full kitchens, lined up the way individual “tourist cabins” used to sit side-by-side along the highways. Originally a fish camp operated by one family for 50 years, the cabins and marina were purchased by new operators a decade ago who renovated them and added a pool.
The “old wooden bridge” is now a new concrete bridge, a popular spot for fishermen.
The cabins overlook the bridge and a broad waterway that separates Big Pine from No Name Key. There’s a marina and boat slip ($10 to use) and kayak rentals.
We found the cabins well-maintained and comfortable and we loved the location. We thought the price ($170 – $210 plus tax in August, depending on size of cabin) high, but the cabins were still going for “high season” rates. From Sept. 15 to Nov. 15, the “low season” rates make prices reasonable — $105 for the smallest cabin up to $150 for a two bedroom that sleeps six.
These cabins make a great base for kayaking. We didn’t have time to kayak here this trip, but will return to kayak around No Name Key.
Bill Keogh, a well-known author, nature guide and recent author of “Florida Keys Paddling Guide,” operates guided kayaking tours from here ($50 for three hours) and rents kayaks here and throughout the Lower Keys. (He’ll deliver them to where you are staying.)
If you rent kayaks at the Old Wooden Bridge Marina for self-guided tours, you get an excellent map showing specific features and key sites around No Name Key. The paddle around the island takes about four hours, we were told. Along the way, you’ll see plenty of birds, possibly Key Deer and any number of creatures in the water, from sharks to rays, according to previous paddlers.
You can also charter a fishing boat from here and custom backcountry outings.
One highlight of any Keys visit is experiencing the sunset. At Old Wooden Bridge Cabins, the perfect place to do that is the bridge itself, where we watched as the sun seemed to use watercolors to paint the sky.
While there, be sure to stop at the No Name Pub, a classic funky Keys experience.
More things to do in the Florida Keys:
- The best beaches in the Keys are 10 minutes away at Bahia Honda State park, which also features hikes and a fabulous view of the old “saddleback” Bahia Honda bridge.
- No Name Pub is within walking distance and is a great place for a meal or a beer.
- You’ll definitely see Key deer if you drive, walk or bike through adjacent No Name Key at dusk.
- Another great kayaking outing is 45 minutes away — Indian Key.
- Tiki bars: Soak up the Keys atmosphere
- Biking or walking the Old Seven Mile Bridge
- Long Key: Beach camping in the Keys
- Print out this mile marker guide to enhance your next road trip to the Florida Keys.
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