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Biking the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail; finding safe & scenic sections

Just as Henry Flagler longed to take his railroad to Key West, bicyclists have long dreamt of riding a safe bike trail to the southern tip of the scenic Florida Keys.

The dream is close to coming true, but we’re not quite there.

There is a bike trail operated by Florida State Parks, but it is not complete and it sustained hurricane damage from both Irma in 2017 and Ian in 2022. (The trail re-opened after Ian, but some sections are closed causing bicyclists to revert to pedaling along the less safe and desirable roadside bike lane.)

The Historic Long Key Bridge on the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail.
The Historic Long Key Bridge on the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail is a highlight. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Despite the challenges, strong riders with street smarts and/or on guided rides bike the whole 106-mile-long Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail by the dozen every month, raving about the tropical scenery.

The bike trail through the Florida Keys may be flat, but it has its ups and downs. Many riders (me!) would not have fun on sections where you must ride on 3-foot-wide shoulders as cars whiz by at 50 miles per hour with drivers distracted by scenic beauty. If you read trip reports on Trailink, complaints about the bike trail are as common as is awe over the scenery.

The Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
The Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

On several visits to the Keys where my husband and I bicycled sections of the trail, I concluded there are sections that make the Florida Keys a great place to bicycle for nearly everyone. You just have to pick your spots. And when you do, you get to enjoy one of the key reasons I love to tour by bike: You take in the scenery at a slower pace, where it’s easy to stop and enjoy.

Pausing atop a bridge while biking the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail in Islamorada.
Pausing atop a bridge while biking the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail in Islamorada. (Photo: David Blasco)

Here are recommendations for bicyclists who want to experience the Keys on their bikes but don’t want to bike the entire length or ride on narrow shoulders adjacent to traffic.

I’ve assembled tips based on my experiences biking and driving the Overseas Highway, information from Florida State Parks and advice from Mark Terrill, biking guru at Key Largo Bike and Adventure Tours.

The Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail in Islamorada.
The Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail in Islamorada. (Photo: David Blasco)

Some sections are more scenic than others. Some are safer and more comfortable than others. And it’s important to note that the entire trail is actually hard to follow, as it regularly crosses from bayside to oceanside and back, or continues on a parallel route not clearly marked and not visible from the U.S. 1.

Scenery along the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail.
Scenery along the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

For those who want to bicycle the entire length, Mark Terrill’s Key Largo Bike and Adventure Tours offers one- or two-day tours and a variety of other support services. He also offers bike rentals for longer or shorter rides and tours along specific sections of the trail. He has seen use of the path grow dramatically in recent years.

For shorter trips, riders can easily plan do-it-yourself tours, as I did.

Here are four sections of the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail to consider for do-it-yourself Keys bike tours:

The Hurricane Memorial in Islamorada is an interesting stop along the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail.
The Hurricane Memorial in Islamorada is an interesting stop along the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail. (Photo: David Blasco)

Islamorada

Between MM 90 and 80 along the Old Road

For 10 miles, the old state road (State Highway 4A) parallels U.S. 1 on the ocean side.  It’s a scenic stretch, but has only occasional water views as it mostly passes through a woodsy residential area.

The homes range from multi-million-dollar gated mansions owned by celebrities (Coach Jimmy Johnson, actor Gene Hackman) to funky oceanfront trailer courts to resorts and businesses. It’s fun to spend time seeing life in the Keys up close, including places where people live and work.

The bike trail here is actually just a low-traffic residential road and is not clearly marked. (To make it more confusing, there is also a bike lane bayside along U.S. 1 too.)

Scenery while biking the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail in Islamorada.
Scenery while biking the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail in Islamorada. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

At two short bridges in this section, the old road rejoins U.S. 1 and bicyclists cross the bridge in a designated lane along the shoulder. While I wouldn’t tackle the long Keys bridges riding in the shoulder (such as the Seven Mile Bridge), these bridges were easy and felt safe. We walked our bikes at the center of the bridges just to enjoy the view.

It’s easy enough to find parking in this area. We started from The Islander Resort, where we were staying, but there are spaces in the nearby Islamorada commercial district at MM 81.5 .

From there we pedaled south, turned around at the Tea Table Channel , then headed north and turned around at Coral Shores High School. Another good place to start your trek might be from that high school area.

The Old Road Gallery along the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail in Islamorada.
The Old Road Gallery along the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail in Islamorada. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

On our 20 mile round-trip on this section of the Keys bike trail, we also enjoyed stopping at picturesque marinas like Bud N Mary’s (MM 79.8) and historic sites, including the interesting hurricane memorial at MM 81.5.

The hurricane monument tells the story of the devastating 1935 storm.  In 1937, ashes of many of those who died were buried here when the monument was dedicated. Be sure to see the beautiful tile-mosaic map of the islands hit by the storm in front of the monument.

There’s a charming small residential area between the hurricane monument and ocean in Islamorada and it’s worth exploring on bike to the end, where you’ll find the Moorings, the expensive resort popular for fashion shoots. It’s also where the Netflix series Bloodlines is filmed.

We paused on our bike ride through the Keys to take in the view at Bud N Mary's Marina.
We paused on our bike ride on the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail to take in the view at Bud N Mary’s Marina. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

We also shopped at the Old Road Gallery (88.8 on U.S. 1 and with an entrance also on the old road), which has gardens and an adjoining “Red Cross hurricane house” now used as an art gallery, which you can tour.

Islamorada cherishes the historic extra-strong poured concrete houses built by the Red Cross to house survivors of that 1935 Labor Day hurricane. You’ll pass several marked with plaques on the ride.

Around the Old Road Gallery we also admired some of the dozens of peacocks that roam this area.

Taproom at Florida Keys Brewing Company in Islamorada
Taproom at Florida Keys Brewing Company in Islamorada at 81611 Old Highway, Islamorada. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

You’ll have an easy time finding a place to pause for a snack. Here are a few suggestions:  Midway Café and Coffee Bar, MM 80.4,  which earns 4.5 stars on both Yelp and TripAdvisor; Lazy Days Restaurant, MM 79.8 oceanside, has excellent fresh fish and a spectacular ocean view.

Located along the way are two craft breweries in Islamorada that are worthwhile places to end your ride. Here’s more about them. 

Here’s a Florida Rambler story about how Islamorada is emerging as a hub for activities.

Long Key section

Between MM 71 at the Channel 5 Bridge to the end of the historic Long Key Bridge at MM 62

This 18-mile-round-trip section of the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail has spectacular views of water and sky, including from the 2.2-mile-long historic Long Key Bridge.

The Historic Long Key Bridge on the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail.
The Historic Long Key Bridge on the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Because it is close to the water oceanside, this section was badly damaged by waves and flooding from Hurricane Irma in 2017. During 2020, however, most of this section has been repaired. 

For this ride, you can park at the southern base of the Channel 5 Bridge at MM 71 bayside at a lot for those using the fishing bridge. (One drawback: You almost immediately have to cross the highway as the trail continues on the ocean side.)

On this route, you’ll also cross the shorter Tom’s Harbor Channel Historic Bridge (MM 61), which, like the Long Key Bridge, has cantilevered fishing platforms added to provide space for both fishing and bikes. 

Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail.
The Historic Long Key Bridge on left is for bicyclists and fisherman. The one on the right is for cars. This is part of the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

The bike path runs along Long Key State Park, and has some good views of the beaches and the beguiling turquoise water. (It’s a beautiful park; it’s well worth making a stop here.) 

The Long Key bridge is the second-longest bridge of Henry Flagler’s railroad and is preserved as a bike and pedestrian path parallel to the new highway bridge. Smooth and traffic-free, it is as scenic and safe as a bike trail can get. (My husband, who doesn’t like heights, did have to ride right down the middle to avoid freaking out.)

Bike-trail signage on the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Bike-trail signage on the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Once you cross Long Key Bridge, however, the improved trail pretty much ends and is just a 3-foot-lane along the shoulder for the next two miles south. Instead of continuing, we crossed to the bayside and rode through Little Conch Key, a funky island with old cottages, mobile homes, views of the water and lots of general Keys flavor. From there, we turned around at MM 62 and headed back.

If you want a short ride just on the Long Key Bridge and back, you can park at the southern end of the bridge at MM 65.6, where this is a parking lot and signage.

Crude signage tells you to cross U.S. 1 at the southern end of the Long Key Bridge on the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail.
Crude signage tells you to cross U.S. 1 at the southern end of the Long Key Bridge on the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Lower Keys to Key West

From MM 15 to Key West and back

Rainbow viewed along Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail near Key West.
Rainbow viewed along Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail near Key West. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

This may be the best section of the FKOHT. My husband and I rode MM15 to MM5 and back in December 2016. Here’s my full report.

What we liked:

  • It’s carefree. For the entire stretch, the trail has its own lane, hugging the water on the ocean side, included its  own dedicated bridges. (NOTE: Hurricane Ian in September 2022 knocked out some bridges and sections in the Lower Keys where bicyclists must use the bike lanes on US 1.)
  • The scenery. Highlights are a half dozen bridges and long stretches with open views of water.
  • There’s a great starting point where you can park and caffeinate– Baby’s Coffee at MM15 — and some good turn-around spots, like Key West Botanic Gardens on Stock Island in Key West.
  • Here are the details on the bike trail into Key West.

The bike lanes on the Old Seven Mile Bridge in Marthon. (Photo: David Blasco)
The bike lanes on the Old Seven Mile Bridge in Marthon. (Photo: David Blasco)

Old Seven Mile Bridge to Sombrero Beach

This tour will be about 14 miles roundtrip, but with the scenery and activities, you could spend all day on it.

Start your ride near the start of the Old Seven Mile Bridge at MM 47 bayside. There’s a parking lot there, but it’s hard to find parking there because the newly re-opened bridge is so popular.

It’s a gorgeous 2.2 mile ride on the refurbished section of the Old Seven Mile Bridge, so 4.4 miles round trip. There are bike lanes here and views the whole way. Here’s more about biking and visiting the Old Seven Mile bridge.

For a longer ride from the bridge area, pedal north along the Oversease Keys Overseas Heritage Trail for three miles through Marathon. At this point, the trail is separate from the highway and is located bayside. At MM 50, Sombrero Beach Road, leave the Overseas Heritage Trail and ride a dedicated bike path east to Sombrero Beach. This is a beautiful free local beach and well-landscaped park with picnic tables, rest rooms, swimming and snorkeling. The nice thing about biking to Sombrero Beach is that you don’t have to worry about getting a parking space.

Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail pavement signage.
Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail pavement signage.
(Photo: David Blasco)

General tip for riding the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail:

  • On longer rides, flat tires are common because of road debris. Serious cyclists suggest Kevlar-lined tires, fat-tire bikes or at least plenty of spares. (We had two flat tires on one ride.)
  • Take special care in crossing busy U.S. 1 and in residential and commercial areas where people are turning into or coming out of driveways. This is the most hazardous aspect of the trail.
  • Prevailing winds make a south-bound trip easier than a north-bound one.
  • The northern-most section of the trail – from MM 106.5 to 91 — is primarily a paved bike trail separated from the highway. But as nice as the trail quality is, it’s hard to recommend because it’s not terribly scenic.
  • To pedal across the famous Seven Mile Bridge, you face a five-foot shoulder, often strewn with debris, as semis roar by and drivers gaze too long at the view. (Note: If you are on a bike and don’t want to ride across the Seven Mile Bridge, you can call a cab. In Marathon, they all have bike racks, Terrill said.)

Resources for planning a trip on the Florida Keys bike trail:

Notes from the editor:

The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning a trip, especially to areas hard hit by hurricanes.

This page may include affiliate links from which we earn modest commissions if a purchase is made. Most links are courtesy links for the benefit of readers and earn nothing.

This article is property of FloridaRambler.com, protected by U.S. Copyright Law. Re-publication without written permission is against the law.


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Florida Rambler

Wednesday 9th of November 2022

Note to our readers: For those looking to pedal the entire bike trail south to Key West and looking for a way back without making it a round-trip, there are two public transportation options to consider.

There is a bus operating from Key West to Marathon, where you can transfer to a Miami-Dade bus that continues on to Key Largo. Here’s a link for more information: http://www.kwtransit.com/ Flixbus, http://www.FlixBus.com, a European company that operates service from Miami to Key West with several stops. In looking at the reservation site, it appears "bike slots" are largely taken. You can also call 855-626-8585.

Mike Nanoff

Wednesday 9th of November 2022

Bonnie, great article and love your site!

To anyone reading, I plan to bike the FKOTH the full 105 miles Key Largo to Key West on Saturday, Nov 12, hopefully departing Key Largo by 8am. Would be great to not do it alone, if anyone adventurous riders would like to join reply and we'll connect. I'm probably an "above-average" cyclist (I guess tackle this that would be expected), maybe hoping to average 17-18 mph (wind dependent) with a couple brief stops along the way. I'll spend the night and try the bus route Bob Rountree suggested below to get back to Key Largo on Sunday. If the bus plan fails, I get another century ride to get back. Still looking for the best overnight parking in Key Largo, and hopefully this Hurricane Nicole doesn't linger long enough to ruin my plan!

Ride safe! Mike

Alena

Friday 4th of December 2020

Hi, is there a part of the trail that would be safe to ride with children (9 yo)? We are staying on Islamorada, would it be possible to ride bikes with the kids there?

Bonnie Gross

Wednesday 9th of December 2020

The section of the trail in Islamorada is actually the Old Road, which parallels the main highway. It does have cars on it, though traffic is light, but I probably wouldn't choose it for kids. 

What I think would be fun for kids would be the part of the trail that is on the Long Key bridge. It's about 15 miles south of Islamorada.  The Long Key bridge is the second-longest bridge of Henry Flagler’s railroad and is preserved as a bike and pedestrian path parallel to the new highway bridge. Smooth and traffic-free, it is as scenic and safe. The bridge is 3 miles long, so it's a 6-mile round trip. At the southern end of the bridge at MM 65.6, where this is a parking lot and signage on the bayside of the road.  

ghassan

Wednesday 2nd of December 2020

Hi. Do you know a good place to park in Key largo overnight?. We have a plan to cycle to keywest and back to key largo the next day. Thank you

Bob Rountree

Thursday 3rd of December 2020

Check with the rangers at Pennekamp State Park. 305-676-3777

Ghassan

Wednesday 2nd of December 2020

Hi. We are riding the keys from key largo. Do you know a place where we can park in key largo overnight?

Bonnie Gross

Thursday 3rd of December 2020

After a quick look around the Internet, I would conclude this is a common problem. If any reader has a suggestion, please offer it.

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