Indian Key is one of the best Florida Keys kayak trips

Indian Key as it looks from the Overseas Highway in Islamorada. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Indian Key as it looks from the Overseas Highway in Islamorada. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
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

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 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 and walk. Wear water shoes so you can scramble over the prickly rocks.

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.

How to visit Indian Key Historic State Park:

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.)

Kayaking to Indian Key off Islamorada. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

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.

Things to do in the Lower and Middle Keys:

This model of how Indian Key appeared in its heyday is at the Florida Keys History & Discovery Center in Islamorada. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
This model of how Indian Key appeared in its heyday is at the Florida Keys History & Discovery Center in Islamorada. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Resources for planning a Florida Keys vacation:

 

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