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

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:


My location
Get Directions



  1. Avatar

    I would recommend water shoes for snorkeling at Indian Key. We went by private boat in sept 2015 when there was an exceptionally high full moon tide. The trail shown by the park ranger was the first right from where the boat dock was and not marked for snorkeling. The water level was too high for safe entry over rough coral rocks. We had tried another spot past the grave but some got cuts from entering or exiting the water. I would return to further explore the island with its history.

  2. Pingback: Daze At The Beach

  3. Avatar
    penny mackenzie

    Tent campers- the keys are coral rock. Be aware that it is difficult to secure a tent with tent stakes in some areas.

  4. Avatar

    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

  5. Pingback: Top underwater holiday attractions in Florida

  6. Avatar

    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

    • Avatar

      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.

  7. Avatar
    Treena Brooke

    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

    • Avatar

      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.

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

  9. Pingback: The Overseas Highway

  10. Avatar

    Have you checked out this site before?

    I found a great photo of some old-timey folks hangin’ out on Indian Key:

    Caption says “Men on Indian Key, 1919”

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


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.