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 found a good base off the beaten path in the lower Keys: Old Wooden Bridge Guest Cottages on Big Pine Key. It’s a great place for kayakers or anyone else seeking a rustic Old Florida experience in the Keys.
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 and power boat rentals.
We found the cabins well-maintained and comfortable and we loved the location. We thought the price ($195 – $210 plus tax in August, depending on size of cabin) high, but it’s the Keys and the cabins were still going for “high season” rates. From Sept. 16 to Nov. 16, the “low season” rates are more reasonable — $135 for the smallest cabin up to $150 for a two bedroom that sleeps six.
These cabins make a great base for kayaking, including paddling around adjacent 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 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. Along the way, we saw plenty of birds, a few Key deer and any number of creatures in the water, from sharks to rays.
The prevailing winds on the opposite side of No Name Key made paddling a challenge and next time we won’t bother circumnavigating the island; we’ll just explore the waterway between Big Pine and No Name.
You can also charter a fishing boat from here, book custom backcountry outings and rent motor boats for as little as $100 for four hours.
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 just blocks away.
More things to do in the Florida Keys:
- 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
- Print out this mile marker guide to enhance your next road trip to the Florida Keys.