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Florida Keys state parks: 11 remarkable parks (with insider tips)

Last updated on September 17th, 2021 at 02:29 pm

From the top of the Florida Keys to the very southernmost point, you are never far from a Florida State Park.

There are 11 Florida Keys state parks, and they are some of the most unusual and remarkable state parks anywhere in the country.

They are also some of the most interesting places in the Florida Keys, so if you don’t visit one or two of the Florida Keys state parks when you visit, you are missing out.

I’ve visited every one of them with one exception. I’ll tell you about that one below.

The other parks are easier to reach and are strung like jewels along the Overseas Highway.

Here, from top to bottom, are the 11 Florida Keys state parks and what makes each so special.

One of the new structures at Long Key State Park is a seaside platform that would make a perfect place for a small, impromptu wedding. This is a window in the platform's lattice-work frame. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Florida Keys state parks: A view at Long Key State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Florida Keys state parks in the Upper Keys

Dagney Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park, Key Largo

Located in an out-of-way oceanfront site in the northern stretches of Key Largo, Dagney Johnson doesn’t get a lot of visitors. But it is a rare thing: A piece of what the Florida Keys looked like before we all arrived. It’s the largest tract of West Indian tropical hardwood hammock in the United States. The main trail is a half-mile and paved, accessible to wheelchairs and bicycles. When we’ve hiked here, we found a lot of mosquitos, so bring bug spray.

What’s special here: This land was going to be yet another development (actually 15 hotels and 2,000 condos!), but environmentalists fought to preserve it. The woman after whom the park is named was an environmental leader,  Anna Dagney Johnson.

There is no camping at this park.

Dagney Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park
County Road 905, Mile Marker 106
Key Largo FL 33037
305-676-3777
Fee: $2.50 per person

coral reef key largo
Florida Keys state parks: Explore the reef at Pennekamp State Park. (CanStock Photo/offaxisproductions)

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is famous. It was the first underwater park in the United States and it it is made up of 70 nautical square miles and spectacular underwater coral reefs. It’s probably the most popular (but not the only) place to take a snorkeling trip to a coral reef in the Florida Keys, and its glass-bottom-boat trips open underwater viewing to those who don’t swim.

Seeing these reefs requires booking a tour or having a power boat. It is too far to swim or kayak.

Land-based activities include two beaches, two short hiking trails and kayaking trails through the mangroves, The visitor center has several terrific saltwater aquariums.

What’s special here: In addition to the popular reef boat trips, a good snorkeling experience for kids and those who are not strong swimmers can be found at Cannon Beach.  A 17th century cannon, an anchor and other items from shipwrecks have been placed about 100 feet offshore and is easy to reach by swimmers. The objects underwater attract lots of sea life. We’ve seen sergeant majors, parrot fish and even large barracuda here.

There is a popular campground at this park with 42 campsites, although campsites are tight and not very comfortable for tent campers.

A Florida Rambler guide to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Key Largo
Mile Marker 102.5 Overseas Highway
Key Largo FL 33037
305-676-3777
Fee: $8 per carload plus 50 cents per person

Bicycing one of the scenic bridges on the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail from MM 15 to MM 5.
Florida Keys state parks: Bicycing one of the scenic bridges on the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail. (Photo: David Blasco)

Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail

Here’s a Florida Keys state park you might not think about, even if you’ve visited the Keys. This is a linear park, a scenic bike trail that runs along the Overseas Highway from Key Largo to Key West. We’ve bicycled many sections of this trail, which is still being completed. Here’s our guide to the best sections of the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail.

What’s special here: Even if you don’t bring a bike, one of the special things about this trail are the bike/pedestrian bridges that connect some of the Florida Keys. Many of these bridges are built on the historic Henry Flagler-built railroad bridges with automotive traffic using separate modern bridges. These original bridges are great for taking a walk and gazing at the many shades of blue.  Here are two great spots to park and walk:

  • At MM 73, the Channel 2 Bridge is one-third mile long.
  • At MM 65.6, park to walk on the historic 2.2-mile Long Key Bridge.

Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail
Administrative Offices: 3 La Croix Court
Key Largo FL 33037
305-853-3571
There is no fee.

Windley Key Fossil Reef State Park: Stone thast is actually an ancient fossilized coral reef was quarried here to build Henry Flagler's railroad to Key West. (Photo: David Blasco)
Florida Keys state parks: Windley Key Fossil Reef State Park preserves an ancient fossilized coral reef that was quarried to build Henry Flagler’s railroad to Key West. (Photo: David Blasco)

Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park

If you want to understand the Keys’ geological history, stop here to learn about the fossilized coral reef that underlies all of the Florida Keys. The park is an old quarry for rock used in building Flagler’s Overseas Railroad in the early 1900s. Visitors walk along 8-foot-high quarry walls to see cross sections of the beautiful ancient coral – a sight you won’t find anywhere else.

What’s special here: I love the fossil-filled quarry walls but I was surprised by how much I learned on the self-guided trail through the native vegetation that identifies dozens of Florida Keys trees and bushes and how they have been used.

The park has picnic tables but no camping.

Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park
84900 Overseas Highway
Islamorada FL 33036
305-664-2540
Fee: $2.50 per person

Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park

This little island can be reached only by boat and it’s the sort of place that captures the imagination of Keys visitors. Back in 1917, that’s what happened to Miami chemist William J. Matheson. He bought the island and built a caretaker’s home with a windmill and a cistern for rainwater. 

What’s special: The island makes an appealing destination by kayak, which lets you experience first-hand some of the aquatic life of the Keys paddling. (It’s an easy paddle over shallow water from Robbie’s Marina.) Rangers give tours on winter weekends to which visitors give high marks. Bring mosquito repellent. Details about kayak rentals and tours are on the park’s website.

There is no camping in this park.

Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park
77200 Overseas Highway
Off-shore, Islamorada FL 33036
305-664-2540
Fee: $2.50 per person plus $2 per person for tour.

Snorkeling at Indian Key State Park is excellent. (Photo: David Blasco)
Florida Keys state parks: Snorkeling at Indian Key State Park is excellent. (Photo: David Blasco)

Indian Key Historic State Park

Another island state park reachable only by boat, Indian Key is my favorite kayak destination in the Florida Keys. It’s a ghost town which was, improbably, the county seat of Dade County in 1836. It’s an uninhabited, undeveloped island where you still walk the roads of the original village, past the ruins of historic building foundations through jungly vegetation. It’s an easy, safe kayak trip.

Here’s a Florida Rambler guide to visiting Indian Key Historic State Park.

What’s special: I love having a picnic here and wandering the streets. But I always advise visitors to also bring their snorkel masks and snorkel the rocky shore of this island. Wear water shoes to get over the prickly (dead) coral rock and then plunge in on the ocean side facing the Alligator Reef Lighthouse in the distance. We saw a variety of sea life, including schools of small fish and a few larger ones. As elsewhere, you’ll find the water clearer at high tide.

There is no camping in this park.

Indian Key Historic State Park
Offshore, Islamorada
305-664-2540
Fee: $2.50 per person

San Pedro Underwater Archaeological Preserve State Park

San Pedro Underwater Archaeological Preserve State Park is the only Florida Keys state park I haven’t visited, because it’s not exactly easy to drop by. (This park is in the ocean in 18 feet of water about 1.25 miles south of the Overseas Highway.) It’s an underwater wreck of a ship that was part of a Spanish treasure fleet that sank in a hurricane in 1733. It’s located in 18 feet of water, ideal for scuba diver and snorkelers. Because it is 1.2 miles out, though, it requires a boat. Be aware, though, all that is left of the original ship are ballast stones. Replica cannons and a plaque have been added to the site.

San Pedro Underwater Archaeological Preserve State Park
77200 Overseas Highway
Islamorada FL 33036
305-664-2540
There is no fee.

After Hurricane Irma in 2017, Long Key State Park built a picturesque chickee hut overlooking the beach. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Florida Keys state parks: After hurricane damage in 2017, Long Key State Park built a picturesque chickee hut overlooking the beach as part of the refurbishment of the park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Florida Keys state parks in the Middle Keys

Long Key State Park

You can spend the day here enjoying the waters and beaches that once delighted the rich and famous. Site of a famous fishing camp from the early 20th Century, Long Key State Park was once full of campers. A 2017 hurricane wiped out all but four campsites, so the park is now less visited. It does make a great place for a picnic, swim and walk, however, with beautiful views and a modest beach.

What’s special here: Take the 1.1-mile Golden Orb nature trail and where the trail meets the beach, you’ll find a beach area with a chickee hut, picnic tables and a pretty platform framed with wooden lattice work that looks perfect for a pop-up beach wedding. (It can’t be reserved.) Nearby, you can rent kayaks too.

Here’s a Florida Rambler guide to Long Key State Park

Long Key has four campsites.

Long Key State Park
67400 Overseas Highway
Long Key FL 33001
305-664-4815
Fees: One person, $4.50; two or more people, $5.50 plus 50 cents per additional person.

Curry Hammock State Park

Curry Hammock State Park is one of those destinations in the Florida Keys that you’ll pass right by unless you know it’s there, and that’s the beauty of it. It offers camping on the beach, kayak and hiking trails, bicycling, swimming and snorkeling. It is secluded and natural, the largest uninhabited parcel of land between Key Largo and Big Pine Key.

What’s special here: No admission fee is required for this hidden 1.5-mile nature trail that is part of Curry Hammock State Park. The trail is bayside — around Mile Marker 55. Look for a parking area for bicyclists off the road, a mile after the park entrance and walk back 300 yards to the trail. It winds through a beautiful rockland hardwood hammock to an overlook of Florida Bay. Uneven terrain — not for flipflops.

Here’s a Florida Rambler guide to Curry Hammock State Park

Curry Hammock has 28 campsites.

Curry Hammock State Park
56200 Overseas Highway
Marathon FL 33050
305-289-2690
Fees: One person, $4.50; two-plus people, $5.50

Calusa Beach at Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys.
Florida Keys state parks: Calusa Beach at Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys with the historic Bahia Honda bridge in the background. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Florida Keys state parks in the Lower Keys

Bahia Honda State Park

Many say Bahia Honda has the best beach in the Florida Keys. Others visit this park because it has some of the best campsites in the Keys. But I’ve always loved this park because of the historic Bahia Honda bridge – an unusual “saddleback” bridge built by Henry Flagler, still in use until 1972.

Bahia Honda is just an all-around great place in the Keys – it’s good for kayaking, fishing and you can take coral-reef snorkeling trips from here to Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary.

The park got hammered by Hurricane Irma in 2017 and one of its best beaches and campgrounds has yet to re-open, so it is even harder to reserve a campsite here. There are also six cabins on stilts overlooking a lagoon. They make a lovely getaway, but they are almost impossible to reserve.

What’s special here: Bahia Honda has some of the best snorkeling from the shore in the Florida Keys. In water less than 6 feet deep, snorkelers can see coral, live seashells and tropical fish, making it good for beginners and kids.

Bahia Honda has 56 campsites.

Here’s a Florida Rambler guide to Bahia Honda State Park

Bahia Honda State Park
36850 Overseas Highway
Big Pine Key FL 33043
305-872-2353
Fees: $8 per vehicle

Key West sunset at Zachary Taylor Historic State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Florida Keys state parks: Our insider tip is to come back in the evening for a Key West sunset at Zachary Taylor Historic State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)


Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park

People go to Key West for years and never even know Fort Zachary Taylor State Park is there. They are really missing out.

It has not only a remarkable and beautiful historic fort, with the largest collection of Civil War armaments in the United States, but it also has the best beach in Key West, right at the point where the Atlantic meets the Gulf of Mexico. The snorkeling from the beach is terrific. Also, in Key West, where parking is a pain, you can pull in and have a space for $4 and spend the day (and come back later.)

What’s special here: Here’s my best insider tip: For a beautiful Key West sunset experience, keep your receipt from a visit earlier in the day to Fort Zach and you come back to the park for sunset. There is ample room for a picnic blanket on a shoreline looking straight west. Bring some refreshments and relax. The park closes after sunset and rangers will shoo you out as dusk sets in.

Here’s a Florida Rambler guide to Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park

There is no camping in this park.

Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
601 Howard England Way
Key West FL 33040
305-292-6713
Fees: $4 per vehicle

Passes for Florida Keys state parks

One thing that prevents people from stopping at multiple state parks is paying multiple entrance fees.

If you visit a LOT of state parks, a pass might make sense, although the price is high enough to make you hesitate. Annual passes for individuals are $60 and for families is $120.

If you buy an individual pass for $60, it includes free entry to parks for one person; the second person is $2 more at each park. 

Planning your visit to Florida Keys state parks

A note from the editor:

The information in this article was accurate when published but can change without notice. Please confirm details when planning your trip by following the links in this article.

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


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Stu

Monday 15th of February 2021

Outstanding article, thank you!! Question....anyone, please answer....this Spring I'm planning to take my boat down the Gulf Coast of Florida and into the Keys, a 3-4 week trip. One thing I've not been able to solve...can I anchor my boat off the beach in a State Park and use the beach?

Stu

Wednesday 17th of February 2021

Krys....Thank you for the link, I would have never found that! Much appreciated. Unfortunately I think you are correct and I will need to somehow contact each State Park to determine their specific boating rules. I checked the website of the closest State Park to my home and it discusses fishing boats, nothing about pleasure boats. Thanks again. Stu

Krys

Wednesday 17th of February 2021

https://casetext.com/regulation/florida-administrative-code/department-62-department-of-environmental-protection/division-62d-division-of-recreation-and-parks/chapter-62d-2-operation-of-division-recreation-areas-and-facilities/section-62d-2014-activities-and-recreation

Chapter 62d has all the general park rules, including some about anchoring. You may have to do some research on the individual parks as well. Also, even if you are farther than 400 feet from shore, you could be in a preserve, just not a state park with other rules to follow.

Bob Rountree

Tuesday 16th of February 2021

It depends. Certainly not on life-guarded beaches, where your are usually required to stay at least 50 feet offshore. Most of those beaches have marker buoys. I have done it at other beaches, including Cayo Costa State Park (Gulf Coast) and Curry Hammock State Park (Keys), and people do it all the time at Caladesi Island State Park. There are many other beaches and sandbars along your route. Generally speaking, you'll be able to judge by the number of people on a beach. If it's a crowded municipal beach, forget it. If you see boats anchored just offshore, you'll be fine. If there is nobody around at all, you should be fine.

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