Old Wooden Bridge Resort and Marina started as a fish camp in the 1940s in a remote location on Big Pine Key in the Lower Keys.
For years, its rustic waterfront Dade-County-pine cabins attracted fishermen, kayakers and others who craved a taste of the Keys from a bygone era. We stayed there in 2010 and wrote about the charming historic location for Florida Rambler.
Hurricane Irma in 2017 changed all that.
Big Pine Key took a direct hit from Irma. When the water receded, seven of the old cabins and a two-story office and apartment could not be saved.
For months, the remaining cabins served as residences for Big Pine Key neighbors whose houses were destroyed.
Today, Old Wooden Bridge is busier than ever with more rooms available, thanks to the addition of a cluster of little houseboats that now fills the marina.
Old Wooden Bridge Resort reopened in early 2018 starting with two houseboats. Now, there are 13 houseboats along with six land cabins and a dozen power boats that can be rented, according to Manager Robin Lawson. Construction will begin soon on two additional duplex cabins on stilts.
Like the rest of the Keys, Old Wooden Bridge Resort bounced back from the hurricane with energy and resilience.
Staying in a houseboat at Old Wooden Bridge Resort
We loved our one-night stay in a houseboat. We chose one of two older “floating cabins,” which were purchased used from Tennessee, according to manager Lawson. We liked it because it was positioned at the end of the dock with a beautiful view of Pine Key Bight and the bridge (now concrete, not wooden, and with barely any traffic.)
Inside, the houseboat resembles a tiny wood cabin with a small serviceable kitchen, a queen-size bed plus bunks and a futon.
There is a small boat-like head with a foot-pump to flush the toilet and a request to use only the approved soap and shampoo because the shower drains directly into the water below. There are window air conditioners – noisy enough to make for a fitful night, I’m afraid. As an older used boat, it’s a bit worn and rustic.
My husband loved the backwoods feel and was intrigued by the vintage fittings: real seashells serve as doorknobs on the kitchen cabinets, for instance, and why is there a stained glass window?
The best thing about the houseboat is the small deck at the rear facing the water with a table and chairs, a breezy shaded place in the evening.
The houseboat sits in very shallow water; at low tide it appeared only inches deep.
The other houseboats are newer, slightly larger and are the brand Aqualodge, which you’ll find at a number of other Florida Keys resorts.
The area around Old Wooden Bridge Resort on Big Pine Key
What we loved most about staying at the Old Wooden Bridge houseboat, however, was the setting – away from the highway, on the water overlooking a low-traffic bridge known for its great fishing with plenty of wildlife to appreciate. It feels like an outpost from an earlier era.
In the morning, as we sipped coffee on the houseboat deck, an adolescent little blue heron (sporting both white and blue feathers as it transitions to its adult plumage) and a black necked stilt fished. At other times, magnificent frigate birds soared overhead.
In the evening, we saw Key deer repeatedly, one sauntering through the parking lot at Old Wooden Bridge at dusk.
When we kayaked here before (it was too windy this visit) we saw fish and rays in the clear water.
For dinner, we walked one block to the iconic No Name Pub, a 1936 building that has been an off-the-beaten-path favorite of Keys visitors for decades with its wooden beams covered with signed dollar bills.
During the day, we visited the beautiful beaches at Bahia Honda State Park, which is 10 minutes away.
We particularly loved crossing the bridge to No Name Key, which is a little-developed island with a storied past. The bridge has a beautiful view of the sunset and was full of people fishing at night. One morning just after sunrise, we rode our bikes through No Name Key. There is almost no traffic on the paved dead-end road.
No Name Key: Once the main route to Key West
The 1,000-acre No Name Key has three side streets and about 40 houses. The rest of the island is a nature preserve where Key deer happily munch mangrove leaves.
Bicycling on No Name Key, we were enchanted by the various houses – including a big geodesic dome with a wrap-around porch and homes from modest to mansion.
Identified as No Name Key on even the oldest maps, it already had 45 settlers in 1870. (Big Pine Key had just one, according to Keys historian Jerry Wilkerson.) Early residents were from the Bahamas.
Boom time for No Name Key, however, was in the 1920s, when a road to Key West was inaugurated. To drive it, you had to take a ferry from what is now Islamorada to a ferry dock at the eastern end of No Name Key. That location is now where the main road on No Name Key ends at Florida Bay.
Biographers report that Ernest Hemingway fished at this ferry dock on No Name Key.
With the ferry passing through, a lodge was built at the ferry docks and down the road, the building where No Name Pub now operates was constructed as a store. (It was, among other things, also a bordello.) The ferry service ended in 1938 when the current US 1 roadway was completed atop the ruins of Henry Flagler’s railroad.
No Name Key remained isolated after that, but saw action in the 1960s, when Cuban revolutionaries trained here for the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.
Finally, a new concrete bridge replaced the “old wooden bridge” in 1967 and the first homes in decades were built on No Name Key. Originally powered by batteries, solar or wind energy, the homes were connected to the electrical grid only in 2013.
Still, historian Jerry Wilkerson calls the mostly wild No Name Key Monroe County’s “last frontier.”
Staying at Old Wooden Bridge Resort and Marina
Old Wooden Bridge Resort and Marina
1791 Bogie Drive, Big Pine Key, FL 33043
- There is a small pool and grills for guest use.
- Houseboats start at $135 off-season and go to $249 in-season for the larger models.
- Cottages range from $135 off season to $210.
- Boat rentals range from $195 a day to $375 a day.
- Kayak rentals start at $35 for a single for four hours. Guests can rent a kayak for $20 for the day. Guided tours by kayak can be arranged.
Things to do near Old Wooden Bridge Resort
Kayak around Pine Key Bight, the waterway between Big Pine Key and No Name Key. We circumnavigated No Name Key, but the prevailing winds on the opposite side of the island made paddling a challenge and next time we’ll just explore the waterway between Big Pine and No Name. You can rent kayaks at Old Wooden Bridge Resort or pay a $10 fee to launch your own.
Visit the Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge Nature Center on Big Pine Key and take a walk around the Blue Hole, a fresh water lake in a former rock quarry, where you might see resident alligators in the water and Key deer in the woods.
Dine at No Name Pub on Big Pine Key.
Swim at and explore Bahia Honda State Park, with beautiful beaches and good kayaking. It’s 10 minutes away.
Resources for planning a trip to the Lower Keys
Print out this mile marker guide to enhance your next road trip to the Florida Keys.
A note from the editor:
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The author, Bonnie Gross, travels with her husband David Blasco, discovering off-the-beaten path places to hike, kayak, bike, swim and explore. Florida Rambler was founded in 2010 by Bonnie and fellow journalist Bob Rountree, two long-time Florida residents who have spent decades exploring the Florida outdoors. Their articles have been published in the Sun Sentinel, the Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel, The Guardian and Visit Florida.