Last updated on January 14th, 2022 at 09:27 am
Bring snorkeling gear to explore the waters off Pigeon Key dock
Pigeon Key, a little island off the old Seven Mile Bridge, is a singular place with beauty and history equally well-preserved.
When I first visited the Florida Keys in 1978, the most memorable experience was driving across the Seven Mile Bridge.
This was the old Seven Mile Bridge — a narrow two-lane highway built atop Henry Flagler’s historic train tracks, with the guard rails on the side created out of the rusting railroad tracks.
With the impossibly blue water below and the impossibly blue sky above, my eyes were still drawn to that yellow line down the middle and the narrow pavement on either side. There was no room for error on the Seven Mile Bridge, site of many tragic accidents.
Two miles south of its start in Marathon, the Seven Mile Bridge passed over this perfect little green island with old yellow cottages and palm trees — Pigeon Key. A spur off the bridge curved down to the island, but it was privately owned and visitors were not welcome. Oh how I wanted to explore that small circle of paradise!
Exploring Pigeon Key: It starts with a boat ride
Today, you can explore Pigeon Key and marvel at the old Seven Mile Bridge, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. And while there are a lot of places I love in the Keys, Pigeon Key may be first on my list.
A sleeker, safer Seven Mile Bridge paralleling the old one opened in 1982. The old bridge remains, falling further and further into disrepair. The 2.2 mile stretch of the Old Seven Mile Bridge to Pigeon Key was closed for five years for repairs but reopened Jan. 12, 2022. It is now open to walking, biking, fishing and, in spring, Pigeon Key visitor will ride a 60-person tram when visiting the island.
Pigeon Key is now operated by Pigeon Key Foundation & Marine Science Center. Visitors pay $15 (kids 6-12 are $12; 5 and under is $5.) Until the tram begins operating on the newly reopened bridge, visitors are whisked by speed boat from Marathon to the island — a short, delightful ride.
Fascinating history of Pigeon Key
A tour guide walks you around the 5-acre island of Pigeon Key and through many of its 11 historic buildings. Pigeon Key housed the workers who built the Seven Mile Bridge from 1908 to 1912 for railroad magnate Henry Flagler, a partner of John D. Rockefeller.
The Seven Mile Bridge and Pigeon Key’s interesting history are well told through displays and artifacts on Pigeon Key. The story includes the deadly 1935 Labor Day hurricane that killed some 400, including 250 World War I vets washed to sea from work camps. The hurricane destroyed the railroad line and Flagler eventually sold the bridge to the U.S. government. The old railroad bridge’s foundation was used to build a bridge for vehicles — the one I drove over in 1978.
Today a visit to the Seven Mile Bridge and the island of Pigeon Key offers several pleasures. It is a joy just to spend time on this historic island and wander among its picturesque 100-year-old cottages and palm trees, soaking up its history. Bring your lunch and relax: Picnic tables are available and you are encouraged to stay after the tour for the whole day, if you like.
Snorkeling on Pigeon Key
On a sultry summer day, we brought our snorkeling gear and explored the waters around the Pigeon Key dock — another recreation that is encouraged. Pigeon Key is surrounded by waters rich in sea life, and the dock attracts schools of colorful fish. What we liked best, though, was finding pieces of history in the water — stones that were obviously building materials from the era of the railroad tracks’ construction, pieces of metal encrusted with barnacles.
We ate our lunch under the chickee hut at the end of the dock, a breeze blowing and the blueness of the water and sky dazzling our senses.
Tours of Pigeon Key
Tours of Pigeon Key are at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. The $15 tours last about two hours and includes a 2-mile boat ride ferrying you to the island. The ferry leaves Pigeon Key to brings visitors back at approximately 12:20 p.m., 2:20 p.m., and 4 p.m. Tickets can be purchased on the same day in-person or you can reserve your spot over the phone if you have a time and date preference.
- Located at Mile Marker 47.5
- 2010 Overseas Highway, Marathon
- Location is between the Hyatt Place and Marriott hotels bayside.
- Open daily, 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m .
- Call (305) 743-5999.
For the time being, ferry service is still the only way to access Pigeon Key.
Other nearby things to do in the Florida Keys and Marathon area:
- More about the Old Seven Mile Bridge
- No Name Pub worth finding on Big Pine Key
- Indian Key: Kayak into history
- Long Key: Beach camping in the Keys
- Seeing Key deer on Big Pine Key
- Fort Zachary Taylor State Park: Hidden gem in Key West
- Bookmark this mile marker guide to enhance your next road trip to the Florida Keys and your stop at Pigeon Key.
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.
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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.