Pigeon Key, a little island in the middle of 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 — 22 feet wide with no shoulder, a two-lane highway built atop Henry Flagler’s historic train tracks. The guard rails on the side were 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 steep wooden ramp 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
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. A section of the old bridge remains. After many years of being favorite place to walk and watch the sunset, the old bridge was closed for five years and refurbished. It reopened in January, 2022 and is now a sensation again, filled with visitors who hike, bike, jog and gaze into the water.
Visitors take a quick ride on a cute tram fitted out to look like a little train. You also can arrive on foot or by bike and tour the island.
With the debut of the tram, entrance price have been hiked: Adults pay $25; kids 4-12 are $20; 3 and under are free.
Train departure times are to be 10 a.m. noon and 2 p.m. daily from the new Pigeon Key Visitor’s Center and Train Depot location, 1090 Overseas Highway.
Pigeon Key is a non-profit operated by Pigeon Key Foundation & Marine Science Center.
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 tours last about two hours and include the train/tram ride to and from the island. To visit Pigeon Key this way, go to the visitor center, 1090 Overseas Highway, Marathon. This new location for the visitor center is on your right (bayside) in a gravel lot with a small marina just a little past the 7 Mile Grill, close to the start of the bridge. Adults pay $25; kids 4-12 are $20; 3 and under are free.
- If you walk or bike to Pigeon Key: You can book your tour online or by calling 305-743-5999. Tours start at the yellow picnic tables on the south side of the Bridge Tender’s building. (Look for the umbrellas.) Arrive 10 minutes prior to tour time, which is 10 a.m., noon and 2 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.
- Open daily, 9:30 a.m.- 4 p.m .
- Call (305) 743-5999.
Common questions about Pigeon Key
Can you walk to Pigeon Key? With the reopening of the Old Seven Mile Bridge, you can again walk or bicycle to Pigeon Key. You must still pay admission to the island if you arrive via bridge.
What can you do on Pigeon Key? The primary focus is touring the historic buildings and learning about the building of the Old Seven Mile Bridge. But you also can snorkel from Pigeon Key’s dock, where a variety of sea life is usually visible. Fishing is permitted on a catch-and-release basis.
Does anybody live on Pigeon Key? Kelly McKinnon, the executive director of the Pigeon Key Foundation, has lived on the island for more than a decade.
Can you stay overnight on Pigeon Key? Groups of school children stay on Pigeon Key as part of the marine science education program. According to the Pigeon Key website, the most popular program is a three-days, two-night field trip. (It costs $450 per person.)
Can I bring my dog to Pigeon Key? No.
Other nearby things to do in the Florida Keys and Marathon area:
- Things to do in Marathon
- 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
- Curry Hammock State Park: Beachside camping, safe swimming, nice kayak trail
- Seeing Key deer on Big Pine Key
- Bookmark this Overseas Highway mile marker guide to enhance your next road trip to the Florida Keys and your stop at Pigeon Key.
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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.