Beyond the Overseas Highway: Three Fabulous Places for Nature and History in the Florida Keys

Garden Key of the Dry Tortugas (c) ABR 2016
Garden Key of the Dry Tortugas (c) ABR 2016

For most, the Florida Keys is an alluring road trip destination due to the Overseas Highway, which takes drivers through the keys and over the ocean, as its name suggests. The sights and sounds of the Florida Keys may be a little bit disappointing to nature lovers when the ocean is out of sight, because human habitation here feels thick and unending. But as I always say, there is something for everyone in all destinations, and the Keys are no exception. So, fellow outdoorswomen and men, here are my top three activities for you in the Keys.

Dry Tortugas National Park

Inside of Fort Jefferson (c) ABR 2016
Inside of Fort Jefferson (c) ABR 2016

Seventy miles west of Key West lay the seven small islands of the Dry Tortugas, now home to the historic Fort Jefferson on Garden Key. Fort construction began in 1846 but even after 30 years of progress, it was never completed. This massive complex was meant to help the United States control the Caribbean Sea, its strategic position is pretty clear even to the casual onlooker. The fort itself offers at least an hour or more of thorough exploration, with three levels and the sandy trail that loops around its top and base. But aside from the fort, the Dry Tortugas are also a splendid place to snorkel, and in the right season, you can get some casual hiking in as well. Mid-October to mid-January is when the beaches of Bush Key are open – a unique ecosystem and an important nesting ground for several species of marine birds. The easiest way to get out here is with the Yankee Freedom, which can either take you out for the day, or deposit you on Garden Key for some camping.

Biscayne National Park

Biscayne National Park (c) ABR 2016
Biscayne National Park (c) ABR 2016

Arguably, Biscayne is more part of Miami than the Florida Keys, but the main part of this Floridian wonder is the tail end of the Keys, along the shore of the mainland. There is a visitor center on the mainland, but this is really just a gateway to the keys that are part of this protected area including Adams Key, Elliot Key, and Boca Chita Key. While they are close to Key, they aren’t accessible by land, so taking a day tour with one of the companies that works with the National Park Service is necessary if you want to snorkel, kayak or hike in the park.

Florida Key State Parks

Windly Key Fossil Reef Geological Area State Park (c) ABR 2016
Windly Key Fossil Reef Geological Area State Park (c) ABR 2016

So, we have nice nature stops at the base of the Keys, and far out to sea past Key West, but what about all those islands in the middle? Is there anything other than concrete bridges and strip malls? Well, of course! First of all, there are plenty of places to park at near the bridges where you can stop to fish or walk around. But more importantly, there are multiple state parks throughout the Keys that give you a glimpse into what these islands were like before humans started paving them. Florida Hikes has a great post about this that I referenced when driving through. You can give yourself a driving break AND support Florida’s protected areas, making checking out these parks a true travel perk.

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50 thoughts on “Beyond the Overseas Highway: Three Fabulous Places for Nature and History in the Florida Keys

    1. Honestly, the only really lovely buildings were in Key West, and there is ALOT of build up on the islands. But you just need to find the pockets of natural areas if that’s what you like (like I do).

  1. Living Life Our Way

    I have been to Florida but not visited any of these. They look like our kind of places, would definitely like to visit them one day!

  2. Kaitie Creator of Fuchisa Freezer

    while I’ve flown over, I have never been to the key and would love to go someday. Your 3 places make me want to go soon! It’s so pretty!!

    1. If you make it out to Florida, the keys should definitely be on your list. Very picturesque, though as I say, the traffic isn’t great and the towns besides Key West aren’t the most beautiful.

  3. I lived in Florida for 15 years and have never been to the Florida keys:( one day I’ll have to make a trip there! Thanks for some interesting spots to check out!

  4. Wow the water at Biscayne Park looks so beautiful! I’ve been to the Keys a very long time ago (when I was a child) but don’t remember visiting these locations. Thanks for sharing!

  5. on my buketlist/wishlist of places i will visit someday if i get to the states, so for this one, its good to have an insight of how many good places i can explore when the time comes.

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