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.

If you enjoy this post, you may want to learn more about the Florida Keys:

Travlinmad’s A First Timers Guide to Key West

If you want to see manatees in the Florida Keys, be sure to look at MBsees Manatees! Enough Said.

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52 Comments

  1. I haven’t made it to the Florida Keys yet. The national park sounds so gorgeous. It’s definitely on my travel bucket list.

  2. I have traveled to several different places in Florida, but never the Florida Keys. I really want to get down there and check it out someday.

    • It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. Definitely try to go during the low season, because the traffic can be brutal. And for sure do some research on Dry Tortugas.

  3. I was hoping to get to see the Keys when I was in Florida last year. We unfortunately ran out of time – such a shame!

  4. Amber

    How pretty! I haven’t been to the Florida Keys yet. I hope to someday.

  5. Great pictures and article on the top places in Florida. I love in Florida and have not even been there before. Very informative!

  6. Florida Keys sounds so beautiful! Hopefully it is somewhere I can go when I travel overseas next!

  7. I have been to Florida so many times and even lived there for a while and never made it to the keys. Thanks for sharing, the Biscayne National Park is beautiful.

  8. These are absolutely beautiful pictures! I wish I could be there right now instead of this snow.

  9. I’ve never been to Florida, but this is not what I expected the Florida Keys to be like. What a pleasant change from the highrises!

    • 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).

  10. annalisanuttall

    How pretty, i would love to visit one day. Thank you for this. xx

  11. You know that I am kicking myself for not joining you. It would have been so much fun

  12. I plan to go for a vacation on the Florida Keys this year, so this post is perfect for me! The place looks amazing!

  13. 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!

  14. I’d love to explore the Keys! All three suggestions sound great.

  15. I live in the Tampa bay area of Florida and have not been down to the keys! Thanks for sharing – I will have to make it down there soon!

    • Ooo, yeah. You could make a really nice road trip of it. ๐Ÿ™‚ Tampa is the one place I was hoping to visit in Florida, but wasn’t able to. Maybe someday!

  16. 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!!

  17. hugshomemadegmailcom

    Beautiful pictures. Florida is already in my bucket list. sounds like Florida key is a must to travel. Thank you for sharing!

    http://www.hugshomemade.com

    • 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.

  18. Biscayne National Park looks calm and I would lile to enjoy the morning breeze there. ๐Ÿ™‚

    -blairvillanueva

  19. 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!

  20. 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!

  21. Wow, the shape is simply beautiful, truly a gem in this world!I really would love to go there soon!

  22. khoner001

    Biscayne looks absolutely beautiful. I hope to venture to the Keys one day

  23. lex

    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.

  24. YES!! Love all three of these. Good job

  25. Rebecca

    Coming down end of Feb 2024. Flight into MCO, drive to Daytona for 1 my family. Drive the coast to Pompano 1 night then to Key West for 2 nights. Hotel says parking included I sure hope itโ€™s true. Then up the west coast to Tampa area go to Red Barn Market. I have snout 9 days do not sure what else yet.

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