The Lower Florida Keys are made up of Key West, Big Pine Key, Marathon, Islamorada and Key Largo.
Lower Florida Keys Attractions
The only way to get in and out of the Lower Florida Keys is U.S. Route 1. This All-American road connects all of the Lower Keys with 42 bridges and stretches for seven miles over the ocean without another island in sight. When you're driving into the Lower Keys you'll get amazing views of the Atlantic Ocean, Florida Bay, the Gulf of Mexico and the aqua-blue shimmer of the waves where the three bodies of water meet.
A major natural attraction in the area are the Key Deer. These creatures are native to the Lower Keys and often seen eating grass and tree leaves on the side of the road. They're only 2.5 feet tall and small compared to the deer you see on the mainland. The animals are not contained by fences and have the National Key Deer Refuge to roam. With more than 9,200 acres, the animals have access to pine rockland forests, tropical hardwood hammocks, freshwater wetlands, salt marsh wetlands and mangrove forests. Although they have such an expansive area, you're more likely to see Key Deer on Big Pine Key.
Eco-tourism is popular in the Lower Keys because of the several natural wonders that inhabit the region such as blue waters and sea creatures including dolphins, alligators, fish and birds. A tour will take you through the backcountry on a shallow draftboat. You can also sail or row through the area and the peacefulness will give you a new outlook on the laid-back lifestyle of the Lower Keys.
Things to Do
Bahia Honda State Park: This park is located near Big Pine Key on Bahia Honda Key, a small island contained within the park where you'll find a few rental cabins and campsites. The park features beautiful beaches, snorkeling opportunities and fishing. There are boat trips to a nearby reef so divers and snorkelers of all skill levels can explore the fascinating sea life that call this part of the ocean home. If you want to learn more about creatures that inhabit the island, head to the nature center where you can get a more detailed look at the plants and animals that live on Bahia Honda Key.
Diving and Snorkeling: Because the Lower Keys are the least developed of the Florida Keys, divers and snorkelers have wonderful views of the ocean floor. The best spot to dive is Looe Key Reef in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. It's located between mile marker 39.9 and 40 and has been one of the most recognized reef tracts in the Keys. Looe Key Reef also boasts one of the biggest varieties of marine species in the Northern Hemisphere. The corals range in depth from 20 to 40 feet and one reef plummets more than 100 feet deep. It's here where you can see sea turtles, eagle rays and the occasional manta ray and whale shark. A more recent attraction includes the Adolphus Busch Sr., a ship that was intentionally sunk in 1998. The island freighter was sunk completely intact and resides below the surface in 100 feet of water.
Key West Aquarium: The aquarium on Key West opened in 1934 and was one of the first family-oriented attractions in the Keys. At the aquarium observe grouper, eels, barracuda, tarpon, parrotfish and tropical fish, to name a few. Kids will love getting to walk up to the touch tank that houses small creatures that can be touched and fed. Guided tours are available and you can even participate in a shark feeding and get the chance to pet a shark.
Ernest Hemingway: The Ernest Hemingway House in Key West is a must-see for literary fans. The famed American author lived in the home for more than 10 years. Visitors can tour the home to learn more about the estate, the famous six-toed cats that roam the house as well as the man who lived there. Try to catch a glimpse of one of the 50 cats at the home, some of whom are direct descendants of the original six-toed cat Snowball.
The Blue Hole: Head to mile marker 31 on Big Pine Key and see the Blue Hole. It's in the Key Deer Refuge and a "borrow pit" from when railroads made their way in and out of the Lower Keys. This is one of the best spots for diving if you want to get up close to the animals. You'll likely see alligators, turtles and freshwater fish all living in the Blue Hole. In addition to this natural attraction, you'll also find the Jack Watson Memorial Nature Trail and Watson's Hammock just down the road. It's a 0.7-mile, self-guided trail that will take you through a pine rockland habitat. The Manillo Trail spurs off the main trail and is handicap accessible.