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2022-03-13

Last updated on March 14th, 2022 at 10:08 am The Marathon Seafood Festival calls itself the Original Marathon Seafood Festival to emphasize it’s the real deal – indigenous and authentic. Our Florida…

Last updated on March 14th, 2022 at 10:08 am

The Marathon Seafood Festival calls itself the Original Marathon Seafood Festival to emphasize it’s the real deal – indigenous and authentic.

Our Florida Seafood Festival calendar lists more than 70 seafood festivals; the Keys have at least two others.

But the Marathon Seafood Festival is the oldest seafood festival in the Keys. It was founded in 1976 by commercial fishermen, and it’s the fishermen who catch and cook all of the seafood.

Their wives bake the Key Lime pies and desserts, according to event coordinator Leah Luckin.

Folks eating seafood Marathon Seafood Festival
Chowing down for fresh seafood.

The event, now the second most popular festival in the Keys after Key West Fantasy Fest, has grown to include live music, a fine art show, boat show, rides and games and booths selling products ranging seagrass hats to sculptures made from old lobster traps.

More than 200 vendors are expected.

Seafood, fresh off the boat, however, is the real reason to attend the two-day festival.

Traffic Note: Festival weekends in the Keys can be a test of patience. There is only one highway through the Keys, and traffic jams are common even on “quiet” weekends. One recent weekend, we spent several hours crawling past a nautical flea market in Plantation Key.

The most popular item is a Florida lobster dinner. In 2019 (the last year it was held because of the pandemic), more than 2,000 pounds of local spiny lobster was served. And it may be your last chance at the tasty crustaceans… lobster season ends on March 31.

The lines are also long for stone crab, shrimp, fish, conch fritters and chowder. The Keys are also prime harvest grounds for the stone crab, also nearing the end of its season in May.

More than 50 gallons of conch chowder will be served cup by cup that weekend, according to event statistics from past years. Conch is illegal to harvest in Florida, so it is imported from the Bahamas and other areas of the Caribbean.

The festival will serve kegs and kegs of beer and many gallons of wine along with all the sides including hush puppies, cole slaw and French fries, and, of course, Key Lime pie.

Visitors to Marathon Seafood Festival
Visitors to Marathon Seafood Festival show off their lunch

Entertainment

Live music from a variety of genres is featured throughout the festival.

Saturday

11 a.m. — John Bartus & Adrienne Z — Acoustic classic rock

1 p.m. — Rolando Rojas & Caribe — Hispanic music, salsa, merengue

3 p.m. — I-Land Vibe, Caribbean dance band

5 p.m. — Igor & The Red Elvises, Rock humor

7 p.m. until Closing — The Rock Show! — Rock tributes to the 60s, 70s and 80s.

Sunday

11 a.m. — Brian Roberts, Island music & trop rock

1 p.m. — The Lady “A” Blues Band, blues

3 p.m. until Close — The Southern Blood Band, Southern rock

Marathon Seafood Festival: Just the facts

Admission: , children under 12 free. No pets.

Directions: Head south on the Overseas Highway to Mile Marker 49, the Marathon Community Park, 200 36th St., which is the ocean side of the road. There is some free parking around town, but your best bet may be schools and churches that charge for parking as a fund-raiser. Many offer shuttles.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.  It gets crowded.  The earlier you get there the better, say the event organizers.

Official web site: Marathon Seafood Festival. 

Your complete guide to the Florida Keys: Overseas Highway Mile Marker Guide

Where to stay

The Marathon Seafood Festival occurs in peak season, so rooms will go for their highest rates of the year.

The most reasonably priced accommodations will be in 1950s-era mom-and-pop motels, which dot the Keys. While not luxurious, many retain a lot of Keys character.  

Vacation home rentals in Marathon have become extremely popular — and more available — in recent years.

Book a hotel room at hotels.com

Book a vacation home at VRBO.com

Book a vacation home at VACASA

Boaters

Marathon’s Boot Key Harbor is popular with boaters mooring for the night while transiting the Keys.

Read more: Marathon is the seagoing heart of the Florida Keys

Campgrounds

RV camping in the Keys is more expensive than ever during winter and spring months. A spot check of rates at both small and large RV parks showed RVers will pay stiff rates for a basic site. It’s much cheaper in state parks, but those sites have been booked solid for a year.

Private RV Parks

These are peak season rates and do NOT include boat dockage fees and 12.5% sales and tourism taxes.

Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge, 33000 Overseas Highway, Big Pine Key. 114 sites. Hookups: 0 and up.

Coconut Cay RV Park and Marina, 7200 Aviation Blvd., Marathon. (Behind the airport) Phone: 305-289-1870. Rates: 6 and up per night.

Fiesta Key RV Resort and Marina, 70001 Overseas Hwy, Layton. 300 sites. Rates: 0 per night.

Grassy Key RV Park, 58671 Overseas Highway, Marathon. Phone: 305-289-1606. 34 sites. Rates: 4 and up per night.

Jolly Roger RV Resort, 59275 Overseas Highway, Marathon. Phone: 305-289-0404. 130 sites. Rates: 4 per night.

Sun Outdoors RV Resort (formerly Pelican RV Resort), 59151 Overseas Highway, Marathon. Phone: 305-289-0011. 95 sites. Rates: 0 per night.

Sunshine Key RV Resort, 38801 Overseas Highway, Big Pine Key. 400 sites. Phone: (305) 872-2217. Rates: 0 and up per night.

State Parks with Camping

Read More

  • Camping near Key West
  • Classic Keys cabins on Big Pine Key

Resources for planning a Florida Keys vacation

Special places near Marathon Seafood Festival

Read More: 2022-23 Florida Seafood Festival Calendar

Veteran journalists who worked together at Fort Lauderdale’s SunSentinel newspaper, Bonnie and Bob founded FloridaRambler.com in 2010 to explore the natural, authentic Florida, writing about their natural interests in hiking, biking, paddling, RV and tent camping, wildlife, unique lodging, dining and historic places.

34 Dog Friendly Beaches in Florida

22-07-2021 · Dog friendly beaches on Florida’s Atlantic Coast Hannah Park, Jacksonville . Hannah Park welcomes dogs on leashes all year long on both the beach and in the park’s campground. The beach is wide with a gradual slope as you enter the water. This also one of Jacksonville’s best surfing beaches. Hanna Park is a 450-acre complex with a water ...

22-07-2021

Last updated on July 23rd, 2021 at 07:48 am

Bark parks are everywhere, but most are inland, away from the beach. The challenge is finding dog friendly beaches in Florida where Fido can frolic in the surf.

Here’s our guide to the most popular dog-friendly beaches in Florida. Click on the beach name for details.

dog beaches in florida illustration
(c) Can Stock Illustration by caraman
Dog Friendly Beaches Table Of Contents
  1. Dog friendly beaches on Florida’s Atlantic Coast
    • Hannah Park, Jacksonville
    • St. Augustine Beaches
    • Dog Beach Zones, Flagler Beach.
    • Lighthouse Point Park, Daytona Beach
    • Smyrna Dunes Park, New Smyrna Beach
    • Lori Wilson Park, Cocoa Beach
    • Canova Dog Beach, Indian Harbour
    • Walton Rocks Dog Beach, Hutchinson Island
    • Stuart Beach, Stuart
    • Jupiter Dog Beach, Jupiter
    • Canine Beach, Fort Lauderdale
    • Hollywood Dog Beach, Hollywood
    • Bark Park at Haulover Beach, Miami
    • Hobie Beach Park, Miami
    • Anne’s Beach, Islamorada
    • Key West Dog Beach
    • Higgs Beach Dog Park, Key West
  2. Dog friendly beaches on Florida’s Gulf Coast
    • Bayview Dog Park and Beach, Pensacola
    • Perdido Key Dog Beach
    • Doggie Beach, Panama City Beach
    • Salinas Park, Port St. Joe
    • St. George Island, Apalachicola
    • Picnic Island Park, Tampa
    • Davis Island Dog Park, Tampa
    • Honeymoon Island State Park Dog Beach, Dunedin
    • Fort DeSoto Paw Playground and Beach, St. Petersburg
    • E.G. Simmons Regional Park, Ruskin
    • DeSoto National Memorial Beach, Bradenton
    • Palma Sola Causeway Park, Bradenton
    • Brohard Paw Park, Venice
    • Gulfside City Park (Algiers Beach), Sanibel Island
    • Lover’s Key Dog Beach, Bonita Beach
    • Keewaydin Island, Marco Island

It’s important to bring plenty of fresh water and an umbrella. Dogs need frequent hydration, and you don’t want them to drink salt water.

Dog friendly beaches on Florida’s Atlantic Coast

Hannah Park, Jacksonville

Hannah Park welcomes dogs on leashes all year long on both the beach and in the park’s campground. The beach is wide with a gradual slope as you enter the water. This also one of Jacksonville’s best surfing beaches. Hanna Park is a 450-acre complex with a water park, fresh water lake and campsites. The beach entrance is at the end of Wonderwood Drive. Parking is

https://at7.codecombo.com/Marathon-Seafood-Festival-The-real-deal-of-fresh-seafood+5f342427938_380.jpg

before 10 a.m. and per car after 10 a.m.

St. Augustine Beaches

Dogs are welcome at all beaches in St. Augustine and St. Johns County, except Anastasia State Park. Pets must be on a leash at all times, although enforcement seems lax in early morning unless there’s a complaint. Vilano Beach, north of St. Augustine, and Crescent Beach, south of St. Augustine Beach, are popular. Like all beaches, clean up after your pet.

Dog Beach Zones, Flagler Beach.

Designated beach from just north of Gamble Rogers State Park to South 13th Street  (south of the fishing pier). Leash required. Any time, day or night, and it’s free. 2700 Oceanshore Blvd, Flagler Beach, FL 32136

Lighthouse Point Park, Daytona Beach

52-acre Lighthouse Point Park on the north side Ponce Inlet is dog-friendly. Dogs can hike and visit the beach, which is bit rocky and the terrain a little rough, but dogs love it. Showers, dog showers, bathrooms and parking () are provided. 5000 South Atlantic Avenue, Ponce Inlet, FL, US 32118

Smyrna Dunes Park, New Smyrna Beach

Dog friendly beach in florida at Smyrna Dunes Park
Smyrna Dunes Park, New Smyrna Beach (Photo by Bob Rountree)

Smyrna Dunes Park is on the south side of Ponce Inlet, accessible for dogs from the boardwalk at the Coast Guard Station on North Peninsula Drive. Admission/parking is per vehicle. Your leashed pet can swim from the beach on the Indian River side of the park. I’ve taken my dogs here many times, and they loved it. (That’s me in the middle with Bear Bear, my wife and brother.) 2995 N Peninsula Dr, New Smyrna Beach, FL

Lori Wilson Park, Cocoa Beach

Home of the Florida International Dog Surfing Championship each November, this park does not otherwise allow pets on the beach. However, it does have a fenced, off-leash dog park near the beach. The main reason we mention it is because of the annual dog surfing championship.1500 Atlantic Ave, Cocoa Beach.

Canova Dog Beach, Indian Harbour

Dog-friendly beach is open from sunrise until sunset, and it won’t cost you a dime. Leash required. Waste bags and receptacles are available.  There are also picnic areas for both humans and their pets to enjoy and indulge. 3299 Highway A1A, Indian Harbour Beach, FL

Walton Rocks Dog Beach, Hutchinson Island

dog friendly beaches in florida Walton Rocks Beach on Hutchinson Island
Walton Rocks Beach on Hutchinson Island (Photo by Bob Rountree)

Walton Rocks Dog Beach is an off-leash beach park that sprawls over 24 acres. I love this beach and have brought my dogs here many times. It’s hard to find, but drive slowly along A1A and you’ll catch the small sign on the beach side of the road. This beach can get crowded on weekends, and the dogs really run wild, but it is a lot of fun for your pet. Parking and beach access are free. 6700 South Ocean Drive, Jensen Beach, FL

Stuart Beach, Stuart

Dogs must remain on a leash. The park offers a variety of amenities including covered picnic areas, beach volleyball courts, basketball courts, showers, restrooms and plenty of parking. The beach is behind the Elliott Museum at 825 NE Ocean Boulevard.

Jupiter Dog Beach, Jupiter

Well-socialized, obedient dogs and their conscientious owners are welcome from sunrise to sunset to a 2.5 mile stretch of beach where dogs can play and swim off-leash. Parking is free and restrooms and showers are located at nearby Ocean Cay Park and Carlin Park. The dog-friendly beach starts at dune crossover marker #26 (north of Ocean Cay Park, 2188 Marcinski Road in Jupiter) and proceeds north to dune crossover marker #57 (south of Carlin Park, 400 S. S.R. A1A in Jupiter).

Canine Beach, Fort Lauderdale

Dog-friendly beach at Sunrise Boulevard north for 100 yards. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays only, 3-7 pm (winter) and 3-9 pm (summer). Annual permits must be purchased in person at Parks & Recreation Administration located at Holiday Park. Single-week permits also available. Canine Beach, A1A & E Sunrise Blvd, Fort Lauderdale, FL

Hollywood Dog Beach, Hollywood

dog friendly beaches Hollywood Dog Beach
Hollywood Beach

Open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. During Daylight Savings Time, the hours are 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. A permit is required, which is available at the Dog Beach for per dog for residents and per dog for non-residents. Proof of vacinations and registration required. Call 954-921-3404 for more information. State Road A1A between Pershing and Custer Street.

Bark Park at Haulover Beach, Miami

Open from 8 am to sunset, seven days a week near the south picnic area. Featuring an enclosure for small dogs (less than 35 lbs.) and large dogs (more than 35 lbs.) with shade trees, picnic tables, drinking fountains, and doggie waste bag dispensers. Plenty of open, grassy space for your pet to play without a leash. Entrance to the bark park is through parking lot #3. Dogs are welcome on thebeach directly across from the Bark Park.  user fee, per vehicle (must have dog in vehicle; cash only). 10800 Collins Ave, Miami Beach, FL

Aggressive dogs should not be brought to any beach at popular times of the day.

Hobie Beach Park, Miami

You’ll pay a toll to get on the Rickenbacker Causeway where your dog can play in any sandy area on either side of the causeway, and while leashes are not required, you’ll want to keep Fido on a tether so he doesn’t dash into the road. There are no facilities specifically for your dog so come prepared with water, towels, poop bags and shade. Rickenbacker Causeway, Key Biscayne, FL

Anne’s Beach, Islamorada

Anne’s Beach is really fun for your pets because it’s shallow and they can romp quite a ways into the ocean. Parking is free, though limited, and there are restrooms available for humans. Bring a poo-poo bag for your pets. Anne’s Beach is located at the south end of Lower Matecume Key, on the ocean side, just before the Channel 5 bridge. Overseas Highway Mile Marker 73, Islamorada, FL

Key West Dog Beach

Small dog-friendly beach with plenty of shade and sand at the Southernmost Point. There are no restrooms or facilities. Near Louie’s Backyard, a popular pet-friendly, oceanfront Victorian home-turned-restaurant. 1500 Vernon Ave, Key West.

Higgs Beach Dog Park, Key West

For animal lovers, Higgs Beach Park hosts a large and well-used dog park with separate runs for small and large dogs. Higgs Beach also has a Civil War-era fort, a beachside café and an African Refugee Burial Ground, as well as one of the largest Aids Memorials in the country. 100 Atlantic Blvd, Key West

Dog friendly beaches on Florida’s Gulf Coast

Bayview Dog Park and Beach, Pensacola

Fenced dog park that includes access to a sandy beach open to the water for off-leash play. Drinking water and rinse station on site. This park also has benches, tables, water fountains, and a washing area. East Blount Street & North 20th Avenue, Pensacola, FL 32501

Perdido Key Dog Beach

Dogs are allowed on the beach at Access Point No. 3 from 6 a.m. until 10 a.m. daily. Parking and admission is free. Dogs will be allowed without a leash until April 30 – but they must be under their owner’s control and supervision at all times. From May 1 through Sept. 30, during the busy season, dogs must be leashed. Gulf Access #3, 14767 Perdido Key Drive, Perdido Key, FL

Doggie Beach, Panama City Beach

dog friendly beach Panama City
Panama City

Doggie Beach is located across from Pier Park and west of the City Pier. The 400 foot do friendly beach is open to dogs on leashes, and they love strolling the beach and enjoying the waves in Panama City. 16230 Front Beach Road, Panama City Beach, FL

Salinas Park, Port St. Joe

Open sunrise to sunset, Salinas Park offers an unspoiled beach that is dog (and horse) friendly. Leash required. Admission is free. 302 Cape San Blas Road, Port Saint Joe, FL

St. George Island, Apalachicola

All of the beaches on St. George Island are dog friendly, provided your pet is on a leash and well-behaved, and that the owners clean up after them.  If your dog(s) responds well to commands, they can be released for an untethered romp through the surf.  Doggie bags, water spigots and showers are spread along the shoreline. The only exception is within the boundaries of St. George Island State Park. You can, however, have pets in the campground at the state park.

Share the beach. Don’t let dogs play where people are fishing, and anglers should avoid areas where dogs are playing.

Picnic Island Park, Tampa

Port Tampa offers an off-leash beach for your pet. There are also picnic areas, a children’s park and picnic areas with water for both dogs and their human companions. Park also has boat ramps and ramps for launching kayaks and canoes. Picnic Island Dog Park, behind Port Tampa, 7404 Picnic Island Blvd, Tampa, FL

Davis Island Dog Park, Tampa

Dog Beach on Davis Island is a 1½-acre waterfront park with grassy areas and 200 feet of sandy beach. The park on the south end of the island past the Peter O. Knight Airport on Severn Avenue. The park is fully fenced, even down to the water. There is an adjacent picnic area, canoe launch and boat ramps. A Florida Rambler reader says it’s very popular with locals. 864 Severn Ave., Tampa, FL

Honeymoon Island State Park Dog Beach, Dunedin

Dogs have their own beach on the southern tip of Honeymoon Island, and they are also permitted on the nature trail. Leash required. Admission to park is for vehicles up to 4 people. Open from 8 a.m. until sunset. #1 Causeway Boulevard, Dunedin, FL

Fort DeSoto Paw Playground and Beach, St. Petersburg

While there are many dog parks in Pinellas County, there is only one park where your pet is allowed on the beach, and that’s at Fort DeSoto. There are two large fenced areas for large and small dogs, and access to the beach is at the southwest end of the park.  The beaches here are among the best in the state, and Fido will not be shortchanged. 3500 Pinellas Bayway S., St. Petersburg, FL

E.G. Simmons Regional Park, Ruskin

Popular campground and park on the eastern shore of lower Tampa Bay, and a ranger told me it is definitely dog friendly. Pets are allowed throughout the park with the exception of the designated swimming beach. No pets allowed there, but there is plenty of shoreline throughout the rest of the park where pets are permitted. Pets must be leashed. The ranger says the Hunters Pass section has 200-300 yards of sandy shoreline popular with pet owners (and fishermen), 2401 19th Ave NW, Ruskin, FL

DeSoto National Memorial Beach, Bradenton

National Park Service beach goes a step beyond dog friendly — visiting canines can become B.A.R.K. Rangers. The park has several small beaches where dogs can roam on leash, but shallow (and sheltered) Cove Beach on the south side of DeSoto Point may be best for small dogs. Be careful of currents at the other beaches. 8300 Desoto Memorial Hwy, Bradenton, FL

Palma Sola Causeway Park, Bradenton

Not exactly a beach but but it’s sandy, and your pet can jump into the water in this causeway park, which has picnic tables, a dock and water fountain in addition to being dog friendly. You’ll share the park with equestrians. 9000 Manatee Ave. West, Bradenton, FL. 

Many pet-friendly beaches provide dog-waste bags, but bring your own just in case.

Brohard Paw Park, Venice

dog friendly beaches in florida Brohard Park Dog Beach Venice Florida
Brohard Park in Venice

Dog park with beach access, showers for dogs, dog drinking fountains and even fire hydrants! The dog park is fenced, and a section is set aside for small dogs. Open from 7 a.m. until sunset. Parking is free, as is access to the park and beach. South of the pier at1999 Harbor Dr S, Venice, FL

Gulfside City Park (Algiers Beach), Sanibel Island

Dogs are allowed on a leash, and owner’s must clean up after their pets. There are picnic tables and restrooms available, and an hourly parking fee is charged from 7 am to 7 pm (free after 7 pm). 2100 Algiers Lane, Sanibel.

Lover’s Key Dog Beach, Bonita Beach

Dog friendly Beaches in Florida at Lovers Key
Lovers Key

Off-leash beach area on the south end of Lovers Key, adjacent to the state park, just west of the New Pass Bridge, north of Bonita Beach. There are no amenities, other than a beautiful beach, and there is no freshwater available, so bring your own. It’s on county land and maintained by volunteers, the “Friends of Dog Beach.” 8800 Estero Blvd., Fort Myers Beach, FL

Keewaydin Island, Marco Island

This eight-mile-long barrier island is one of southwest Florida’s largest unabridged barrier islands. Dogs are allowed on the beach, but you can only get their by boat. Leashes are required. There is a water shuttle service is available from Marco Island. Keewaydin Island, Naples, FL

Do you know about a dog-friendly beach in Florida not listed here?

Let us know in comments below so we can share it with other dog-loving readers.

The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning your trip by following the applicable links in this article.

This page may include affiliate links, such as Amazon and Hotels.com, from which we may earn a modest commission. We also include free links to local small businesses, such as kayak outfitters and restaurants, for the convenience of readers. 

This article is the property of FloridaRambler.com and is protected by U.S. Copyright Law. Re-publication without written permission is against the law.

Bob Rountree

Bob Rountree is a beach bum, angler and camper who has explored Florida for decades. No adventure is complete without a scenic paddle trail or unpaved road to nowhere. Bob co-founded FloridaRambler.com with fellow journalist Bonnie Gross 12 years ago.

Georgia State Park cabins are ideal stops on Florida road ...

28-09-2020 · Georgia Veterans State Park, 9 miles off I-75, 90 minutes north of Florida state line. This park is also known as Lake Blackshear Resort and Golf Club. It’s a lakeside destination with 10 rustic cabins renting for 0/night plus a large …

28-09-2020
Georgia State Park cabins: This stilt house at Fort McAllister hardly qualifies as a
Georgia State Park cabins: This stilt house at Fort McAllister is so large, it hardly qualifies as a “cabin.” (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

We’re traveling differently these days — if we’re traveling at all. Less flying; more driving. Less dining out; more accommodations where you can prepare meals or at least comfortably eat take-out.

Road trips seem to be the way to go, but for Floridians, most of us have to first drive and drive to leave the amazingly long state.

I planned a recent road trip north and my best tip from the experience is this: a stop in a Georgia State Park cabin once you leave Florida.

  • Fort McAllister State Park boat dock. The Georgia State Park cabins at this park were spacious and well-equipped. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
    Fort McAllister State Park boat dock. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
  • Georgia State Park cabins: The screen porch at Fort McAllister, about 90 minutes north of the Florida state line. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
    The screen porch at a Georgia State Park. This is Fort McAllister, about 90 minutes north of the Florida state line. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
  • Sunrise over the salt marsh at Fort McAllister State Park. Our Georgia State Park cabin was steps away. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
    Sunrise over the salt marsh at Fort McAllister State Park. Our Georgia State Park cabin was steps away. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
  • Fort McAllister

Fort McAllister State Park (Photos: Bonnie Gross)

We stayed in two wonderful Georgia State Park cabins on our trip: First, 90 minutes north of the state line, at Fort McAllister Historic State Park outside Savannah, minutes off I-95.

Then, five hours north, we stopped at Fort Mountain State Park two hours north Atlanta, for two nights in the mountains.

I was amazed to see that Georgia State Parks have more than 30 parks with cabins located throughout the state.

The two Georgia State Park cabins we stayed in were both overly spacious for two adults, with two bedrooms and two bathrooms. They had full well-equipped kitchens, comfortable living room and dining furniture plus huge screen porches with wonderful views and furniture designed for spending time there. This isn’t roughing it: There were TVs with cable in both bedrooms and the living room.

These Georgia State Park cabins, which cost 5 a night (plus taxes) would be perfect for families, even two families meeting. These cabins were classified as “premier” cottages; some parks also have two bedroom cabins at 0 a night.

Both parks offered beautiful scenery and lovely places to stroll or hike right from our cabin doors, plus more to do within a short drive.

We brought all our own food, which reduced our exposure to people and stores. Not spending money on restaurants and bars balanced out the cost of accommodations. If you traveled with more people, that 5/night would be a bargain for these cabins.

One reason I opted for Georgia State Park cabins over AirBnB or VRBO vacation rentals is that for short stays, those cleaning fees and service fees make stays expensive. Also, it’s hard to tell if your VRBO location provides good scenery and walking-distance recreation. With state park cabins, there are no additional cleaning fees and you are guaranteed a location in a recreation hub. Unlike vacation rentals, you know there’s a ranger available in the park if you have a problem or even just need advice on what to do.

Fort Mountain State Park: This first tower was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression. Our cabin in this park was a short drive away. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Georgia State Park cabins: This is the comfy living room at a cabin at Fort Mountain State Park in northern Georgia. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Georgia State Park cabins: From the cabin at Fort Mountain State Park, we could hike through the forest and past small waterfalls. (Photo: David Blasco)

Fort Mountain State Park (Photos Bonnie Gross and David Blasco)

On our way back to Florida, we may stop at another cabin at Crooked River State Park, 20 minutes north of the state line on a woodsy coastal river near St. Marys.

For Floridians, a terrific vacation road trip would be to make a loop and spend a few days each at several Georgia State Park cabins that appeal to you. (If you’re a camper, there are even more Georgia State Parks from which to choose.)

I’d love to stay at F.D. Roosevelt State Park, which has 21 cabins and is near Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Little White House historic site in Warm Springs about 90 minutes south of Atlanta.

I’m also drawn to several state parks in Georgia’s gorgeous mountains. There are at least 10 Georgia State Parks with cabins that would quality as “mountain” locations. One, Vogel State Park, has 34 cabins, so you are more likely to encounter a vacancy here than in some other parks.

There are also a number of state parks on lakes, rivers and flowages, where boating, fishing and swimming are popular.

For road-trippers, here are your best options:

Georgia State Park cabins near I-95

Crooked River: 20 minutes off I-95. Coastal location with waterfront views and pine forest. There are11 cottages from 0 to 5 for a three bedroom.

Fort McAllister: 90 minutes north Florida border; 20 minutes off I-95. Vast salt marsh and fascinating Civil War site preserving extensive earthworks that proved impervious to Union monitors, iron-clad warships. It was the site of the sinking of a Confederate blockade runner and history buffs will find it worth visiting.

Georgia State Parks cabins near I-75

Georgia Veterans State Park, 9 miles off I-75, 90 minutes north of Florida state line. This park is also known as Lake Blackshear Resort and Golf Club. It’s a lakeside destination with 10 rustic cabins renting for 0/night plus a large lodge and villas. It’s known for its golf course.


Indian Springs State Park, 20 minutes off I-75, three hours north Florida state line. A historic site frequented by both Creek Indians and settlers who flocked here for the artesian spring. Popular activities are wading in Sandy Creek, nature trails and biking. Ten cabins with wood burning fireplaces at 5 a night.

Red Top Mountain State Park, 5 minutes off I-75, four hours north of Florida state line. The park is best known for the 12,000 acre lake, but it is also a great place for hikers, with more than 15 miles of trails through the forested park. There are 18 cottages, ranging from 0 for two-bedrooms to 0 for three-bedroom premier.

There are many other Georgia state park cabins if you are willing to drive 30 to 45 minutes off I-75.

Reserve all Georgia State Park cabins via Reserve America.

The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning your trip by following the applicable links in this article.

This page may include affiliate links, such as Amazon and Hotels.com, from which we may earn a modest commission. We also include free links to local small businesses, such as kayak outfitters and restaurants, for the convenience of readers. 

This article is the property of FloridaRambler.com and is protected by U.S. Copyright Law. Re-publication without written permission is against the law.

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.

Florida Keys state parks: 11 remarkable places to discover

30-01-2022 · Florida Keys state parks: A view at Long Key State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross) Florida Keys state parks in the Upper Keys Dagney Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park, Key Largo. Located in an out-of-way oceanfront site in the northern stretches of Key Largo, Dagney Johnson doesn’t get a lot of visitors.

30-01-2022

Last updated on January 31st, 2022 at 03:44 pm

From the top of the Florida Keys to the very southernmost point, you are never far from a Florida State Park.

There are 11 Florida Keys state parks, and they are some of the most unusual and remarkable state parks anywhere in the country.

They are also some of the most interesting places in the Florida Keys, so if you don’t visit one or two of the Florida Keys state parks when you visit, you are missing out.

I’ve visited every one of them with one exception. I’ll tell you about that one below.

The other parks are easier to reach and are strung like jewels along the Overseas Highway.

Here, from top to bottom, are the 11 Florida Keys state parks and what makes each so special.

One of the new structures at Long Key State Park is a seaside platform that would make a perfect place for a small, impromptu wedding. This is a window in the platform's lattice-work frame. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Florida Keys state parks: A view at Long Key State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Florida Keys state parks in the Upper Keys

Dagney Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park, Key Largo

Located in an out-of-way oceanfront site in the northern stretches of Key Largo, Dagney Johnson doesn’t get a lot of visitors. But it is a rare thing: A piece of what the Florida Keys looked like before we all arrived. It’s the largest tract of West Indian tropical hardwood hammock in the United States. The main trail is a half-mile and paved, accessible to wheelchairs and bicycles. When we’ve hiked here, we found a lot of mosquitos, so bring bug spray.

What’s special here: This land was going to be yet another development (actually 15 hotels and 2,000 condos!), but environmentalists fought to preserve it. The woman after whom the park is named was an environmental leader,  Anna Dagney Johnson.

There is no camping at this park.

Dagney Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State ParkCounty Road 905, Mile Marker 106Key Largo FL 33037305-676-3777

Fee: .50 per person

coral reef key largo
Florida Keys state parks: Explore the reef at Pennekamp State Park. (CanStock Photo/offaxisproductions)

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is famous. It was the first underwater park in the United States and it it is made up of 70 nautical square miles and spectacular underwater coral reefs. It’s probably the most popular (but not the only) place to take a snorkeling trip to a coral reef in the Florida Keys, and its glass-bottom-boat trips open underwater viewing to those who don’t swim.

Seeing these reefs requires booking a tour or having a power boat. It is too far to swim or kayak.

Land-based activities include two beaches, two short hiking trails and kayaking trails through the mangroves, The visitor center has several terrific saltwater aquariums.

What’s special here: In addition to the popular reef boat trips, a good snorkeling experience for kids and those who are not strong swimmers can be found at Cannon Beach.  A 17th century cannon, an anchor and other items from shipwrecks have been placed about 100 feet offshore and is easy to reach by swimmers. The objects underwater attract lots of sea life. We’ve seen sergeant majors, parrot fish and even large barracuda here.

There is a popular campground at this park with 42 campsites, although campsites are tight and not very comfortable for tent campers.

A Florida Rambler guide to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Key LargoMile Marker 102.5 Overseas HighwayKey Largo FL 33037305-676-3777

Fee: per carload plus 50 cents per person

Bicycing one of the scenic bridges on the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail from MM 15 to MM 5.
Florida Keys state parks: Bicycing one of the scenic bridges on the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail. (Photo: David Blasco)

Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail

Here’s a Florida Keys state park you might not think about, even if you’ve visited the Keys. This is a linear park, a scenic bike trail that runs along the Overseas Highway from Key Largo to Key West. We’ve bicycled many sections of this trail, which is still being completed. Here’s our guide to the best sections of the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail.

What’s special here: Even if you don’t bring a bike, one of the special things about this trail are the bike/pedestrian bridges that connect some of the Florida Keys. Many of these bridges are built on the historic Henry Flagler-built railroad bridges with automotive traffic using separate modern bridges. These original bridges are great for taking a walk and gazing at the many shades of blue.  Here are two great spots to park and walk:

  • At MM 73, the Channel 2 Bridge is one-third mile long.
  • At MM 65.6, park to walk on the historic 2.2-mile Long Key Bridge.

Florida Keys Overseas Heritage TrailAdministrative Offices: 3 La Croix CourtKey Largo FL 33037305-853-3571

There is no fee.

Windley Key Fossil Reef State Park: Stone thast is actually an ancient fossilized coral reef was quarried here to build Henry Flagler's railroad to Key West. (Photo: David Blasco)
Florida Keys state parks: Windley Key Fossil Reef State Park preserves an ancient fossilized coral reef that was quarried to build Henry Flagler’s railroad to Key West. (Photo: David Blasco)

Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park

If you want to understand the Keys’ geological history, stop here to learn about the fossilized coral reef that underlies all of the Florida Keys. The park is an old quarry for rock used in building Flagler’s Overseas Railroad in the early 1900s. Visitors walk along 8-foot-high quarry walls to see cross sections of the beautiful ancient coral – a sight you won’t find anywhere else.

What’s special here: I love the fossil-filled quarry walls but I was surprised by how much I learned on the self-guided trail through the native vegetation that identifies dozens of Florida Keys trees and bushes and how they have been used.

The park has picnic tables but no camping.

Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park84900 Overseas HighwayIslamorada FL 33036305-664-2540

Fee: .50 per person

Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park

This little island can be reached only by boat and it’s the sort of place that captures the imagination of Keys visitors. Back in 1917, that’s what happened to Miami chemist William J. Matheson. He bought the island and built a caretaker’s home with a windmill and a cistern for rainwater. 

What’s special: The island makes an appealing destination by kayak, which lets you experience first-hand some of the aquatic life of the Keys paddling. (It’s an easy paddle over shallow water from Robbie’s Marina.) Rangers give tours on winter weekends to which visitors give high marks. Bring mosquito repellent. Details about kayak rentals and tours are on the park’s website.

There is no camping in this park.

Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park77200 Overseas HighwayOff-shore, Islamorada FL 33036305-664-2540Fee: .50 per person plus per person for tour.

Snorkeling at Indian Key State Park is excellent. (Photo: David Blasco)
Florida Keys state parks: Snorkeling at Indian Key State Park is excellent. (Photo: David Blasco)

Indian Key Historic State Park

Another island state park reachable only by boat, Indian Key is my favorite kayak destination in the Florida Keys. It’s a ghost town which was, improbably, the county seat of Dade County in 1836. It’s an uninhabited, undeveloped island where you still walk the roads of the original village, past the ruins of historic building foundations through jungly vegetation. It’s an easy, safe kayak trip.

Here’s a Florida Rambler guide to visiting Indian Key Historic State Park.

What’s special: I love having a picnic here and wandering the streets. But I always advise visitors to also bring their snorkel masks and snorkel the rocky shore of this island. Wear water shoes to get over the prickly (dead) coral rock and then plunge in on the ocean side facing the Alligator Reef Lighthouse in the distance. We saw a variety of sea life, including schools of small fish and a few larger ones. As elsewhere, you’ll find the water clearer at high tide.

There is no camping in this park.

Indian Key Historic State ParkOffshore, Islamorada305-664-2540

Fee: .50 per person

San Pedro Underwater Archaeological Preserve State Park

San Pedro Underwater Archaeological Preserve State Park is the only Florida Keys state park I haven’t visited, because it’s not exactly easy to drop by. (This park is in the ocean in 18 feet of water about 1.25 miles south of the Overseas Highway.) It’s an underwater wreck of a ship that was part of a Spanish treasure fleet that sank in a hurricane in 1733. It’s located in 18 feet of water, ideal for scuba diver and snorkelers. Because it is 1.2 miles out, though, it requires a boat. Be aware, though, all that is left of the original ship are ballast stones. Replica cannons and a plaque have been added to the site.

San Pedro Underwater Archaeological Preserve State Park77200 Overseas HighwayIslamorada FL 33036305-664-2540

There is no fee.

After Hurricane Irma in 2017, Long Key State Park built a picturesque chickee hut overlooking the beach. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Florida Keys state parks: After hurricane damage in 2017, Long Key State Park built a picturesque chickee hut overlooking the beach as part of the refurbishment of the park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Florida Keys state parks in the Middle Keys

Long Key State Park

You can spend the day here enjoying the waters and beaches that once delighted the rich and famous. Site of a famous fishing camp from the early 20th Century, Long Key State Park was once full of campers. A 2017 hurricane wiped out all but four campsites, so the park is now less visited. It does make a great place for a picnic, swim and walk, however, with beautiful views and a modest beach.

What’s special here: Take the 1.1-mile Golden Orb nature trail and where the trail meets the beach, you’ll find a beach area with a chickee hut, picnic tables and a pretty platform framed with wooden lattice work that looks perfect for a pop-up beach wedding. (It can’t be reserved.) Nearby, you can rent kayaks too.

Here’s a Florida Rambler guide to Long Key State Park

Long Key has four campsites.

Long Key State Park67400 Overseas HighwayLong Key FL 33001305-664-4815

Fees: One person, .50; two or more people, .50 plus 50 cents per additional person.

Curry Hammock State Park

Curry Hammock State Park is one of those destinations in the Florida Keys that you’ll pass right by unless you know it’s there, and that’s the beauty of it. It offers camping on the beach, kayak and hiking trails, bicycling, swimming and snorkeling. It is secluded and natural, the largest uninhabited parcel of land between Key Largo and Big Pine Key. This is a good place for a short and inexpensive kayaking experience. You can rent kayaks here and follow a trail through beautiful mangrove tunnels and over thousands of upside down jelly fish that look like snowflakes in the shallow clear water. There’s also a sandbar you can paddle out to.

What’s special here: No admission fee is required for this hidden 1.5-mile nature trail that is part of Curry Hammock State Park. The trail is bayside — around Mile Marker 55. Look for a parking area for bicyclists off the road, a mile after the park entrance and walk back 300 yards to the trail. It winds through a beautiful rockland hardwood hammock to an overlook of Florida Bay. Uneven terrain — not for flipflops.

Here’s a Florida Rambler guide to Curry Hammock State Park

Curry Hammock has 28 campsites.

Curry Hammock State Park56200 Overseas HighwayMarathon FL 33050305-289-2690

Fees: One person, .50; two-plus people, .50

Calusa Beach at Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys.
Florida Keys state parks: Calusa Beach at Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys with the historic Bahia Honda bridge in the background. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Florida Keys state parks in the Lower Keys

Bahia Honda State Park

Many say Bahia Honda has the best beach in the Florida Keys. Others visit this park because it has some of the best campsites in the Keys. But I’ve always loved this park because of the historic Bahia Honda bridge – an unusual “saddleback” bridge built by Henry Flagler, still in use until 1972.

Bahia Honda is just an all-around great place in the Keys – it’s good for kayaking, fishing and you can take coral-reef snorkeling trips from here to Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary.

The park got hammered by Hurricane Irma in 2017 and one of its best beaches and campgrounds has yet to re-open, so it is even harder to reserve a campsite here. There are also six cabins on stilts overlooking a lagoon. They make a lovely getaway, but they are almost impossible to reserve.

What’s special here: Bahia Honda has some of the best snorkeling from the shore in the Florida Keys. In water less than 6 feet deep, snorkelers can see coral, live seashells and tropical fish, making it good for beginners and kids.

Bahia Honda has 56 campsites.

Here’s a Florida Rambler guide to Bahia Honda State Park

Bahia Honda State Park
36850 Overseas HighwayBig Pine Key FL 33043305-872-2353

Fees: per vehicle

Key West sunset at Zachary Taylor Historic State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Florida Keys state parks: Our insider tip is to come back in the evening for a Key West sunset at Zachary Taylor Historic State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)


Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park

People go to Key West for years and never even know Fort Zachary Taylor State Park is there. They are really missing out.

It has not only a remarkable and beautiful historic fort, with the largest collection of Civil War armaments in the United States, but it also has the best beach in Key West, right at the point where the Atlantic meets the Gulf of Mexico. The snorkeling from the beach is terrific. Also, in Key West, where parking is a pain, you can pull in and have a space for and spend the day (and come back later.)

What’s special here: Here’s my best insider tip: For a beautiful Key West sunset experience, keep your receipt from a visit earlier in the day to Fort Zach and you come back to the park for sunset. There is ample room for a picnic blanket on a shoreline looking straight west. Bring some refreshments and relax. The park closes after sunset and rangers will shoo you out as dusk sets in.

Here’s a Florida Rambler guide to Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park

There is no camping in this park.

Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
601 Howard England WayKey West FL 33040305-292-6713

Fees: per vehicle

Passes for Florida Keys state parks

One thing that prevents people from stopping at multiple state parks is paying multiple entrance fees.

If you visit a LOT of state parks, a pass might make sense, although the price is high enough to make you hesitate. Annual passes for individuals are and for families is 0.

If you buy an individual pass for , it includes free entry to parks for one person; the second person is more at each park. 

Planning your visit to Florida Keys state parks

The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning your trip by following the applicable links in this article.

This page may include affiliate links, such as Amazon and Hotels.com, from which we may earn a modest commission. We also include free links to local small businesses, such as kayak outfitters and restaurants, for the convenience of readers. 

This article is the property of FloridaRambler.com and is protected by U.S. Copyright Law. Re-publication without written permission is against the law.

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.

Parks in South Florida: Where to go for a taste of nature

14-06-2021 · Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, 3109 E Sunrise Blvd, Fort Lauderdale, In urban South Florida, it is a small sliver of the natural splendor once all around. There’s a lot to do here: beach, biking, shaded picnics, Intracoastal views. When visiting Birch State Park, a perfect day includes a stop to nearby Bonnet House.

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Last updated on June 15th, 2021 at 03:19 pm

There are wonderful natural places in South Florida, but first you have to drive through gridlock past dense development to find them. 

Those little slices of nature aren’t easy to find. I’ve lived in Fort Lauderdale for 40 years and I’ve visited nearly all the parks in South Florida, from the wonderful national parks down to some real gems among the county parks. 

In South Florida, we don’t have enough open space and we have too few hiking and biking trails. Nevertheless, I have come to love the ones I recommend here.

Parks in South Florida: West Broward County

One of the prettiest short nature hikes around is Fern Forest Nature Center, 201 S Lyons Rd, Coconut Creek. First thing to like: It’s free. Primarily, though, I like the half-mile-long, wheelchair- and stroller-accessible boardwalk. The trail winds through a tropical hardwood hammock and a very pretty cypress-maple swamp, providing a taste of what South Florida looked like before we paved it over.

Those who want a longer hike can take the additional one-mile Prairie Overlook Trail loop (not a boardwalk, so not accessible to wheels.) We’ve seen gopher tortoises and armadillo here and we always stop to see the snakes and exhibits in the nature center.

Tree Tops Park and Pine Island Ridge offer a walk under some of the most beautiful live oak trees you can find in Broward County. It’s probably the best place for a two- or three-mile-long hike in Broward County.  3900 SW 100th Ave., Davie. Admission is

https://at7.codecombo.com/Marathon-Seafood-Festival-The-real-deal-of-fresh-seafood+5f342427938_380.jpg

.50 per person on weekends and holidays.

While you’re in the area, stop at nearby Brian Piccolo County Park to spot burrowing owls.This busy family park with soccer fields and large parking lots is a stop on the Florida Birding Trail because of its large population of adorable burrowing owls. 9501 Sheridan St, Hollywood.

A flamingo at Flamingo Gardens. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

A flamingo at Flamingo Gardens. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Nearby, Flamingo Gardens in Davie has a hefty admission fee ( adults; children 4 to 11 ) but offers a lot: Exotic tropical trees and flowers, historic citrus groves, Florida birds in an aviary where you see them up really close, an interesting mix of animals including flamingos and otters, plus a bit of Broward history via  a pioneer home.  A narrated tram tour is also included in admission.

Within a mile of Flamingo Gardens is Long Key Nature Center, which has a half-mile trail through a magnificent oak hammock and a nature center. The park is free.  3501 SW 130th Ave., Davie.

Parks in eastern Broward County

Anne Kolb Nature Center in Hollywood is one of the best parks in South Florida for kayaking. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Anne Kolb Nature Center in Hollywood is one of the best parks in South Florida for kayaking. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

On the eastern side of Broward, Anne Kolb Nature Center preserves some of the rarest land among parks in South Florida — mangrove wetlands. The park offers trails for hiking and biking and West Lake, which comprises most of this park, is a favorite for kayaking.

Within a mile of the nature center is West Lake Park, where you launch or rent kayaks to paddle on West Lake and the water around the Anne Kolb preserve. There are three well-marked kayak trails winding through the mangroves. Be sure to get a brochure when you pay your admission to the park, West Lake Park, 1200 Sheridan St., Hollywood.

An alternative places to picnic and launch your kayak on West Lake Park is Holland Park, 801 Johnson St., Hollywood, where West Lake meets the Intracoastal. The park has pavilions, a boardwalk overlooking the Intracoastal, a short nature trail, restrooms and a waterfront observation tower. If you launch from here, paddle toward the Intracoastal and you’ll immediately come to an entrance into the maze of mangrove-lined canals. If you paddle way from the Intracoastal, you reach West Lake where, a short distance north, is the entrance to the green kayak trail. 801 Johnson St., Hollywood.

This Broward County state park is a gem because it preserves a coastal ridge as well as a chunk of Fort Lauderdale’s beach. Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, 3109 E Sunrise Blvd, Fort Lauderdale, In urban South Florida, it is a small sliver of the natural splendor once all around. There’s a lot to do here: beach, biking, shaded picnics, Intracoastal views.

When visiting Birch State Park, a perfect day includes a stop to nearby Bonnet House. On the south side of Sunrise Boulevard, tucked away surrounded by colorful gardens with wild spider monkeys, wading birds and swans, is Bonnet House, a whimsical tropical estate listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1920, it’s a 35-acre oceanfront estate designed by artists as a place to live the good life in winter. 

Here’s a Florida Rambler guide to Birch State Park and Bonnet House. 

Of course, South Florida’s favorite open space is along the Atlantic Ocean. Our favorite Broward beach is  Mizell Johnson State Park in Dania Beach. It’s an excellent place to do a little beach combing or swimming.  At this park you can walk for 2.5 miles along what is Broward’s most natural beach and it is easy to find space away from people. Admission is per vehicle. 6503 N. Ocean Dr., Dania Beach.

Secret Woods Nature Center does feel like a secret place in that you’d never know this special respite from urban development is even here. It has one mile of trails and boardwalks through mangroves and under large trees with some beautiful overlooks where the trail meets the New River. This park is free. 2701 W. State Road 84, Fort Lauderdale.

Parks and gardens in Miami-Dade County

Cape Florida State Park on Key Biscayne is one of the state parks in South Florida.

Cape Florida State Park on Key Biscayne is one of a half dozen state parks in South Florida. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

On of the most beautiful spots in South Florida is the tip of Key Biscayne at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park.

This park has something for everybody: an award-winning beach, a historic landmark lighthouse you can climb for a spectacular view, fishing, hiking and even dining in its waterfront restaurants.  It’s easy to spend hours here. Here’s a Florida Rambler guide to Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park.  Admission  is per car plus there is a toll to reach Key Biscayne (but what beautiful views you get along the way!)

Olete River State Park, 400 NE 163rd St, North Miami Beach, 10 minutes from sprawling Aventura Mall, is a remarkable island of green where you can kayak, mountain bike, picnic and enjoy a sandy beach. Many will be surprised to discover there is a wooded peninsula here where 14 small rustic cabins are available for rent inexpensively.

Another great day is to tour Fairchild Tropical Gardens. It’s expensive: for adults, less for seniors and kids. But it truly is world-class botanical garden with more to see than you can fit in a day’s outing.

A lesser known and less expensive botanic garden is further south in Pinecrest. Pinecrest Gardens is the 14 acress site of the old Parrot Jungle attraction and include historic cages (sounds odd but they’re quite interesting), old exotic trees and a jungly landscape. Pinecrest Gardens was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2011. Admission is only ( for seniors) so this is an inexpensive alternative. It’s not huge, but there’s a lot to appreciate here. 

National parks in Miami Dade County

Take your guests to discover the Everglades in one of these two sure-fire ways:  Either go to Shark Valley and take the tram tour (or walk or bike the paved trail) or go to the Homestead entrance and take the Anhinga Trail. Here’s a good overview about visiting the Everglades. With either experience, you will see alligators and you will see scads of impressive birds — guaranteed. And, as Marjorie Stoneman Douglas put it: There are no other Everglades. Note that admission to Everglades National Park is now per carload, good for seven days.

Wood storks, anhingas and herons all nesting together in Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach. The boardwalk offers some of the best birdings among parks in South Florida. (Bonnie Gross)

Wood storks, anhingas and herons all nesting together in Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach. The boardwalk offers some of the best birdings among parks in South Florida. (Bonnie Gross)

Parks in South Florida: Palm Beach County

Two free boardwalks in Palm Beach County are my go-to places for visitors. You don’t have to be a birder to love the extremely visible and profuse wildlife at Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach and Green Cay  Wetlands in Boynton Beach. (Note: Green Cay is closed during winter 2019-2020 for repairs.) You will see alligators. You will see anhingas, cormorants, herons, coot, moorhen and many other birds. And they will be easy to spot, unafraid and close to the boardwalk. I usually see more wildlife here than on a long trek to the Everglades!

Quite close to Wakodahatchee and Green Cay is the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, another good place to get outdoors and look for birds and wildlife. The boardwalk behind the nature center is a beautiful, easy stroll, good for wheelchairs and strollers. You don’t see wildlife there, but the swamp has a wild beauty all its own. Admission is .

If you live further north and love to see wading birds, consider Peaceful Waters in Wellington. In winter, it attracts lots of birds that are easy to view up close. (That article suggests a few other places to take a walk in Wellington.)

MacArthur Beach State Park in North Palm Beach has almost two miles of beach, lined with wild sand dunes covered with native vegetation. There are no parks in South Florida whose beaches rival the length and beauty of MacArthur Beach. But the rest of the park is special, too.

A scenic 1,600-foot boardwalk crosses a waterway that separates the parking lot and nature center from the beach.  This is a good time to skip the tram, which runs regularly, to avoid contact with others. The waterway is a small cove of Lake Worth, rich with estuary creatures, including oyster beds and wading birds. This is also a good place to put in a kayak. Admission is . 10900 Jack Nicklaus Dr., North Palm Beach.

Also further north, there are many outstanding places to visit in the Jupiter area.  Jonathan Dickinson State Park  has a great variety of ways to entertain visitors: horseback riding, biking (you can rent them there), going on a boat tour, kayaking the beautiful Loxahatchee (again, you can rent kayaks and canoes) and hiking, Here’s a complete guide to Jonathan Dickinson State Park.

Bicycle or walk on an Everglades levee

These aren’t exactly parks in South Florida, but they do offer recreation and open space. Several Everglades levees have been repurposed as biking and hiking trails. Few are paved. They are generally hard-packed shell rock that skinny tires can handle, but are perhaps safer on fat tires. They can also be walked. The broad expanse of the Everglades is an inspiring view, but the problem with these trails is the view really doesn’t change.

My favorite: The Blue Gill Trail in Palm Beach County. This levee trail begins on PGA Boulevard at the end of the developed part of Palm Beach Gardens, and leads through the Loxahatchee Slough to Riverbend Park in Jupiter. It’s a 10-mile round-trip, and there are appealing extensions at each end. The trailhead on PGA Boulevard is called Sandhill Crane Access Park and it’s great:  There are good restrooms, a few picnic tables, an overlook, a boat dock and parking.  (No potable water, however, so bring plenty of your own.)

You also can start a levee trail at Broward’s northern border at Lox Road, where there is parking, an airboat operator and lots of fishermen.  If you ride south from here, after the first three miles, you are adjacent to the Sawgrass Expressway. It’s 8.5 miles to Atlantic Boulevard.

A much quieter and more remote route starts at the end of Atlantic Boulevard, where a trail head  serves a levee that extends 10 miles straight through the Everglades to U.S. 27 – no roads, no cars, few people and, unfortunately, not a single speck of shade. This is also quite a rocky trail. To find the trailhead at the end of Atlantic Boulevard, go straight at the light on Atlantic as you go under the Sawgrass Expressway. The road curves around until you come to about 20 parking spaces, often filled with fishermen. (There are no restroom facilities.)

A third place to start your levee bike ride is from Markham Park in Sunrise. From here, you can pedal for six miles with the vast vista of the Everglades, never crossing a road or encountering any vehicle traffic. To reach the trail, as you turn into Markham Park from State Road 84, you can take an immediate left into a parking lot for the levee trails. This occurs before you pay the admission to the park. On the other hand, you might pay your admission and enjoy a shaded picnic and use the facilities here before or after your ride.

Like the other levee trails, this is a bit of an endurance test – it’s not paved, there’s no shade and the scenery doesn’t change. 16001 State Road 84, Sunrise.

The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning your trip by following the applicable links in this article.

This page may include affiliate links, such as Amazon and Hotels.com, from which we may earn a modest commission. We also include free links to local small businesses, such as kayak outfitters and restaurants, for the convenience of readers. 

This article is the property of FloridaRambler.com and is protected by U.S. Copyright Law. Re-publication without written permission is against the law.

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.

Milton FL: Great cabins, camping, glamping, kayaking & …

27-11-2021 · Milton has grown from the "canoe capitol" in Florida's Panhandle into an outdoors center with eco-resorts and multiple activities. The area's white-sand rivers are terrific to kayak or tube and there are good hiking and biking trails. Milton has an interesting historic district too.

27-11-2021

Last updated on November 28th, 2021 at 07:21 pm

For decades, the unspoiled rivers of this rural Panhandle region around Milton have won this town the reputation as “Florida’s canoe capitol.”

Today, you can still canoe, but the range of outdoor activities has multiplied, as kayaking and tubing have gained in popularity, and two eco-resorts have added creative accommodations and even canopy zipline tours. There’s also a terrific paved bike path, excellent hiking trails, a woodsy campground in a state park and the historic district in Milton to explore too.

Interest in this off-the-beaten-track rural area all started with the rivers, primarily Coldwater Creek and Blackwater River, both spring-fed rivers with cool tannic water and big white sandbars.

Blackwater River near Milton FL and its broad sandbars make for a great kayaking, canoing or tubing experience. (Photo: David Blasco)
Blackwater River near Milton, FL, and its broad sandbars make for a great kayaking, canoeing or tubing experience. (Photo: David Blasco)

Eco-resorts Adventures Unlimited

Adventures Unlimited started almost 50 years ago as a simple canoeing outfitter. Over the years, it has expanded to include a variety of rustic cabins and interesting accommodations, a campground, paddling trips and zip line experiences.

The riverfront grounds are extensive and park-like and include several miles of trails winding through woods, over several pretty creeks and past historic structures that have been moved here to find new life as cabins. (If you stay there, walk to the “falls,” which appears to be set up for wedding ceremonies on a small island in the stream.)

Our Adventures Unlimited cabin was built on stilts so the view from the balcony was of treetops and Coldwater Creek. The eco-resort is near Milton FL. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Our Adventures Unlimited cabin was built on stilts so the view from the balcony was of treetops and Coldwater Creek. The eco-resort is near Milton, FL. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

We stayed in the Tupelo Cabin, a one-bedroom cabin built on stilts with both an open deck and a screened porch overlooking Coldwater Creek. We enjoyed the cozy gas fireplace (limited to use October to March) and the view through the treetops from the deck at sunset.

There is a great variety of accommodations here. In addition to several cabins on stilts, there’s a 1930s schoolhouse repurposed into the School House Inn, with eight rooms with high ceilings, hardwood floors and screen porches. You can stay in two train cars, a 1928 caboose and a former dining car, now home to three cabins with kitchens. A 1902 Cracker cabin was moved to the site in 1993 and restored for guest rentals.

Old train cars now serve as cabins at Adventures Unlimited. (Photo: David Blasco)
Old train cars that serve as cabins are among the accommodations at Adventures Unlimited. (Photo: David Blasco)

Many of the cabins overlook Coldwater Creek and all are an easy walk from the stream.

Cabins range from 9 for a one bedroom to 9 for a four bedroom. Tent camping is a night; RVs are to .

The complex includes a large zip line course. The shortest option is per person and takes two to three hours to complete, including zipping over Coldwater Creek as well as through the tree tops. The longer tour is 9.

Reviews of Adventure Unlimited on Tripadvisor

Adventures Unlimited8974 Tomahawk Landing Road, Milton, FL

(850) 623-6197

Eco-resorts Coldwater Gardens

Coldwater Gardens in Milton is seven miles away. Coldwater Gardens does not offer kayak or tubing trips, but does have creative accommodations in a woodsy setting, ranging from cottages to a treehouse to popular glamping tents. (Tripadvisor reviews are very positive.)

There are 350 acres of land and overnight visitors can hike several miles of trails and swim or tube on several sandbars on Coldwater Creek. (Most accommodations are a mile from the creek.)

Day use is limited to self-guided tours of the gardens, which includes hydroponics, shiitake mushrooms, honey bees, vermiculture (cultivation of worms) and chickens and bunnies.

Glamping is - a night and cottages 0 to 0. There’s a Creekside platform if you bring your own tent that goes for to .

The family-run operation is popular for weddings and special events.

Reviews of Coldwater Gardens on TripAdvisor.

Coldwater Gardens
7009 Creek Stone Road, Milton, FL
(850) 426-1300

One trail at Adventures Unlimited goes to charming island at some rapids that are called the waterfall. The eco-resort is near Milton FL. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
One trail at Adventures Unlimited goes to a charming island at some rapids that are called the Falls. The eco-resort is near Milton FL. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Kayaking Coldwater Creek, Milton

One of the most popular tubing and paddling rivers in the Milton area, Coldwater Creek is a swift, cold, clear stream through a beautiful quiet forest, with only a few cottages and docks along its banks.

Coldwater Creek’s water is tannic orange and the bottom is largely white sand. The spring-fed river is 80 degrees year around, which means alligators don’t like it, but folks who want to cool down with tube ride in summer sure do.

Coldwater Creek near Milton FL is a swift, tannic river near Milton FL. (Photo: Bonne Gross)
Coldwater Creek near Milton, FL, is a swift, tannic river. (Photo: Bonne Gross)

Kayak, canoe, stand-up paddle board or tube trips are offered by the professionally run Adventures Unlimited operation. Vans with boats leave on the hour from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and paddlers complete their trip by pulling into the Adventures Unlimited dock area.

Adventures Unlimited offers 4-mile, 7-mile and 11-mile paddle trips. The summer tube ride is the 4-mile run.

We canoed the 7-mile trip on a cool cloudy October day and passed one another canoe in 2.5 hours. Summers, though, are the busy season and we are told the river is not nearly so empty.

On our trip, we experienced few manmade sounds. (The exception was the occasional gun shots of hunters somewhere in the distance.)

We didn’t see a lot of birds or wildlife, but enjoyed beautiful cypress trees and innumerable large white sandbars perfect for picnics and swimming.

The current is so strong that you basically have to steer rather than paddle. There are a few logs and snags to maneuver around.

River trips start at .30 for the 4-, 7- or 11-mile canoe trip; by single kayak; by tandem kayak. Tube trips start at .

Blackwater River is so shallow, you can stand at most points and the bottom is white sand the whole way. Its near Milton FL. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Blackwater River is so shallow, you can stand at most points and the bottom is white sand the whole way. It’s near Milton FL. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Kayaking Blackwater River, Milton

Twenty minutes away from Adventures Unlimited, the Blackwater River is another gem. Its fame is that it is the only pristine white sand bottom river in the United States. That’s the claim, and I have no idea how to verify it.

But I will verify this: That white sand bottom is gorgeous. It has extensive sandbars and, in the shallow golden-orange water, you see a lovely wave-like ripple pattern in the sand.

This river passes through the wild and natural lands of Blackwater State Forest all the way from the Alabama state line, which is one reason it is so pure. There are no homes or docks on the river. The current is two to three miles per hour and the water is shallow, making it one of the easiest paddling trips you can take.

Blackwater River is a series of big S curves. At every curve, there’s a sandbar – a magical spot ideal for wading, swimming, building sand castles and having picnics.

On a sunny warm November weekday, we passed one other canoe, but summer is the busy season, when the river is full of folks on tubes and kayaks. In the summer, when Gulf waters are bathwater-warm, these cool creeks an hour away make popular day trips for beach vacationers.

There are two long-time outfitters on the Blackwater River and their trips range from 4 miles to 11 miles. Tube trips are 4 miles. Rates start at for tube trips; for canoes and kayaks. Overnight trips are also possible.

  • Blackwater Canoe Rental
  • Bob’s Canoes
The Chain of Lakes Nature Trail in Blackwater River State Park passes through a longleaf pine forest, an ecosystem that was once widespread but which is now quite rare. (Photo: David Blasco)
The Chain of Lakes Nature Trail in Blackwater River State Park passes through a longleaf pine forest, an ecosystem that was once widespread but which is now quite rare. (Photo: David Blasco)

Tubing Blackwater River and Coldwater Creek

Both rivers are considered excellent tubing rivers. Both have refreshing chilly water and few alligators.

All the oufitters who do kayaks and canoes year around also offer tubing rental and livery service in summer, generally for about a four-mile trip, which takes about two or four hours, depending on how much time you spend on sandbars.

You’ll find details on costs and hours at each website, but the area’s prices for tubing range from around to . per person.

In addition, you’ll find a few other tubing outfitters:

  • Tripshock
  • Blackwater Joe’s

Blackwater River State Park and hiking in the Milton region

Blackwater River State Park, 15 minutes off I-10, is a great place for camping, picnicking and hiking.

Along the river, a series of boardwalks connect several covered picnic shelters with riverfront views.

The appealing campground here has 30 campsites and is sheltered by tall longleaf pines. It offers spacious gravel sites with full hookup and can accommodate tents and up to 35-foot RVs.

Note: A nearby helicopter-training facility brings unwanted noise some days.

We liked the hiking in and around this park and took two outstanding hikes.

First, we hiked the varied and scenic 1.75-mile-long Chain of Lakes Nature Trail. (It was too wet on our visit to complete the portion along the cypress swamp adjoining the river, so while this is a loop trail, we did it as an out-and-back.) It starts off at Deaton Bridge Road and you park at South Bridge Parking Area.

Red clay cliffs near the Juniper Creek Trail near Milton FL are an unusual landscape for Florida. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Red clay cliffs near the Juniper Creek Trail near Milton FL are an unusual landscape for Florida. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

A second great hike is the Juniper Creek Trail, which travels several miles and ends at the park. It’s part of the Florida National Scenic Trail System. The most spectacular part, however, is a few miles away, so we drove to the Red Rock Trailhead at 10090 Red Rock Road, Milton, FL, and started our hike from there.

The beautiful trail winds through a forest along Juniper Creek, with some views of the creek and changes in elevation. The highlight is an area with steep red-clay cliffs caused by the river’s erosion. You won’t see it marked on the trail, so a short distance down the trail, watch for well-trod side trails off to the right. Don’t get too close here: The tops of these cliffs are undercut and could tumble down. It’s a beautiful spot and unusual for Florida scenery.

Blackwater River State Park7720 Deaton Bridge Road, Holt, FL

(850) 983-5363

Blackwater Heritage State Trail in Milton is a long, smooth bike ride through woods and over streams. (Photo: David Blasco)
Blackwater Heritage State Trail in Milton is a long, smooth bike ride through woods and over streams. (Photo: David Blasco)

Bicycling the Blackwater Heritage State Trail in Milton

Recreation-rich Milton FL even has a very nice bicycle rail-trail.

Beginning in Milton, the Blackwater Heritage State Trail offers 8.1 miles of smooth 12-foot-wide asphalt through thick woods. At the end of the 8.1 miles of state-park-maintained trail, it connects with another 1.5 mile paved trail into Whiting Field US Naval Air Station.

This trail has all the amenities – four trailheads, each with bathrooms and picnic areas and several with bicycle pumps and benches periodically positioned along the way. It is smooth, flat and in excellent condition.

The trail passes through beautiful woods the entire way. Where the trail goes through openings in the foreste for power-line rights of way, the view widens into marshes and meadows that were full of golden fall color and yellow flowers when we bicycled in late October. There are several bridges over pretty tannic streams.

While we bicycled on an overcast day, it appears much of the trail would be shaded.

The extension of the trail into Whiting NAS is less appealing, running alongside the road.

The southern section of the trail, which passes through Milton, has a number of crossings of small city streets. If you start one mile north, where there is a trailhead at the Blackwater Heritage State Trail Visitor Center, you can minimize crossings, which would make this a great family bike ride.

One nice thing about this trail is that if you come to the region to paddle, you can rent bikes easily right at the Milton Trailhead at a bike shop called Truly Spokin Bicycle Company. They rent beach-cruiser type bikes for .50 an hour.

The Riverwalk in historic Milton FL, located on the Blackwater River. (Photo: David Blasco)
The Riverwalk in historic Milton, FL, located on the Blackwater River. (Photo: David Blasco)

Exploring Milton while biking the trail

Milton has a number of interesting assets, but doesn’t quite gel as a destination unto itself. If you’re biking the Blackwater Heritage State Trail, however, you should consider these other stops:

The Milton Historic District has more than 100 buildings that helped it get listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Milton, one of Florida’s oldest towns, was incorporated in 1844, when Florida was still a territory. The historic district, which includes the downtown and adjoining residential neighborhood, has a few buildings from before the Civil War and many from the 19th Century. One of the best maintained and most beautiful is the 1875 Gothic Revival St. Mary’s Episcopal Church at 6842 Oak St., Milton, FL. You can pick up an excellent guide to the historic district at the Milton Visitor Center,

The West Florida Railroad Museum is the home for the town’s visitor center inside the Louisville and Nashville Railroad Depot, a 1909 building on the National Register. The free museum includes a caboose you can step inside. It’s at 5003 Henry St., Milton, FL.

This red brick road was built in 1921 as an early automobile route. Called the Old Spanish Trail, it once connected St. Augustine and San Diego. This is the most scenic, which is closest to downtown Milton FL. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
This red brick road was built in 1921 as an early automobile route. Called the Old Spanish Trail, it once connected St. Augustine and San Diego. This is the most scenic section, which is closest to downtown Milton, FL. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

The Old Spanish Trail Is not much of an attraction, but I was fascinated by its existence and sought it out after seeing it mentioned in a visitor map. The Old Spanish Trail was a road built for the new touring vehicle, the automobile, in 1921. It went from St. Augustine to San Diego.

Milton has seven miles of the original red brick road. The trail is now listed as a hiking and biking trail, but except for its historic interest, it’s not a great trail. It’s sandwiched between the train tracks and noisy Highway 90 with little scenery and no landscaping. This section of the trail is quite pretty, however.

More things to do near Milton from Florida Rambler

Guide to Gulf Islands National Seashore

Topsail Hill Preserve State Park

Grayton Beach State Park

Best beach camping in Florida Panhandle

Camping at state parks in Florida’s Panhandle

Big Bend Scenic Byway: A less visited part of Florida

The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning your trip by following the applicable links in this article.

This page may include affiliate links, such as Amazon and Hotels.com, from which we may earn a modest commission. We also include free links to local small businesses, such as kayak outfitters and restaurants, for the convenience of readers. 

This article is the property of FloridaRambler.com and is protected by U.S. Copyright Law. Re-publication without written permission is against the law.

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.

10 free things to do in Key West: Fun ...

21-12-2021 · Key West, FL 33040 (305) 294-3210 Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week. Free things to do in Key West: White Street Pier. Adjacent to the West Martello Tower & …

21-12-2021

Last updated on December 22nd, 2021 at 09:30 am

Key West on the cheap is a challenge, but these off-the-beaten-path stops are all free things to do in Key West

Free things to do in Key West? I heard that derisive laugh.

Sure, few destinations in Florida are as expensive as Key West. But think about the three most popular things to do in Key West:

Captain George Carey Home in Key West
Free things to do in Key West: The Captain George Carey Home in Key West is one of many buildings you’ll admire on a free walking tour of Key West. (Photo: Bonnie Gross) 
  • Walk down Duval and wander through historic neighborhoods full of tropical plants and colorful gypsy chickens.
  • Get your picture taken in front of the Southernmost Point.
  • Gawk at the nightly street carnival scene at Mallory Square sunsets.

See a common thread? They’re all free things to do in Key West. 

And they’re not the only things to do in Key West that are free. Several of my favorite “finds” in Key West are free, and I love them because they are off the standard tourist trail.

So I say: Go ahead and splurge on the ferry to the Dry Tortugas. You can make up for it with an afternoon filled with free things to do in Key West..

Free self-guided walking tours of historic Key West

There are wonderful group tours of Key West, but the best ones cost and up for adults. If you’re an independent and resourceful sort, here a few great alternatives.

The old-school not-on-your-phone approach: Print out the Pelican Path Self-Guided Tour of Key West, created by the Old Island Restoration Foundation, and wander on your own through Key West’s charming lanes.  This tour provides the stories behind 51 historic buildings and you can break your explorations into smaller segments to go at your own pace.

Then, as you visit historic sites, look for the historic markers. Each has a number on it. You can use your phone or a smart-phone app to hear more detailed historic narration of each site if you desire.

Near the Southernmost point, the historic Dewey House is an interesting stop on the historic walking tour, which is one of the best free things to do in Key West. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Free things to do in Key West: The Dewey House near the Southernmost point is an interesting stop on the historic walking tour. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

To use your phone: dial 1-305-507-0300 and then the marker number. You can access the same audio narration via the “Explore Historic Key West” app, which you can download for free in the app store before leaving home.

All the markers and narration are listed at the Key West historic-marker website

Much of the same information is available on a cell phone tour created by the same grass roots non-profit organization. If you call it up on your cell phone at keywest.oncell.com/, you can choose a setting where it uses your location to tell you sites that are nearby. You can listen to audio information about sites or read text about them. 

A shorter free walking tour is available via an app from the Florida Humanities Council. It has 12 key locations, which makes it easier to complete.. (Look in the app store for Florida Stories.)  Each of its stops includes entertaining stories of Key West’s people and past.

Whichever free tour you choose, wandering Key West lanes and alleys looking at historic sites is a great way to spend time (and not money) in Key West.

free things to do in Key West: West Martello Tower is a Civil War-era fort that fell into disrepair and became home to the Key West Garden Club. This broken archway was the site of a large ficus tree that blew down in Hurricane Irma in 2017. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Free things to do in Key West: West Martello Tower is a Civil War-era fort that fell into disrepair and became home to the Key West Garden Club. This broken archway was the site of a large ficus tree that blew down in Hurricane Irma in 2017. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Free things to do in Key West: West Martello Tower & Botanical Garden

This spot incorporates two of my favorite things: old forts and tropical gardens.

Situated on the Atlantic about a mile from the Southernmost Point, West Martello Tower is a Civil War-era fort that was never finished. Begun in 1863, construction ended in 1873. The tower was used to quarter troops during the Spanish American War and housed radio stations during World Wars I and II.

By 1949, the unused tumbled down ruin was considered an eyesore and many wanted it torn down. US Congressman Joe Allen fought to save it and the Key West Garden Club took over the site as their botanic garden.

Free things to do in Key West: When you visit the West Martello Tower, home of the Key West Garden Club's Botanical Garden, you feel like you've stumbled on a lost ruined city in a jungle. (Photo: David Blasco)
Free things to do in Key West: When you visit the West Martello Tower, home of the Key West Garden Club’s Botanical Garden, you feel like you’ve stumbled on a lost ruined city in a jungle. (Photo: David Blasco)

In addition to the charming ruins, the garden has another major asset: It overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. Visitors are rewarded with ocean views at various points with a particularly spectacular view from a pretty white gazebo at the top of a hill — a popular wedding site.

The West Martello garden has beautiful views onto Higgs Beach. It's one of my favorite free things to do in Key West. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
The West Martello garden has beautiful views onto Higgs Beach. It’s one of my favorite free things to do in Key West. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

The gardens were once shaded by a huge strangler fig that entwined the ruins, but the tree blew over in Hurricane Irma in September 2017. (Its rootball weighed 25 tons!)

After that, we were amazed to visit in summer 2018 and see the gardens looking spectacular. Not as shady as in the past, it was full of blooming orchids and new landscaping. I was particularly impressed with the flower-filled butterfly garden, which was all aflutter.

The butterfly garden at West Martello Tower were aflutter with life. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
The butterfly garden at West Martello Tower was aflutter with wings. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Key West Garden Club at West Martello Tower
1100 Atlantic BoulevardKey West, FL 33040(305) 294-3210

Hours:  9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week.

Free things to do in Key West: White Street Pier

Adjacent to the West Martello Tower & Botanical Garden is what has been dubbed the “unfinished road to Havana” – a very large concrete pier that stretches 1,000 feet into the Atlantic Ocean.

The pier is a popular fishing spot for locals and visitors are entertained watching fishermen reel in their catches. Looking into the very clear water, you see schools of colorful reef fish nibbling around the rocks along the pier. On a July morning, we saw dozens of lobsters amid the rocks along the pier and a spotted ray swam close by.

Looking into the water along the White Street Pier, dozens of lobsters wree visible in shallow clear water. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Looking into the water along the White Street Pier, dozens of lobsters were visible in shallow clear water. The pier is one of the off-the-beaten-track free things to do in Key West.(Photo: Bonnie Gross)

The view from the pier is beautiful with its range of blue hues. It’s also a stunning place for a quieter Key West sunset.

Just south of the White Street Fishing Pier and adjacent to the Waldorf Astoria’s Casa Marina Resort, is Higgs Beach. This free urban beach offers shade from a grove of palm trees and a number of picnic tables as well as a dog park and free parking.

Aerial view of White Street Pier, Key West
Free things to do in Key West: Aerial view of White Street Pier, Key West (Photo courtesy Florida Memory Project)

African Cemetery at Higgs Beach: Between the pier and the West Martello Tower, there is a large interesting memorial marking the site of a cemetery where 294 enslaved African men, women and children are buried. The Africans were rescued from three slave ships off the coast in 1860 and brought to Key West. Having endured inhumane conditions on board, many died after the rescue. Those that survived were shipped to Liberia.

At Higgs Beach in Key West, a memorial marks the site where African slaves were buried after they were rescued from slave ships in 1860. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Free things to do in Key West: At Higgs Beach in Key West, a memorial marks the site where African slaves were buried after they were rescued from slave ships in 1860. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Here’s a Florida Rambler story on the African Cemetery. 

White Street Pier
White Street and Atlantic Boulevard, Key West.

Free things to do in Key West: The Key West Wildlife Center

The Key West Wildlife Center rescues and rehabilitates birds, and serves as a temporary home to nuisance chickens and roosters that roam the city. It's a free, fun stop for families
The Key West Wildlife Center rescues and rehabilitates birds, and serves as a temporary home to nuisance chickens and roosters that roam the city. It’s a free, fun stop for families. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

While taking in the pier and Martello Towers, families and animal lovers might like to stop at the Key West Wildlife Center. The center is located inside an 8-acre park that has a freshwater pond that attracts a good number of herons, egrets and other birds.

The wildlife center has an aviary and rehab flight area where it nurtures injured hawks, pelicans, osprey, heron, egrets and other birds back to health.

Free things to do in Key West: An injured American kestrel is one of the birds at the Key West Wildllife Center
Free things to do in Key West: An injured American kestrel is one of the birds at the Key West Wildllife Center. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

A large chicken aviary is home to dozens of Key West’s infamous gypsy chickens.  To get rid of nuisance chickens, residents can borrow a trap from the wildlife center and bring the captured fowl here.  The chickens are trucked to organic farms in Central Florida monthly, where they are prized for their eggs and for their help with pest control. (They eat bugs.) Here’s a Florida Rambler story all about those Key West chickens.

Key West Wildlife Center
1801 White Street
Key West305-292-1008

Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week.

Free things to do in Key West: Historic Key West Cemetery

Hand-carved angels and Victorian statues are part of the history of the Key West Cemetery. It's a great stop for those seeking fun things that are free in Key West.
Hand-carved angels and Victorian statues are part of the history of the Key West Cemetery. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

The Key West Cemetery is at the center of the island – halfway between the Historic Key West Seaport and West Martello Tower. It has several entrances, but you should make a point to start at the northwest corner at Passover Lane and Angela Street because a small office there has excellent free walking tour guides.

With a walking tour guide in hand, the cemetery reveals fascinating stories of Key West and its people.

The cemetery was founded in 1847 after a terrible hurricane in October 1846 washed away the old cemetery, scattering the dead throughout a forest.  As a result, the oldest gravestones in the cemetery are actually older than the cemetery itself. They date to 1829 and 1843 and were moved here after the hurricane.

A prominent monument is to the U.S.S. Maine, which was blown up in Havana Harbor in 1898 killing 260 American soldiers.  Two dozen of those dead are buried here along with other veterans of the Spanish-American war. The area is protected by an iron fence and gate brought from Washington D.C.

The Historic Florida Keys Foundation offers walking tours of the cemetery twice a week, Tuesday and Thursdays at 9:30 a.m. for per person.  For information and reservations, call 1-305-292-6718 or email [email protected]

Find more spots to see in this Florida Rambler story on Key West Cemetery.

Historic Key West Cemetery
Passover Lane and Angela StreetKey West1-305-292-6718

Here’s the cemetery map and walking tour as a PDF.

Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center: Free in Key West with parking

Free things to do in Key West: The Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center in Key West is located on the waterfront near Fort Zachary Taylor. Enjoy high-quality exhibits, including a 2,500-gallon tank with a living reef.
Free things to do in Key West: The Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center in Key West is located on the waterfront near Fort Zachary Taylor. Enjoy high-quality exhibits, including a 2,500-gallon tank with a living reef. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Besides being free, there are two things that are special about this attraction: its aquarium tank and its free parking.

The center, operated by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and other environmental agencies, offers educational exhibits with the highlight being the Mote Marine Laboratory Living Reef exhibit, a 2,500-gallon reef tank with living corals and tropical fish. There’s a short film that gets good reviews.

My favorite: The tank with the beautiful lion fish, a non-native fish that is plaguing coral reefs in the Keys

The center is very near the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Ingham Maritime Museum & National Historic Landmark. ( for adults.)

Lion fish. Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center is one of the best things to do for free in Key West.
The Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center is one of the best things to do for free in Key West. You’ll see a beautiful lion fish, which is actually an invasive species destroying diversity on the reefs in the Keys. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

The Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center
35 East Quay Road, Key WestThe Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center is located at the end of Southard Street in the Truman Annex in Key West, across the street from Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park.Hours: Tuesday – Saturday9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

(Closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas)

Read reviews on TripAdvisor

At the Key West seaport, charter captains cleaning their fish attract schools of large tarpon. Note one surfacing at bottom left. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Free things to do on Key West: The Key West Historic Seaport

Many Key West visitors miss seeing areas that aren’t directly on Duval Street or Mallory Square.

Here’s an example: One of the most scenic strolls in Key West — and a top freebie — is the harborwalk along Key West Bight, also known as the Key West Historic Seaport.

From picturesque schooners to hungry tarpon to historic exhibits to the best happy hour specials in town, the Key West Seaport has plenty to offer a visitor.

Here’s a Florida Rambler story on what to see and do around the Key West Seaport.

Key West sunset at Zachary Taylor Historic State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Key West sunset at Zachary Taylor Historic State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Bahamas Village neighborhood of Key West

Karuna Eberl, co-author of “Key West & the Lower Keys Travel Guide”  has this suggestion: Stroll the streets on the southwest edge of Key West, between Whitehead Street and the Truman Annex. Immigrants from the Bahamas began settling this neighborhood in the 1800s, while trying their fortunes at fishing, sponging, turtling and wrecking. Sadly but not surprisingly, the community was historically marginalized for generations, but today is appreciated for its vibrant heritage, art, architecture, tropical gardens and Caribbean foods. The apex of Bahamian spirit explodes onto the streets each October during the Bahama Village Goombay Festival, a family-oriented weekend of street processions, wild outfits, vending trucks and dancing to the music of Caribbean Junkanoos.

Not free, but cheap:

Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park

Fort Zachary Taylor in Key West: a Civil War-era fort and a great beach, all for  per car admission. (Photo courtesy Florida State Parks)
Fort Zachary Taylor in Key West: a Civil War-era fort and a great beach, all for per car admission. (Photo courtesy Florida State Parks)

Admission is only per vehicle and given that you must pay for parking everywhere in Key West, this makes Fort Zachary Taylor virtually free. If you walk or bike in, it’s .50 per person.

The park is fabulous for three reasons:

  1. While a little rocky, its beach is the best in Key West and is a favorite for snorkeling, with living coral and tropical fish.
  2. Secondly, its Civil War fort is well preserved, has a fascinating history and displays the largest cache of Civil War-era seacoast cannons in the U.S.
  3. Third, once you pay your admission, you can show your receipt and come back for no extra charge to see the sunset from the fort’s property, with easy parking and lots of room to spread out along the shore.

Here’s a Florida Rambler report on the park and fort.

Guided tours of the fort are given daily at noon and there’s a brochure to aid in self-guided tours.

Here’s another bargain-hunter tip: The fort’s beachfront Cayo Hueso Café offers reasonably priced sandwiches, snacks and cold beverages served on a shaded patio overlooking the beach.

Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
601 Howard England WayKey West, Florida 33040

(305) 292-6713

The park is open from 8 a.m. until sundown daily.  The fort closes at 5 p.m.

Free things to do in Key West: Sunset — and watch for the “green flash”

Karuna Eberl, the Key West guidebook author, says the Green Flash is a phenomenon a few lucky people witness. Right as the sun dips below the horizon, a small burst of brilliant green emanates from it. Some call it a well-hyped legend, but it actually does exist and is proven through physics. There are a few tricks to seeing one. First, it must be a very clear evening with little haze or cloud cover close to the horizon. Second, don’t stare at it until the last two seconds. Have a friend tell you when the tip of the sun is just about to disappear, then quickly look. Voila!

Jules Verne immortalized it in his 1882 novel Le Rayon Vert (The Green Ray). “A green, which no artist could ever obtain on his palette, a green of which neither the varied tints of vegetation nor the shades of the most limpid sea could ever produce the like! If there is a green in Paradise, it cannot be but of this shade, which most surely is the true green of Hope.”

The green flash is pretty cool, but there are many other things worth having eyesight for, so please use common sense and don’t burn out your eyes looking at the sun.

More budget-friendly tips for things to do in Key West

We visited all these places on bikes, which made for a carefree way to tour congested Key West with its lack of parking.  We brought our own bikes from Fort Lauderdale on a bike rack. But you can rent bikes at a number of locations in Key West (and many hotels and B&Bs provide bikes.) Bikes rent for to a day per person.

Here’s a Florida Rambler guide to finding hotels and restaurants in Key West for the budget-minded.

Resources for planning a Florida Keys vacation

The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning your trip by following the applicable links in this article.

This page may include affiliate links, such as Amazon and Hotels.com, from which we may earn a modest commission. We also include free links to local small businesses, such as kayak outfitters and restaurants, for the convenience of readers. 

This article is the property of FloridaRambler.com and is protected by U.S. Copyright Law. Re-publication without written permission is against the law.

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.

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