If you can drag yourself out of the bar or away from the pool on your Florida Keys vacation, you might just find that these islands have a bevy of natural wonder to offer. There are 3 state parks right on Route 1 in the Keys and a multitude of other beautiful sites to visit. For $4.50 per person you can enter a park for the day to walk their trails, visit their nature center, enjoy their beaches, and use their clean and modern facilities complete with showers.
We enjoyed the aquariums and educational video at the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park’s visitor center and if we would have had more time I’m sure the glass bottom boat ride would have been wonderful. The trail through the mangroves happened to be closed for repair when we visited but it looked like it would have been nice; a dry, reasonably wide boardwalk and observation tower.
We also visited Bahia Honda State Park in Big Pine Key and saw some of the best beaches of the trip there. This was our favorite stop and we took a ton of pictures of the old rail bridge…
…walked through the butterfly garden, scoped out the beaches and had a nature trail all to ourselves.
When driving through Big Pine Key keep go slow and keep your eyes peeled for Key Deer. We were pulling out of a pharmacy (we needed bottles of water and to replace the sunglasses Phil left at a restaurant) and right there on the side of Rt.1 were two little deer nibbling on the grass shoulder. They’re perfect miniatures of the whitetails I’m used to seeing back home.
Very cute. In Key West I’d recommend Blue Planet’s kayak tour through the mangroves. We went on the evening tour and it was nice to see the sunset while we glided over the shallow bay. When the sunset we headed in to the mangroves, through little passages barely wide enough to accommodate the kayaks in a single file line. It was eerie and cool inside the mangroves with the roots tangled and crowding the path and the canopy overhead blocking out any light from the night sky. If you stop paddling the stillness and quiet are almost unnerving. We saw a gazillion upside down jellyfish carpeting the sandy floor and in among the turtle grass we found starfish, a conch, and bioluminescent plankton.