Head southwest about 15 miles from Miami, jump on Highway 1 and you’ll find yourself leaving the mainland U.S. and heading into the tropical haven of the Florida Keys. The “Overseas Highway” stretches from Key Largo in the north 113 miles down to Key West, touching numerous beautiful keys along the way. Now the scenery on this highway may be beautiful, but don’t let it distract you – it unfortunately has a very high rate of accidents, probably due to too many tourists rubber-necking their way along. Instead take it slow and take advantage of any opportunity to pull off the highway. The views are just as spectacular from the keys, and you’re on vacation so don’t be in a rush to get anywhere!
And if, like me, you’re interested in avoiding rollicking crowds, there are numerous ways to enjoy the bounties of nature in the Keys. Eco-tourism is the way to go.
Islamorada also offers some interesting canoeing and kayaking options. You can paddle your way through shallow grass flats in search of dolphins, manatees, sharks and rays. Then head to Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park, accessible only by boat, where you can take a ranger-guided hike through the unusual botanical environment of a “tropical hardwood hammock”.
Vaca Key is known for having some of the best snorkeling in the Florida Keys. Only a couple miles offshore are numerous shallow-water coral patches, where you can spend hours trying to name all of the different fish you see. Bird lovers can take a short hike through Crane Point Hammock where they might spot white crowned pigeons, ibis or herons.
As you continue further south along the Overseas Highway into the Lower Keys you might want to stop at Bahia Honda State Park with its award-winning beaches, or visit the nearby Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary. Looe Key is reputed to have some of the best scuba diving opportunities in the Florida Keys, especially around the H.M.S. Looe which sank in 1744 and the extensive coral reef formations throughout the sanctuary. Big Pine Key is home to the National Key Deer Refuge where you can see the rare key deer – a diminutive version of the white tail deer.
And if you really want to get away from it all, you can kayak your way through the Florida Keys “backcountry” – areas not easily accessible to boat traffic and therefore unspoiled and filled with life. You might spot great white herons or even a bald eagle or watch dolphins playing in the shallows while you kayak your way over colorful sponge flats. It doesn’t get much more relaxing!
Just remember – if you’re in the Florida Keys to enjoy nature, then you may want to stay north of Key West. Although it’s beautiful, it is also the most populated island in the Keys and attracts the largest number of rowdy spring breakers. Find the quieter spots along the way and you too can enjoy “spring break in Florida”!
Note: no promotional consideration was provided or paid for this article.