The Lower Keys, Florida Keys

The Lower Keys represent a break from bustling vacation spots, a trove of nature preserves. On land, visitors can see the endangered Key deer of Big Pine Key roaming freely. On water, kayakers and paddleboarders can observe the mangrove clusters and flats that shelter innumerable species of birds and wildlife up close. The Florida Keys are an important part of many bird species’ spring and fall migration route and the area is a prime observation post.

Many say that the Lower Keys is the best place to do “nothing”. The area’s waterways and beaches are the perfect getaway from the hectic pace of life. Lower Keys landmarks such as Bahia Honda State Park frequently make lists of the most pristine, beautiful spots in America.

Of course, renting a vacation home in the Lower Keys means you’re close enough to Key West to easily take advantage of all the southernmost city has to offer.

The Lower Keys are primarily an area of residential neighborhoods with single family homes. There are very few condos and townhouses.

They include the area from Bay Point and Bluewater to Big Pine Key. Other islands within the Lower Keys are Sugarloaf Key, Cudjoe Key, Summerland Key, The Torches (Big, Middle and Little), Ramrod Key and No Name Key.

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TRAVEL TIMES

Big Pine Key to Ft. Lauderdale International Airport: 3.5 hours
Big Pine Key to Miami International Airport: 3.25 hours
Big Pine Key to Key Largo: 1.5 hours
Big Pine Key to Islamorada: 1.25 hours
Big Pine Key to Marathon: 35 minutes
Big Pine Key to Key West: 40 minutes

WEATHER:

The average temperature in Big Pine Key ranges between 78 and 90 degrees in August, the warmest month; and 62 and 75 degrees in January, the coolest month.

On The WaterAttractionsRecreationDiningShoppingEntertainment

BEACHES

  • Bahia Honda State Park is one of Florida’s southernmost state parks, known for beautiful beaches, magnificent sunsets, and excellent snorkeling. Dr. Beach named Bahia Honda as America’s Best Beach in 1992. More recently, it was selected as a Trip Advisor 2014 Traveler’s Choice. Visitors can picnic on the beach and take a swim, or simply relax and enjoy the balmy sea breezes that caress the shores year-round. Anglers can fish from shore or bring a boat and launch at the boat ramp. The park’s concession rents kayaks and snorkeling gear and offers boat trips to the reef for snorkeling excursions. Bahia Honda is an excellent place to see wading birds and shorebirds. The nature center can introduce nature lovers to the island’s unique plants and animals. Full-facility campsites and vacation cabins are available. It’s located between Big Pine Key and Marathon. 36850 Overseas Hwy, Big Pine Key, FL 33043, Phone (305) 872-2353.
  • Boca Chica Beach on Geiger Key is primarily a locals’ spot. It’s adjacent to the Naval Air Station and one can frequently watch Navy pilots taking off on training flights and landing there. It’s also a great spot for bird watching, and nature walks along the shore. Dogs are permitted on leash. The beach, itself, is not necessarily a swimming destination as there’s no removal of seaweed or beach grooming. The nearby restaurant at Geiger Key Marina is also a local favorite and a very scenic spot.

FISHING

DIVING AND SNORKELING

  • In addition to Looe Key, there’s the wreck of the Adolphus Busch Sr., a 210-foot wreck that was intentionally sunk in 1998. The former island freighter was purchased by the local dive community with the generous assistance of Adolphus Busch IV, and sunk perfectly upright and intact in just 100 feet of water some seven miles southwest of Big Pine Key. It seems each day more and more marine life calls this fascinating wreck “home.” In fact, it’s common to see 400-pound Goliath Groupers in the vicinity.
  • A list of Key West’s dive and snorkel spots can be found on the Florida Key’s official tourism website
  • See Sugarloaf Key / Ramrod Key Yelp or Big Pin Key Yelp for dive charter reviews

BOATING

 

LOCAL ATTRACTIONS

Looe Key and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is located about five nautical miles offshore of Big Pine Key. The groove and spur reef at Looe Key, roughly 200 yards wide and 800 yards long is generally “U” shaped, and is comprised of both patch and outside reefs. It became a National Marine Sanctuary in 1981, with restrictions on spearfishing, tropical fish and shell collecting and wire fish traps. Looe Key is an excellent scuba and snorkeling site for people of all skill levels. Water clarity is mostly excellent and sea conditions are generally moderate. The reef is home to over 150 species of fish including yellowtail, angelfish, parrotfish, barracuda, sergeant majors, and moray eel. The lucky diver can also see several shark and ray species. After 7000 years of coral growth, about fifty species are present, many named for the shapes of their namesakes on land, including staghorn, elkhorn, star, brain, and fire corals.

Great White Heron National Wildlife Refugewas established in 1938 as a haven for great white herons, migratory birds, and other wildlife. Located in the lower Florida Keys, it consists of almost 200,000 acres of open water and islands that are north of the primary Keys from Marathon to Key West in the Gulf of Mexico. The islands account for approximately 7,600 acres and are primarily mangroves with some of the larger islands containing pine rockland and tropical hardwood hammock habitats. This vast wilderness area, known locally as the “backcountry,” provides critical nesting, feeding, and resting areas for more than 250 species of birds. Accessible only by boat. Popular picnicking destinations with locals include and . Visitor information is available in the shopping center at 28950 Watson Blvd., Big Pine Key, FL 33043, Phone (305) 872-0774.

National Key Deer Wildlife Refuge was established in 1957 to protect and preserve Key deer and other wildlife resources in the Florida Keys. The refuge is located in the lower Florida Keys and currently consists of approximately 9,200 acres of land that includes pine rockland forests, tropical hardwood hammocks, freshwater wetlands, salt marsh wetlands, and mangrove forests. These natural communities are critical habitat for hundreds of endemic and migratory species, such as Key deer, lower Keys marsh rabbit, and silver rice rat.  Visitor information is available in the shopping center at 28950 Watson Blvd., Big Pine Key, FL 33043, Phone (305) 872-3675.

Blue Hole on Big Pine Key is part of the Key Deer Nature Preserve. It offers a relatively easy and short hike along trails surrounding a mostly freshwater limestone sinkhole that’s home to a variety of wildlife: Key Deer, alligators, turtles, iguanas, and a variety of birds (including wading birds), snakes and fish. There’s also an observation platform with informational displays.

The Perky Bat Tower, a true curiosity, is located on Sugarloaf Key. (The area got its name from sugarloaf pineapples, which were grown there in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.) In 1929, a real estate developer named Richter Clyde Perky envisioned a luxury resort, complete with a first-class hotel, restaurants, and a gambling casino on Sugarloaf Key. Unfortunately for him, Sugarloaf Key was well established as a breeding ground for voracious hordes of mosquitoes.  Perky built a 35-foot-high, cypress-shingled Bat Tower, and filled it with odorous bat guano, which, theoretically, would attract the bats, which would devour the mosquitoes. Alas, the bats didn’t buy it. A colony installed in the tower apparently didn’t care for the accommodations or the odor, and promptly flew away with Perky’s investment money. The mosquitoes swarmed unabated and eventually the devastated Perky went bankrupt and died. (Some people have suggested the mosquitoes ate the bats.) Looking for all the world like a bladeless windmill awaiting Don Quixote, the tower still stands behind the Sugarloaf Lodge, next to the island’s small airport.”

See additional resources on local attractions in the Lower Keys at the Florida Keys’ official tourism website.

HISTORICAL WEBSITES:

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FOR DOGS:

GOLF/TENNIS:

There are no golf courses within the Lower Keys geography. The Key West Golf Course, however, is less than a half-hour drive from any point in the Lower Keys. There is also a golf course and Har-Tru tennis courts at the Florida Keys Country Club in Marathon, about a half-hour from the Big Pine Key area.

  • There are lighted public tennis courts at Baypoint behind Baby’s Coffee.
  • Two newly refurbished tennis courts are available at the Sugarloaf Lodge for a modest fee.
  • There are three clay courts on Upper Sugarloaf Key on Bad George Road. Contact Paul McNulty for information at (305) 923-6496.
  • Big Pine Key Community Park features tennis courts in additional to other amenities.

AMENITIES & RESOURCES

  • See our Business Directory for information on supermarkets, drugstores, healthcare, marine supplies, government, law enforcement, veterinarians, and other Keys resources you may want to visit during your stay.

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