Big Pine Key

Big Pine Key is is the second largest Key in the Florida Keys, after Key Largo. It’s also got more trees and deer than most of the other Keys, and features a large preserve for both. The tiny deer are federally protected and stand less than three feet tall. Mid-twentieth century hunters nearly decimated the Key Deer population on Big Pine Key, and cars did a good job as well. There were only about 50 Key deer left by the 1940s, and there was great publicity over the fate of the tiny deer. You could say the seeds of the conservation movement started with the Key Deer. Tight rules governing behavior around Key Deer, including low speed limits on Big Pine Key, have saved the species, thank goodness. Today, one-third of Big Pine Key is controlled by Fish & Wildlife Service to the benefit of the Key Deer. You can visit the refuge, located at Mile Marker 31. It’s one of the most pleasant places in all the Keys for a leisurely bicycle ride because of the wide sidewalk that runs parallel to the road.

The geologic structure of Big Pine Key is such that there are sinkholes all over the island. Sometimes alligators live in the sinkholes, which fill up with fresh water. Mainly, the great thing about Big Pine Key is the large expanses of natural Keys vegetation, the taller trees (the Pines here are taller than most other Keys foliage), the Key Deer, and the major lack of development. It’s just different from the rest of the Keys.

 

Nature Trails

Big Pine Key has a few nature trails that serve well to educate visitors about the natural flora and fauna of the Florida Keys. One such is the Jack Watson Nature Trail. It’s an easy loop trail that doesn’t even go for a mile. You can read the signs which match up to various trees and plants along the trail. Learn about poisonwood trees, palms, and other native Keys trees.Big Pine Key

Watson’s Hammock is also connected to a trail, which is off Higgs Lane. Explore the backcountry marshes and evidence of previous mosquito control programs such as canals that would hold special fish that ate the larvae of mosquitos. The trees in Watson’s Hammock are fifty feet tall, and, being a hammock, it’s full of hardwood trees. Look for a gumbo-limbo tree with its goopy, sticky sap. Keep an eye out for giant spiders!

No Name Key

If you head north deeper into Big Pine Key, there’s a road that branches off to the right and over a bridge to No Name Key. The concrete bridge is popular for fishing. The road leads to the other end of the small island and then just ends. Look for Key Deer beyond the boulders marking the end of the road. There are a few small roads or perhaps they are just driveways, on No Name Key, but mainly the attraction is the bridge for fishing.

 

Nature Trails

Big Pine Key has a few nature trails that serve well to educate visitors about the natural flora and fauna of the Florida Keys. One such is the Jack Watson Nature Trail. It’s an easy loop trail that doesn’t even go for a mile. You can read the signs which match up to various trees and plants along the trail. Learn about poisonwood trees, palms, and other native Keys trees.

Watson’s Hammock is also connected to a trail, which is off Higgs Lane. Explore the backcountry marshes and evidence of previous mosquito control programs such as canals that would hold special fish that ate the larvae of mosquitos. The trees in Watson’s Hammock are fifty feet tall, and, being a hammock, it’s full of hardwood trees. Look for a gumbo-limbo tree with its goopy, sticky sap. Keep an eye out for giant spiders!

No Name Key

If you head north deeper into Big Pine Key, there’s a road that branches off to the right and over a bridge to No Name Key. The concrete bridge is popular for fishing. The road leads to the other end of the small island and then just ends. Look for Key Deer beyond the boulders marking the end of the road. There are a few small roads or perhaps they are just driveways, on No Name Key, but mainly the attraction is the bridge for fishing.

Big Pine KeyUpper Keys

After Big Pine Key, as you’re heading west towards Key West, you will then hit a series of smaller Keys, like Ramrod Key, Little Torch Key, Middle Torch Key, and Big Torch Key. These islands are sparesly populated and few vacationers go here. There’s Little Palm Island, which is home to a giant expensive resort. Ramrod Key is where you can get a boat to Looe Key, which lies several miles offshore and it’s where you find perhaps the best reef system in all of the Florida Keys. It’s a sanctuary so no spearfishing. You can take dive trips out to Looe Key.

Continuing westward towards Key West, you’ll hit Summerland Key, which has a little more development on it, including the Mote Marine Laboratory. Cudjoe Key is small and there’s not much going on here. There are a few homes and a cool restaurant that’s a favorite with locals even from Key West, Mangrove Mamma’s.

Then you’ll hit Sugarloaf Key, with the famous Perky Bat Tower, a favorite amongst tourists who like the unusual and the strange. The bat tower was supposed to rid the area of mosquitoes, which the bats would eat. Well, it didn’t work because the bats never came. Vacationers still tread out to see it, batless and all. Also on Sugarloaf Key is Sugarloaf Lodge and Sugarloaf Marina. There’s a great old road on Sugarloaf that’s overgrown but perfect for cycling. Also nude sunbathing and swimming on some old development canals off Sugarloaf Boulevard. They call this the nude canals.

Finally, before hitting Key West, you have Saddlebunch Keys, Big Coppitt, Boca Chica, Geiger Key, Shark Key, and Rockland Key. The last few Keys are really environs of Key West, with Big Coppitt housing many Navy people, Rockland home to much industrial activity like the UPS station and trucking warehouses. Last but really part of Key West, is Stock Island, just over the bridge from Key West. Stock Island is where much of the workforce of Key West lives, and lots of commercial fishing is based out of here as well.