Slow Down in Big Pine Key and the Lower Keys
Slow Down in Big Pine Key and the Lower Keys (Photo: Florida Keys)
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Slow Down in Big Pine Key and the Lower Keys

Time spent outside and human-powered fun are what this region of the Florida Keys is all about

Slow Down in Big Pine Key and the Lower Keys

If you’re looking for a quieter side of the Florida Keys, look no further than Big Pine Key and the Lower Keys. Known for its protected natural spaces, the region is sometimes referred to as the Natural Keys. And when you’re exploring the many ecosystems on land or in the water, it’s easy to see why. From exploring mangrove tunnels and offshore reefs to bird watching and simply relaxing in nature, here’s how to experience the best of Big Pine and the Lower Keys.

Learn more escaping the everyday in the Florida Keys.

Paddle in the Mangroves

There’s no shortage of places to explore via kayak or SUP in the Florida Keys, but a maze of mangrove tunnels is certainly the most unique place to paddle. Launch your vessel at the Sugarloaf Marina and paddle across the sound. Then take your time cruising through the navigable channels lined with thick mangrove forests and duck under entangled branches that give you the feeling of exploring a remote jungle. Get Up and Go Kayaking offers tours in clear kayaks so you have the added benefit of seeing the marine life below you as you paddle.

Tip: Mangrove islands are avian sanctuaries. Spend some quiet time as you float listening to the bird calls.

(Photo: Florida Keys)

Hike a Nature Trail

The Florida Keys are famous for the wildlife you can experience underwater, but sightings on land are equally as fun in Big Pine and the Lower Keys. Go for a hike in the National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine Key where you can encounter an endangered species of deer found only in the Florida Keys. These tiny Key deer are a relative of the white-tailed deer, but have evolved to be much smaller to adapt to life on the islands. On trails in the nature preserve, you can also see more than 20 species of other endangered animals and plants.

Tip: For the best chance at spotting Key deer, head out at dawn or dusk when the deer are more active due to cooler weather and quieter trails.

Camp by the Beach

When day trips to the beach or staying in a hotel by the beach isn’t quite enough beach time, camping at the beach is about as close as you can get to around-the-clock beach access. Beachfront campgrounds and RV parks are popular throughout the Florida Keys, but the Lower Keys are a great option for a quieter camping experience. Book a campsite at Bahia Honda State Park where you can stay tucked in the mangroves but right on the beach. You’ll have access to swimming from the shore, a marina, an onsite dive shop offering dive and snorkeling trips to the nearby reef, and plenty of opportunities for relaxing in nature.

Tip: With minimal light pollution, Bahia Honda State Park is one of the darkest places in the area. At night, take a blanket or chairs up to the Old Bahia Honda bridge for the best stargazing in the Florida Keys.

Swimming at Bahia Honda State Park
At Bahia Honda State Park, you can swim in the ocean just steps from your campsite. (Photo: Florida Keys)

Explore Looe Key

Located about seven miles off the coast of Bahia Honda State Park, Looe Key is unlike other islands you’ll encounter in the Florida Keys. That’s because what was once a small spit of land is now a completely submerged reef after erosion swept the land away. Despite the change in status from island to reef, the area retained the title Looe Key—named for the H.S.M. Looe, which wrecked on the now-submerged island in 1744. Coral formations range in depth from seven to 30 feet, so this shallow reef is a popular spot for both snorkeling and diving. Because the reef is part of the Florida National Marine Sanctuary, it’s full of diverse marine life. You’ll even have the opportunity to see larger fish and sharks since the reef is off shore.

Tip: Plan your trip to coincide with the Underwater Music Festival held at the reef every July. Locals go all out with costumes and aquatic-themed underwater sets (think: Jimmy Buffet vibes) all in the name of raising awareness for reef conservation efforts in the area.

Most people know the Florida Keys and Key West as a great getaway. One of the most unique places on earth. Calm. Serene. Laid back. Just the right setting to recharge your batteries and rejuvenate your spirits. But a getaway to the Florida Keys and Key West is much more than peace and quiet. And not just because of the legendary fishing and the world’s most spectacular dive sites. The Keys mean history. Art. Theater. Museums. Shopping. Fine dining. Entertainment. And much more. All told, 120 miles of perfect balance between natural beauty and extra-ordinary excitement.

Lead Photo: Florida Keys