Adventurous Activities in the Florida Keys
By Janet K. Keeler
Thrill-seeking travelers will find an adventuresome heaven in the Florida Keys. The 113-mile-long chain of coral and limestone islands make up a watery playground for novice and experienced adventurers and anyone in between. The added bonus is that travelers will feel far, far, far from home even if they’re coming from another spot in Florida.
The Keys are America’s Caribbean and the warm water is gorgeous to look at (think sunset in Key West) plus there are oodles of places to stay and dine. But some visitors want to get out in it and try their hands at snorkeling, diving, fishing, biking and even cruising the islands on personal watercraft such as Jet Skis. For them, there won’t be enough days in the vacation to pack in all the outdoor activities of the Florida Keys.
10 ways to be adventurous in the Florida Keys...
The Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail is 90 miles of paved, linked trails that crosses dozens of historic bridges and traverses several state parks, including Curry Hammock State Park in Marathon. The multiuse trail is a work in progress and will be more than 100 miles when finished. The trail is uninterrupted from Key Largo through Islamorada. It picks up again around Grassy Key and continues sporadically to Key West. There are lots of places to stop and take a dip in the azure waters, fish or eat (or buy) a picnic lunch.
To experience the Keys fully, travelers need to get out on the water and sailing is a wonderful way to experience the tropical breezes and stunning vistas. There are many boat rental businesses up and down the Keys but sailing lessons might be in order for some visitors. The Key Lime Sailing Club in Key Largo offers lessons and accommodations. Roll out of bed and board the boat (or start snorkeling or paddling). Florida Keys Sailing in Marathon offers live-aboard sailing classes that range from two to seven days. There are also daylong sailing excursions and other offerings.
The Florida Keys knows nothing about traditional winter and in fact, the islands come alive in the months when freezes set in elsewhere. Winter fishing is a delight in the Keys and anglers, from beginning to expert, reel in deep-sea big game (grouper!) and inshore mangrove fighters (snook!). Keys visitors can hardly cast a line without hooking a fishing guide or charter. Look for one you feel comfortable with and who is offering a trip for the length and time (and fish) that you want.
Dry Tortugas National Park is accessible only by boat or seaplane and even though it’s just 70 miles from Key West, it will feel like a million. Day-trippers can explore the 19th century Fort Jefferson and snorkel in the clear, warm water. You must bring everything you need with you because there is no store to buy supplies though there are primitive bathrooms. For campers, the stargazing alone is worth roughing it in one of the state’s most beautiful places. There are many companies that offer transportation to the Dry Tortugas.
GET CLOSE TO CORAL
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo is the first undersea park in the country and encompasses 70 square nautical miles. There are boat excursions, including one on a glass-bottom vessel, that are good for visitors of all ages and physical abilities. Divers and snorkelers get closer to the underwater beauty by exploring miles of coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangrove swamps. Bring your own equipment or rent it at the park. There are plenty of accommodations and dining possibilities near the park, which is less than 60 miles from Miami. Close enough for a day trip.
What cooler way to experience the Florida Keys than a tour on a personal watercraft such as Jet Ski or WaveRunner. A guided Jet Ski tour out of Key West shows off the historic key from a different vantage point, exploring the shoreline of the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other. The Florida Keys Water Sports Company in Islamorada rents all sorts of watercraft and the Jet Ski tours take riders through mangrove tunnels and the open waters. They also offer a combo snorkeling excursion.
LOBSTERING, FLORIDA STYLE
The spiny Florida lobster plays a tough game with those who’d like to tickle it out of its hidey-hole. The wily crustacean makes for good eating and plenty of outdoor enthusiasts know this when they descend on the Lower Keys for the lobster season. There is a mini two-day season in late July and then the seven-month season begins a couple weeks later. Accommodations fill up fast so it’s best to book early for this unique Florida adventure. For those without boats, look for charters such as Sea Squared, which offers four-hour lobstering trips that include all equipment.
KEY WEST BY BIKE
The eccentricities of Key West make the southernmost town in the U.S. an adventure in itself. Think about it: he-man outdoorsman and writer Ernest Hemingway felt at home here, and visitors can tour his historic house. Today, traffic is heavy in the town’s main core and bikes zip around so much easier. Learn all about Key West’s history and funky personality on a Key Lime Bike Tours excursion. Yes, President Harry Truman did sleep here and today the “Drag Queen Drop” on Duval Street welcomes the New Year every Dec. 31.
For lovers of tropical locales, the Marquesas Keys are nirvana. Part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the group of 10 uninhabited islands forms a circle around a two-mile-wide lagoon. Scuba divers and spear-fishers are especially enamored of the Marquesas for the unspoiled beauty there. Snorkelers and divers also prize the wreck and reef diving possibilities. Adventure Water Sports Charters in Key West offers excursion to the Marquesas, along with equipment rentals. One of their trips combines the secluded Marquesas with a jaunt to the Dry Tortugas.
DIVING WITH SHARKS
Are you ready to get in a cage and head underwater to get up close, but maybe not so personal, with a shark? Okay, then, check out the excursions from Key Shark Diving and book a spot for your encounter with a tiger, lemon, nurse or hammerhead. All equipment is provided and adventurers don’t need to be dive-certified. Braver folk can get in and out of the cage during the day to swim freely. For a gentler brush with nature, Key Shark Diving has a half-day trip where sharks are viewed from the high-and-dry deck of a boat.