In the Florida Keys, even the deer do it differently.

By Lauren Tjaden

The Florida Keys have a flair for everything offbeat. They’re a little unexpected, a little quirky, and sometimes, a little magical.

In Key West, for instance, colorful roosters roam the streets, and six-toed cats live at the Hemingway House. Outrageous events are common occurrences, many of which provide a grand excuse to dress in costume.

Florida Keys deer are no exception: they're unusual, too.

In this chain of islands, the Keys deer are cute, miniature creatures that beg to be adored. And you can see them -- with almost no effort, a little effort, or quite a lot of effort, depending how events unfold.

Just visit the National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine Key. There, the Key deer, as this subspecies of Virginia white-tailed deer are known, are about the size of a big dog.

baby Keys deer laying in a rock

In this display, a fawn naps among the foilage.

- Lauren Tjaden for VISIT FLORIDA

welcome sign of the national key deer refuge

Stop by the visitors' center before you arrive for advice on the best places to spot deer.

- Lauren Tjaden for VISIT FLORIDA

Bucks range from 28-32 inches at the shoulder and weigh an average of 80 pounds. Does stand 24-28 inches at the shoulder and weigh an average of 65 pounds.

The deer refuge was established in 1957 to protect and preserve Key deer and other wildlife. It consists of 9,200 acres of critical habitat for hundreds of endemic and migratory species, including 17 federally listed species such as Key deer, lower Keys marsh rabbits, and silver rice rats.

Make sure to stop by at the Visitors’ Center on the way into the deer refuge. They’ll give you a map, answer any questions you may have about Florida Keys deer, and let you know where the most deer have been found recently.

You might spot deer grazing along the roadside, or you might have to hike back to one of their favorite watering spots to find them.

But even if you have to take a short walk, the refuge is beautiful, the Key deer are precious, and it’s absolutely worth it.

And there's reason to celebrate. The Key deer population may have reached a low of 27 in 1957, but it's rebounded to approximately 800 today.

a key deer in the middle of foliage

There's one!

- Lauren Tjaden for VISIT FLORIDA

baby Keys deer laying in foliage and rocks

No, I didn't get this close. This sleeping fawn is a display at the visitors' center.

- Lauren Tjaden for VISIT FLORIDA

When you go:

What: The National Key Deer Refuge

Where: 28950 Watson Blvd., Big Pine Key, FL 33043, phone: 305- 872-2239, Email:

Directions: The National Key Deer Refuge headquarters is on Big Pine Key, which is 100 miles south of Miami and 30 miles north of Key West on Highway US-1. The refuge visitor center is located ¼-mile north of the traffic light on Key Deer Boulevard in the Big Pine Key Shopping Plaza. The administrative headquarters is located at the west end of Watson Boulevard.



Places to Go

Activities to Enjoy in Marathon, Fla.

  • 3 minute read

By Lauren Tjaden Nestled in the heart of the Florida Keys, you’ll find Marathon, a little enclave surrounded by emerald-hued waters. Here are...