Peak season in the Florida Keys, of course, is winter. Hotel and motel rates can be astronomical, campground vacancies are impossible to find and there always seems to be a long line waiting to get into your favorite island restaurant.
Guess what? The snowbirds are going home!
There is no better time of year for Floridians to visit the Keys because the weather is absolutely gorgeous, the Overseas Highway lightens up, rates go down for everything, sometimes dramatically, and campsites suddenly become available, although savvy Floridians have already booked their camping reservations at the Keys’ four state parks.
If you can get away for a few days, now’s the time — before the last week in July, when the boisterous lobster mini-season (July 30-31) kicks into play, setting the stage for the Keys’ frenetic “second season” that carries into early fall.
Things to Do in the Florida Keys
Don’t leave home without Florida Rambler’s comprehensive Florida Keys Mile-Marker Guide
Paddling — There are hundreds of paddle trails for you to explore from your kayaks, canoes and paddle boards. You can just pull off the Overseas Highway almost anywhere and launch your boat. A few special spots we like are in the primitive back-country islands of the Lower Keys, and no kayak guide knows that area better than Bill Keough at Big Pine Kayak Adventures. You might want to arm yourself with his excellent book, “Florida Keys Paddling Guide,” available at most local bookstores.
Bicycling — Work has accelerated on The Overseas Heritage Bicycle Trail, which, when complete, will extend 107 uninterrupted miles from Key Largo to Key West. You can experience much of that trail today, and the most enjoyable sections span old bridges, now abandoned to bicyclists, walkers and fishing, We suggest riding out on the Old Seven Mile Bridge the 2.2 miles to Pigeon Key. You can download this PDF that defines 70 miles of segments now open to cyclists. For urban exploration, peddling through the streets of Key West’s Old Town is another great bicycle adventure.
Snorkeling — The most popular destination for snorkeling is John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, but that’s not all there is to see in the Keys. For something different, paddle your kayak out to the lighthouse off Marathon and snorkle with the fishes, or try a snorkeling expedition to Looe Key Reef off Big Pine Key. You can join a snorkeling expedition to the reef from Bahia Honda State Park or with any of the numerous dive shops along U.S. 1 in Big Pine and Ramrod Key.
Fishing — Many of the old bridges in the Keys have been retro-fitted with fishing balconies, and these bridges draw fishers 24/7. We recommend trying the Channel 5 and Channel 3 bridges that link Lower Matecumbe Key to Long Key (Islamorada). Fishing charters, including party boats, deep-sea charters and private flats guides, are available at marinas throughout the Keys, the most popular being Holiday Isle, Whale Harbor, Bud ‘n’ Mary’s and the Marathon Lady in Marathon.
Beaches – Those of us who live here don’t think of the Keys as a beach destination, unless we’re in a boat and anchor out on the many sandbars and remote islands of the Keys. But there are more beaches here than you might think. We especially love the award-winning beaches at Bahia Honda State Park, and I personally have an affection for the beach at Curry Hammock State Park (photo at left), but we would be remiss if we didn’t share what we know about the Best Beaches in the Florida Keys.
Camping — Warm days and breezy nights make spring the ideal camping season in the Florida Keys. Savvy campers have already snapped up the campsites at the four state parks in the Keys, but there are dozens of private campgrounds from Key Largo to Key West that have sites available at reduced rates, whether your are in a tent or RV.
Private options include Sugarloaf Key KOA and Sunshine Key Resort and Marina in the Lower Keys, the Jolly Roger Travel Park and Fiesta Key RV Resort in the Middle Keys, and Key Largo Kampground in the Upper Keys.
– Bob Rountree