Get us in your inbox

Photograph: Shutterstock

Seven once-in-a-lifetime outdoor experiences you can have only in the Florida Keys

The Florida Keys are unlike anywhere else on Earth – and we’ve got you covered with all the unmissable nature-based activities and attractions

Written by Time Out for Visit Florida
Advertising

Those looking for a Caribbean experience without traveling too far from home should beeline to the Florida Keys. Stretching from mainland Florida into the Gulf of Mexico, the 800 islands that make up this awe-inspiring section of the country offer pale-blue waters, white sand beaches and all the lazy seaside sipping your heart desires. There are tons of fascinating outdoor experiences to be had here—whether you want to mingle with sea creatures in their natural habitat, kayak through tunnels of lush tropical trees or go on an expedition to peep rare deer in a nearby refuge center. Find out how to have an unforgettable Keys vacation with our guide to some seriously amazing outdoor experiences that you’ll be able to have only in the Florida Keys.

Outdoor experiences you can have only in the Florida Keys

Hand feed tarpon ​​at Robbie’s
Photograph: Alamy

Hand feed tarpon ​​at Robbie’s

Each day a school of around 100 tarpon—a large silver fish native to the area—swim into the waters surrounding Robbie’s, a laid back restaurant and marina located just off the Overseas Highway in picturesque Islamorada. It costs just $2.25 to get in to see this impressive species up close and, if you’re brave, another $4 for a bucket of fish from which you can feed them. Dangle the food over the water and hold steady as the stealth creature hurls itself into the air to snatch it out of your hands. Just be sure to watch your back for hungry pelicans. They’ve been known to swoop in for a free nibble, too.

Hire a fishing charter in Islamorada
Photograph: Alamy

Hire a fishing charter in Islamorada

If fishing is on your Florida Keys bucket list, you’ve got to cast your line in Islamorada. Dubbed the ‘sportfishing capital of the world,’ the village and all six of its islands sit in deep waters that teem with sought-after game fish, such as barracuda, swordfish, dorado and wahoo. Hire an experienced captain from an outfit like Fearless Fishing Charters to take you out on the sea for an idyllic day of angling and instruction on how to snag some of the ocean’s most elusive swimmers. Pro tip: Carry your bounty to Lazy Days Restaurant later that night and they’ll cook it up for you. What’s better than noshing on a dinner that you caught yourself?

Advertising
Kayak through the mangroves
Photograph: Patrick Farrell

Kayak through the mangroves

Explore the lush backcountry of the lower Florida Keys from the confines of a kayak. Based in Pine Key, Big Pine Kayak Adventures operates several tours that take kayakers around lush mangrove islands, through sponge and grass flats and into the open waters, where sharks, sea turtles and dolphin are often spotted. Be sure to throw binoculars around your neck so you can get a zoomed-in view of the vibrant birds and tropical plants that add that much more magic to this enchanting slice of the Florida Keys.

Try to spot a rare Key deer
Photograph: Peter W Cross

Try to spot a rare Key deer

Get your safari on at the National Key Deer Refuge, which was established in the 1950s to preserve the endangered—and adorable—Key deer. The smallest subspecies of the North American white-tailed deer can be found only in the lower Florida Keys. Set out on your own to explore the 9,200-acre natural habitat in the hopes that you’ll spot one of these real-life Bambis, which can be found wading in lagoons, hopping among evergreen trees or stopping for a drink in the freshwater wetlands. Just don't touch or try feed them. Keep your eyes peeled for other creatures who call this place home also, such as the Lower Keys marsh rabbit, the rare Bartram's Hairstreak butterfly and the American alligator.

Advertising
Ogle coral reef from a glass-bottom boat
Photograph: Shutterstock

Ogle coral reef from a glass-bottom boat

You’d be remiss if you visit the Keys without spending a day coral-peeping. The area is, after all, home to the only living coral barrier reef system in the continental United States. To see the extraordinary creations without getting wet, hop aboard the Spirit of Pennekamp at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo. The glass-bottom vessel takes passengers on a two-and-a-half-hour sojourn to visit several shallow reef sites throughout the area. Folks are rewarded with a fascinating theatrical production in the sea, with fish of every color and variety playing amid a thriving reef system that includes, among others, giant brain and elkhorn coral.

Swim with bottlenose dolphin
Photograph: Mary Stella

Swim with bottlenose dolphin

Nemo aside, is there a more lovable ocean creature than the dolphin? You can jump in the water with these friendly sea pals in a natural lagoon setting at the Dolphin Research Center in Marathon. Called a ‘Dolphin Encounter,’ the experience grants you about a half-hour with one of 22 of these mammals on the premises—some of which descended from the 1963 cast of Flipper. You’ll work with a trainer to lead your slick-skinned partner through a series of fun behaviors, like hugs and handshakes, and top off your adventure with a breezy dorsal fin ride. Hold on tight!

Advertising
Cruise the Seven-Mile Bridge
Photograph: Shutterstock

Cruise the Seven-Mile Bridge

A trip across the iconic Seven Mile Bridge is arguably one of the Florida Keys’ most memorable to-dos. A centerpiece of the Overseas Highway, the remarkable structure is one of the longest segmental bridges in the world, stretching from Marathon all the way down to the Lower Keys. Cruising across with nothing but sweeping views of the turquoise ocean on either side of you almost gives the impression that you’re floating on air. Need more incentive? This adventure is absolutely free.

Recommended
    You may also like
      Advertising