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America's ByWays

Florida Keys Scenic Highway

The Florida Keys Scenic Highway, stretching over 106 miles across the alluring islands of the Florida Keys, conjures up many imagines in the minds of its travelers-palm trees swaying in the tropical breezes, miles of ocean vistas, recreational adventures to delight and enchant and an island culture unparalleled in the world.

Panoramic, scenic views are in abundance along the Florida Keys Scenic Highway. Catch glimpses of dolphins swimming with their young, manatees gracefully floating in the shallow waters and endangered birds peacefully gliding through the brilliant blue sky. A remarkable number of endangered wildlife live in or migrate through the Florida Keys including the Florida Manatee, Key Deer, Osprey, Bald Eagle and Green Sea Turtle. The unique features of the coral reef and mangroves make it a habitat for thousands of fish, crustaceans, mammals and sea creatures.

The delightful views entice the traveler to engulf oneself in the many recreational adventures encircling this scenic highway. The Florida Keys Scenic Highway is the land route to the only living coral reef in the continental United States, a world renown area for scuba diving and snorkeling. State parks dot the land throughout these islands and are favorite spots for sunbathing, swimming, boating, sailing, kayaking, hiking and camping as well as being home to some of the top-rated beaches in the United States.

The turquoise and emerald waters surrounding this scenic highway offer some of the best sportfishing in the world as well as amateur fishing off of the old railroad bridges. These historic bridges were once a part of Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway completed in 1912. They are in much demand by people wanting an idyllic spot for breathtaking sunrise and sunset viewing. In addition, for the hiking and biking enthusiasts, many bridges have been converted to be a part of an extensive multi-modal trail system, eventually linking Key Largo to Key West.

While the area is known for its scenic and recreational abundance, it is also rich in culture and history. Key West, the southernmost point in the United States, was home to many literary greats. During his 10 years living in Key West, Ernest Hemingway penned “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “A Farewell to Arms” and “To Have and Have Not.” Now his home is a National Historic Landmark museum. Other literary legends-Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Robert Frost and Thornton Wilder-would also bask in the island ambiance.

People may experience the eclectic variety of food, dance to Salsa music, listen to the relaxing rhythms of an island steel drum band or visit the many museums and art galleries filled with influences of the Conch, Cuban and Bahamian cultures. The residential architecture, robust, flavorful cuisine and hardy lifestyle with a love and respect for the sea are integral parts of the Conch culture. The Cuban culture, which began over two hundred years ago and is still as vibrant today, can be seen in architecture, festivals, restaurants and hand-rolled cigar production. In Bahama Village, the Bahamian culture-a mixture of cultures from the Bahamas, Jamaica and other Caribbean island nations-is highlighted in the arts, crafts and foods featured at restaurants, shops, festivals and special religious and ethnic celebrations.

The Florida Keys is symbolic of the ideal tropical island getaway and driving the Florida Keys Scenic Highway is the “Road to Paradise.” This scenic highway is the gateway to the exciting adventures that await any traveler who explores the intrinsic resources that have made the Florida Keys famous worldwide.


America's ByWays

Florida Keys Scenic Highway

From the moment you enter Key Largo on U.S. Highway 1 traveling south, the feeling of leaving the mainland United States and traveling to “the islands” begins to take shape. Key Largo is the largest of the Florida Keys (roughly 30 miles), called Cayo Largo or Long Island by the Spanish. The island is surrounded on either side by the Everglades National Park and Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary. The popular 1948 film “Key Largo” staring Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and Edward G. Robinson was filmed in this area.

Traveling down U.S. 1, you come to the entrance to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the nation’s first underwater park. This park was named after the man who’s love for the coral reefs led to the preservation of them for future generations to enjoy. This state park and the adjacent national marine sanctuary include approximately 190 square miles of coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangrove swamps. This underwater park boasts 55 types of coral and more than 600 species of fish, as well as birds and other native wildlife encircling the coral reef from land and air–all providing a beautiful array of nature. The park offers picnic areas and nature trails and is an excellent base for offshore snorkeling, diving and glass bottom boat trips. You may want to take a canoe or kayak trip through the water trails filled with a plethora of plants and animals with a canopy of overhanging mangroves.

South of Key Largo is the community of Tavernier. The town’s historic district contains more than 50 buildings dating to the early 1900′s, including railroad stations, churches, homes, a school and stores. The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, a 220-miles underwater sanctuary, located along the Atlantic Ocean side, surrounds most of the 1,700 islands that make up the Florida Keys from Key Biscayne to Key West.

Once you cross over the Tavernier Creek Bridge you enter Islamorada, Village of Islands, comprised of several small islands. The Spanish explorers actually named these islands Islas Moradas translated as “purple isles.” This area is home to several state parks of including Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park, where you’ll see the remnants of the coral formations that gave birth to the Keys. Scuba divers and snorkelers can take a trip back in time through their exploration of the San Pedro Underwater Archaeological State Park–the final resting place of 21 treasure-laden Spanish galleons that sank in a 1733 hurricane. The Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park is the highest spot in the Keys at 18 feet above sea level. In addition, the Indian Key State Historic State Park, was once the Dade County government seat and was a “wreckers” village. Wreckers made their living by uncovering treasures from the abundant ship wrecks off this area throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. This village was burned by the Seminole Indians in 1840 during the Second Seminole War. Islamorada also is the home of a wealth of marinas offering charters and boat rentals for those who enjoy sport fishing.

The abundance of state parks continues its journey past Islamorada to Long Key, where the Long Key State Park offers water recreational facilities and nature trails filled with tropical hammock trees such as gumbo limbo, poisonwood, mahogany, Jamaica dogwood and crabwood.

Continuing south, you enter the City of Marathon which is the region’s largest city. Marathon is made up of Conch Key, Duck Key, Grassy Key, Crawl Key, Fat Deer Key, and the largest, Vaca Key, which was named by the Spanish for its abundant population of manatees. The area has been home to a variety of craftsmen including New England fishermen in the early 1800′s, Bahamian farmers in the later part of the 19th century, and eventually railroad workers. One old wives’ tale tells the story of the origin of the name “Marathon” due to the immense task of railroad workers striving to put Henry Flagler’s dream of connecting the Florida Keys to the mainland United States. It is at this point in the journey that railroad workers were under the immense task of constructing the Seven Mile Bridge connecting to Pigeon Key. On Pigeon Key, old buildings have been restored and contain artifacts and informational displays of the building of these bridges. This area is also a popular spot for concerts, art shows, retreats and special events.

The Seven Mile Bridge has been replaced and the Old Seven Mile Bridge has been restored. The panoramic beauty of open water calls many to the enjoyment of this bridge–take a leisurely stroll or an invigorating bicycle ride or cast a line off the bridge for some of the best fishing in this area.

As the Mile Marker numbers descend, you enter the “Middle Keys” which includes Bahia Honda Key. Like the Seven Mile Bridge, the Old Bahia Honda Key Bridge offers spectacular panoramic views of the islands and the surrounding crystal-blue waters. Bahia Honda Key’s most famous attraction is the top-rated beaches in the United States located in Bahia Honda State Park. Snorkeling, scuba diving, camping, hiking and kayaking enthusiasts will have their choice of activities.

Next on the journey is Big Pine Key–home to the National Key Deer Refuge, where a distinct species of the white-tailed deer can be found. These deer only stand about two feet tall! Also in this area is the largest fresh water body in the Keys, an artificial lake created from rock-quarrying located in Watson’s Hammock Nature Preserve and Blue Hole. Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary, about eight miles offshore, is a popular diving site named for the H.M.S. Looe, a British ship that wrecked in 1744. The scenic ride through Cudjoe, Sugarloaf and Saddlebunch Keys offers striking views of natural areas, ocean and bay immediately adjacent to the scenic highway. You may want to tour the Bat Tower Historic Site, hike in the Great Heron National Wildlife Refuge or kayak on the Five Mile Creek.

The journey of the Florida Keys Scenic Highway ends at Key West, the southernmost point in the United States. It was home to the literary great, Ernest Hemingway. During his 10 years living in Key West, Hemingway penned “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “A Farewell to Arms” and “To Have and Have Not.” Now his home is a National Historic Landmark museum offering daily tours. Other literary legends–Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Robert Frost and Thornton Wilder–would also be inspired by the island ambiance.

People may experience all that Key West has to offer through sampling its eclectic variety of food, dancing to Salsa music, listening to the relaxing rhythms of an island steel drum band or visiting the many museums and art galleries filled with influences of the Conch, Cuban and Bahamian cultures. No tour of the Florida Keys would be complete without experiencing the world famous sunset-viewing area of Mallory Street filled with craftsmen and street performers to entertain you.

America's ByWays

Florida Keys Scenic Highway

Bahia Honda State Park
http://www.bahiahondapark.com/

Florida Keys and Key West Tourist Council
http://www.fla-keys.com/

Greater Marathon Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center
http://www.floridakeysmarathon.com/

Key Largo Chamber of Commerce
http://www.keylargo.org/

Key West National Wildlife Refuge
http://www.fws.gov/refuges/profiles/index.cfm?id=41583

National Marine Sanctuary Information
http://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/

Florida Keys Council of the Arts
http://www.keysarts.org/

Islamorada Chamber of Commerce
http://www.islamoradachamber.com/

Key West Chamber of Commerce
http://www.keywestchamber.org/

Key West Information Center
http://www.keywestinfo.com/

America's ByWays

Florida Keys Scenic Highway

Scenic
The Florida Keys Scenic Highway is known to many as the “Road to Paradise” due to the abundance of scenic vistas and qualities throughout this region. These include mangrove forests, transitional wetlands, salt ponds, beaches and freshwater ponds and wetlands. Panoramic views of open expanses of water–the Atlantic Ocean, Florida Bay and Gulf of Mexico–are plentiful throughout one’s drive. Many resources listed below possess a variety of intrinsic resources. Those with scenic qualities have been marked with a R symbol.

Cultural
Bahama Village
Located in the heart of Old Town Key West, the Bahamian culture–a mixture of cultures from the Bahamas, Jamaica and other Caribbean island nations–is highlighted in the arts, crafts and foods featured at restaurants, shops, festivals and special religious and ethnic celebrations. It is also the home of the Carribean Goombay Festival.

Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum take a leisurely tour of this National Historic Landmark, the estate of the late Nobel Prize winner, Ernest Hemingway. Visit with the famous Hemingway House cats. (305) 294-1136.

Historical
Bat Tower
Located on lower Sugarloaf Key at mile marker 17, Richter C. Perky bought this property and intended to use it a remote, fishing area. In 1929, Perky built a tower to house mosquito-eating bats and rid the area of these insects. This plan was great in concept but poor in execution–the bats flew off the moment they were placed in the tower. Now, it is a popular place for visits and stands as a model of humanity. (800) 872-3722.

R Fort Jefferson National Monument
Located on Garden Key, accessible only by boat, it is the largest of the 19th century American coastal forts. Construction began in 1846 and was an important outpost during the Civil War. Self guided tour with interpretive signs are available. (305) 242-7700.

R Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
A National Landmark, this fort was built before the Civil War and became an important outpost during the Civil and Spanish-American Wars. The largest collection of Civil War cannons in the U.S. was unearthed here in the late 1960s. Guided tours of the facilities are available and full beach recreational opportunities–beaches, boating, concessions, fishing, picnicking, scuba diving, snorkeling and swimming. (305) 292-6713

Key West Historic District and Mallory Square
Key West, the southernmost point in the United States, was home to literary greats such as Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams and Robert Frost. The historic district is comprised of 130 blocks which includes residences, restaurants, shops, boutiques and craft stores. Located in the district are many examples of a distinctive residential style particular to the Florida Keys dating back to the 18th century–the Bahama and conch style houses. Mallory Square is a popular spot for watching the sunset.

R Railway Bridges
The construction of the Overseas Highway and Railway Bridges, beginning in 1906, was very important to the economic development of the Florida Keys. The bridges are significant surviving elements of Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway intended to open the Florida coast for development. Begun in 1905 and completed in 1912, the bridges were intended to connect the Florida Keys to the mainland; however, the railroad extension was short-lived. In the mid-1930s, after a severe hurricane hit the area and destroyed more than 30 miles of track, the bridges were restored and converted from rail to vehicular traffic. The bridges helped open the area to tourism and today are part of U.S. Highway 1 connecting the Florida Keys to the mainland. Other bridges have since been replaced and the historic bridges are now used as pedestrian and bicycle paths as well as fishing piers. Because of their remote location and the construction techniques employed, experts consider the bridges to be significant engineering achievements.

Archaeological
R Indian Key Historic State Park
Wrecking, the salvage of vessels wrecked on offshore reefs, has been an important industry for the Indian Key residents since the late 1700s. In 1836, the Legislative Council establish Dade County with Indian Key as the county government seat. This prosperous community came to a violent end on August 7, 1840, when the town was attacked and burned by Seminole Indians during the Second Seminole War. The remains of stone foundations and cisterns can be seen today on walking trails. This state park is one mile offshore on the ocean side of U.S. Highway 1 at mile marker 78.5 and is accessible only by boat. Tours, boats, nature trails, scuba diving, canoeing and wildlife viewing are available. (305) 664-2540

R San Jose Shipwreck Site
Located southeast of Plantation Key, this ship was part of the 1733 Spanish Galleon Fleet that was struck by a hurricane. The San Jose was carrying almost 7 million pesos in gold. Boating, scuba diving and snorkeling are available.

R San Pedro Underwater Archaeological Preserve State Park
Located south of Indian Key, it was one of the 1733 treasure-laden fleet submerged during a hurricane. Discovered in the 1960s, it is one of the most popular scuba diving and snorkeling sites of the 1733 wrecks due to the location and prolific flora and fauna that surround the ship. Boating trips are also available. (305) 664-2540

Recreational
R Bahia Honda State Park
Located on Bahia Honda Key, this beautiful beach extends for miles ideal for sunbathing, swimming, snorkeling, fishing and biking. It also has a gift shop, snack bar and camping and lodging facilities. (305) 872-3210

R John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Adjacent to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, this state park has facilities for a wide variety of recreational opportunities–beaches, boating, camping, canoeing, campfire circles, concessions, fishing, nature trail hiking, picnicking, scuba diving, snorkeling, swimming, visitor center and wildlife viewing. (305) 451-1202

R Long Key State Park
This state park has facilities for a wide variety of recreational opportunities–beaches, boating, camping, canoeing, campfire circles, concessions, fishing, nature trail hiking, picnicking, scuba diving, snorkeling, swimming, visitor center and wildlife viewing. (305) 664-4815

Natural
R Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
This marine sanctuary extends throughout the Florida Keys area extending for 220 miles from Key Biscayne to just west of Key West. The coral reef ecosystem in this sanctuary is home to a variety of fish, crustaceans, dolphins, birds and other sea life. One third of Florida’s threatened and endangered species, including sea turtles, live in the sanctuary. Activities include scuba diving, snorkeling, wildlife viewing and boating. (305) 743-2437

R Key West National Wildlife Refuge
This refuge is located on several unpopulated islands west of Key West and is accessible only by boat. It is comprised of a total of 189,497 acres of land and 206,289 acres of marine water. It is a critical area for nesting, roosting, wading and loafing habitat to over 250 species including wading birds. Popular recreational activities include fishing, wildlife observation, environmental education and photography. (305) 872-2239

R Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary
Located five miles south of Big Pine Key, it is home to brightly colored tropical fish, sea fans, shellfish and coral canyons. It is an excellent location for the novice to the experienced scuba divers and snorkelers. Night scuba diving and glass bottom boat rides are also available. (305) 292-0311.