The Spanish settlers who came to Long Key called it Cayo Vivoria, best translated as Rattlesnake Key, because of the island's resemblance to a snake with open jaws. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Long Key was one of the premier resorts in the Keys until a hurricane swept through. Today, visitors flock to Long Key State Park to enjoy an array of eco-tours.
Found at mile marker 67.5 overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, Long Key State Park Florida is about halfway between Miami and Key West, just outside Marathon Key. The outdoor reserve offers a long list of things to do on land and in the water.
Several trails wind through Long Key State Park, offering visitors access to the unspoiled outdoors. The 1.3-mile Golden Orb Trail, which takes its name from an indigenous spider, takes about 40 minutes to wander through a variety of natural areas, including coastal scrub plants and a tropical hammock. The observation tower along the way provides stunning views of the park. Hikers also can follow the Layton Trail, a shorter path that hugs the shores of Florida Bay.
One path, the Long Key Lakes Canoe Trail, crosses through a shallow lagoon, which is perfect for a leisurely paddle. Canoe rentals are available on-site, so vacationers don't need to bring their own boats.
In addition, some of the best sport fishing around can be found at Long Key State Park Florida. Anglers can fish year-round, but a saltwater fishing license is required. Other water activities include swimming, snorkeling, and boating.
Rangers lead interpretive programs, guided tours, and special events throughout the year at Long Key State Park Florida. Visitors can follow a guide on a walk along the Golden Orb Trail, learn tips for nature photography, go wildlife-watching, and look for birds. Other programs focus on local history, telling the stories of the Native Americans and early settlers. Interpretive programs begin at the ranger station and are available throughout the year.
Park visitors can stay for a few hours or a few days. Long Key State Park offers 60 campsites and several picnic shelters overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The fully equipped sites include a picnic table, facilities for grilling, water hook-ups, and electricity. Some sites can accommodate RVs, and campers have access to hot showers. Reservations can be made up to eleven months before the desired date. Because sites fill up early, it's best to make arrangements as soon as possible. Pets are allowed at Long Key State Park in the campsites, as long as they're on a leash. Other areas, including the beaches, along the shore, and picnic shelters, are left to the humans and wildlife.
In addition to this eco-tour haven, Florida State Parks watches over several other locations in the Keys. Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, the southernmost park in the system, is known for its beaches, bird-watching opportunities, and U.S. military history. Visitors can dip below the surface to see what's beneath at the San Pedro Underwater Archaeological Preserve State Park. A shipwreck, located just a mile south of Indian Key, has become a favorite place for diving and watching for marine life. The nearby Indian Key Historic State Park can be reached by canoe or kayak; its activities include swimming, hiking, and fishing.
Image: Peter Cole and Gabriella Hermon