A coconut palm plantation. An exclusive fishing resort. Long Key has been many things over the past century. We can be glad it’s now a Florida State Park, a place where you can camp along the oceanfront and wander its interesting habitats. The Golden Orb Trail starts and ends near the campground, offering a loop through some of the stranger botanical sights on this salt-rich island. Along this 1.2-mile nature trail, enjoy fantastic scenic views along the calm Atlantic Ocean (the waves break out of sight on the coral reefs) as well as a great introduction to the desert-like tidal rock barren habitat of the Keys, where the “soil” underfoot is sun-bleached pieces of coral.
Location: Long Key
Length: 1.2 mile
Fees: state park entrance fee
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Bug Factor: moderate to annoying
Restroom: yes, at the trailhead
Expect mosquitoes; use insect repellent. Do not touch oozing tree bark in the tropical hammock: there are poisonwood trees scattered throughout the hammock. In fact, we saw more poisonwood trees here than anywhere else in the Keys.
The park entrance is 0.5 mile south of MM 68 on the left as you go southbound on US 1. Follow the park entrance road and keep to the left at the fork; the trailhead starts along the boardwalk behind the restrooms.
Starting at the parking area, follow the boardwalk out through the restrooms and into the mangroves. A tower provides a panorama of the mangrove forest surrounding you.
At a staircase, the boardwalk continues straight ahead to connect to the campground. Turn left and go down the stairs. Meandering through and along the edges of the mangrove forest, the the trail crosses a sluggish stream. All along the footpath, you’ll see holes. These are from giant land crabs that make their home in the sandy spots between the wetlands and the sea.
Just 0.2 mile into the hike, the trail rises up to meet the coastal berm, a narrow, sandy strip of land between the mangroves of the lagoon and the mangroves along the calm waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Formed by the action of hurricanes, this ridge has just enough width in places to accommodate the hiking trail.
Once you’re atop this sandy ridge, the trail parallels the water’s edge, dipping in and out of shady tropical hammocks with views of quiet beaches and the Atlantic Ocean framed by clumps of mangroves. Side trails lead down to the beaches, most of which are covered in sea wrack. This is not a place to swim, but a place to marvel at the natural shoreline of the Florida Keys, which is mostly dominated by mangroves.
Leaving the coastal berm after 0.4 mile, the trail drops down into the mangrove swamp again. It crosses a bridge over a mangrove-lined canal and your surroundings change radically as it rises up into the open, desert-like tidal rock barren with its salt-rich soil and stunted plant life.
The rock barren is fringed by the mangrove forest, which the trail enters again after 0.8 mile. It stays along the edge of the mangroves and a rockland hammock before fully climbing up into the hammock, where gumbo-limbo, blolly, and other tropical trees of the Keys form a dense canopy. You’ll still notice the tell-tale oozing bark of poisonwood here.
After walking along the rim of the mangrove forest on the lagoon, you emerge at the parking area on the opposite side from the restrooms, finishing the 1.2 mile loop.