For an immersion into a tropical rockland hammock and its rare bounty of Florida thatch palms, explore this short but rugged and fascinating loop along the bay side of Curry Hammock State Park.
Location: Grassy Key, Marathon
Length: 0.4 mile
Lat-Lon: 24.7413, -80.9972
Fees / Permits: free
Bug factor: usually extreme, sometimes moderate
Restroom: inside Curry Hammock State Park (fee for entry)
Open 8 AM to sunset. No bicycles permitted on the footpath, which is very narrow and rocky once it enters the thatch palm hammock. We strongly suggest slathering on the bug spray and wearing long pants and long sleeves in this hammock, which is almost always full of mosquitoes. A headnet might even be a good idea.
Be very cautious of poisonwood trees along the path; one is called out to your attention by interpretive information. It is one of the more common toxic trees in South Florida and the main reason you should neither bushwhack or camp in this hammock, as there is a lot of it on Grassy Key. The park signs also warn of venomous snakes along this trail.
Park at the Grassy Key trailhead along US 1 south of the state park’s main entrance. To reach the trailhead for this trail, you must walk up the paved Grassy Key Trail for 0.1 mile (included in mileage). We suggest you start in that direction and not directly from the parking area, since signage faces you when you walk in from the official trailhead.
While Florida thatch palms (Thrinax radiata) are often seen in South Florida landscaping, they’re a rare and endangered species in the wild. This dense thicket of thatch palms survived Hurricane Irma just fine, although we discovered the nature trail now shortened by the placement of directional signage in front of the portion of the trail that once led to an overlook on Florida Bay. Given the wild tropical nature of this hammock, bushwhacking is not a smart idea. Stick to the established route.
0.0 > Start at the state park trailhead for the Grassy Key Trail (a portion of the Overseas Heritage Trail) along US 1. Walk north along the paved path. The tropical hammock is a dense wall to your left, although you can make out distinct trees.
0.1 > Pass a rest stop along the Grassy Key Trail with a kiosk and bench in the shade. The wall of hammock is no less dense, but now you see some gangly cacti poking out of it.
0.2 > Reach the trailhead kiosk for the Curry Hammock Nature Trail. The route shown on the map on the kiosk is not the route we discovered when we hiked the trail. Follow the worn path into a mangrove forest, which may be soggy and sticky underfoot as you walk through the marl. There are a couple of spots with nice views across Florida Bay. While we’ve seen anglers along the shoreline, it takes some tolerance of the sticky muck to be able to cast a line.
0.3 > Leaving the mangrove forest, you enter the tropical rockland hammock. Note the interpretive sign that says “Look, don’t touch.” It shows you what poisonwood is – there is one right behind the sign – and why you should avoid it. Since the forest crowds closely in, be sure to avoid touching any tree with oozing sap. The footpath is quite rocky underfoot, with solution holes looking like Swiss cheese in the bedrock underfoot.
Past a cairn made up of coral rock, you see an interpretive sign that discusses how hurricanes affect and shape the habitats of the Florida Keys, you tunnel more deeply into the thatch palm hammock.
0.4 > An arrow on a signposts points away from what used to be the trail extension out towards Florida Bay and instead points towards you. Follow the footpath as it curves to the left, and you see light through a gap in the trees up ahead.
You emerge under a power line pole right in front of the trailhead. Look behind you and you’ll see the warning sign that keeps people from casually walking in at this spot.