If you’ve ever wondered where Key limes came from, there were once groves and orchards on the Florida Keys.
The half mile Grove Trail at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park leads from the mangroves along the picnic area adjoining the parking lot through a tropical hammock to one of the historic groves of Key Largo.
Location: Key Largo
Length: 0.5 mile
Lat-Lon: 25.1262, -80.4066
Fees: Included in state park entrance fee for John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Bug Factor: moderate to annoying
Restroom: at the visitor center
Bicycles are not permitted on the trail. Leashed pets welcome. Please stay within the marked path to avoid brushing into any poisonwood, which is found in this forest.
The park is at MM 102.5 along the ocean side of the Overseas Highway (US 1) in Key Largo. As the park entrance road curves into the main parking area, take the first left and continue through the parking area to its far side, near its exit. The Grove Trail starts at a kiosk next to a picnic pavilion, adjoining the mangrove forest. See the trail map at the bottom of the page for the exact location.
While this is a short trail, we do suggest you apply insect repellent before walking it, as these are habitats that mosquitoes tend to dwell in.
0.1 > The clever “Mangroves to Fruit Groves” title on the trailhead kiosk for this hike gives the overall theme of the walk. The trail starts adjacent to the mangrove forest that makes up much of the natural shoreline of Key Largo and most of the rest of the Florida Keys. Beaches are actually very rare here. The mangroves take advantage of the calm waters created by the offshore reefs. The trail turns a corner within earshot of the park entrance road and begins to twist and wind through the tropical forest.
0.2 > The forest is quite dense, but a lot of sunlight streams through thanks to gaps in the canopy from larger trees upended by hurricanes. Just like the older Wild Tamarind Trail, this trail is outlined by chunks of coral rock, and it’s smart to stay on the marked path because of the poisonwood trees. Look closely at the smooth-barked trees and you might spot a liguus tree snail. Watch the limbs of the trees for the flutter of birds.
0.3 > After a section where there is a lot of small, loose pieces of coral rock covering the forest floor, the trail passes through a section where vines are draped. You can tell you are coming to the transition between a native forest and a forest disrupted by human activity.
Soon after you pass a sign that reads “H.J. Shaw’s Farm,” the trail pops out into a clearing. It’s here that Mr. Shaw grew Key limes, oranges, and other fruit trees on a few acres cleared out of the tropical forest by planting dynamite amid the rocks (that’s why all of the small pieces of rock in the forest) in the tropical hammock.
The Shaw family sold this grove and the surrounding forest to the state of Florida in 1979, enabling the creation of the land side of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. The park continues to maintain this grove, which is the very last working Key lime grove in the Upper Keys.
At this point, you are at the end of the trail. Turn around and come back the way you came.
0.5 > The trail curves past the park road. Walk past the mangrove forest again and pop out next to the kiosk. Straight ahead is the swimming beach, and to your right is the main parking area.