Covering most of the northeastern corner of Key Largo, Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park is truly a botanical treasure, with the highest concentration of National Champion trees in one place in the United States. On the Key Largo Hammock Nature Trail, tunnel into this tropical forest to enjoy its natural beauty while learning about its unusual trees.
Location: Key Largo
Length: 1.1 miles
Lat-Long: 25.1761, -80.3695
Fees / Permits: state park entrance fee for Key Largo Hammock
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Bug factor: annoying
Restroom: portable toilet
Leashed pets and bicycles welcome. Stay on marked pathways! There are poisonwood and machineel trees throughout the hammock, both of which can cause severe reactions for anyone allergic to poison ivy.
Expect insects no matter the time of year. Always use mosquito repellent. We were advised by an FWC officer not to do this hike during the summer months due to the ferocity of the biting insect population. As this is a botanical state park, no mosquito control spraying is done here, unlike throughout most of the Florida Keys.
Driving north on US 1 from John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, keep right at the fork for SR 905 (to Card Sound Rd). The trailhead parking area is on the right after 0.5 mile, in front of a large archway.
0.0 > Park next to the archway and follow the pavement into the woods. It doesn’t look like a trail at all, as it’s the old paved access road to Port Bougainvillea, and is open to bicycles. Lignumvitae trees flank the front entrance. Listen for the rustle of palm fronds overhead, and look up: endangered white-crowned pigeons nestle in the tree tops. As you walk along the ribbon of pavement, look into the forest, not at the trail. Identification tags help you pick out trees from the jumbled thicket.
0.1 > The trail curves past a composting privy, and turns to the right past a picnic shelter. Pay attention to the plant identifications and notice the subtle differences between the various trees, which blend together to form a thick green screen on both sides of the old road. Not far off into the woods are the grand champion roughleaf velvetseed and boxleaf stopper, at 17 feet and 19 feet, respectively. Of the all of the grand champion trees in the hammock, few of them reach 30 feet tall—the 34-foot blolly being a notable exception.
0.3 > As you walk past a bench to the start of a stone wall on the left, watch for a break in the wall. After 0.3 mile, turn left at the “Nature Trail” sign and follow the narrow footpath into the cool deep shade of the forest. The leaves of torchwood trees give off a citrus oil odor when crushed.
0.4 > At the fork, keep left, walking past a number of small trees with interpretive markers. As the trail curves to the right, it comes out into an open, disturbed area on the edge of the forest.
0.5 > Walk down the short spur trail for a sweeping view of the water, on the edge of a quarry created during the building of Port Bougainvillea. On the far side, wild cotton fills a man-made ravine. One of Florida’s most endangered species, with showy creamy yellow flowers and fluffy cotton balls, it’s a beautiful shrub.
0.7 > Retrace your steps back to the footpath and turn left. Make a right into the shady hammock at the four-way junction to complete the loop. When you emerge at the bench, turn left to parallel the wall back down to the pavement. When you reach the pavement, turn right.
0.8 > Turn right again at the T intersection. West Indian mahoganies form mushroom-like canopies overhead. It only takes a few moments to return to the “Nature Trail” sign. Continue down the pavement, looking carefully at the parts of the forest that you haven’t yet seen. Along with the mahoganies, gumbo limbo and poisonwood trees are the true giants, the high canopy of the hammock. But the thickets still guard their treasures: milkbark and red stopper, limber caper and saffron plum, a parade of tropical species like no other on this continent.
1.0 > Continue past the picnic area, turning left off the Port Bougainville Trail. Pay attention to the smooth bark of the trees around you, where five different colorful varieties of the Florida tree snail, liguus, slip along sucking up algae and lichens. Jamaican dogwood seems to be a favorite perch. Follow the old road back out to the parking lot to complete your 1.1-mile walk.