Long Key is a botanically-rich island in the heart of the Florida Keys, with its strange beauty brought to light along the gentle Golden Orb Trail at Long Key State Park.
Traversing several uncommon habitats found primarily in the Florida Keys, the restored loop (broken for some time after Hurricane Irma) leads you to views of the Atlantic Ocean.
Along its length, you’ll walk through a tropical rockland hammock and traverse the desert-like tidal rock barren, where “soil” underfoot is sun-bleached pieces of coral.
This unique trail also crosses a coastal berm, a hurricane-crafted sand ridge defining the island’s perimeter.
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Trailhead: 24.8141, -80.8218
Address: 67400 Overseas Highway, Long Key
Fees: $5-6 per vehicle
Restroom: At the parking area
Land manager: Florida State Parks
Open 8 AM until sunset daily. Leashed pets welcome. Expect mosquitoes! Always use insect repellent.
Waterfront campsites (walk-in, primitive) are first-come, first served. Ask at the gate.
Do not touch oozing tree bark in the tropical hammock: there are poisonwood trees scattered throughout the forest. We saw more poisonwood trees along this trail than anywhere else in the Keys. When in doubt, never touch tree trunks or leaves in a tropical hammock.
Learn more about Florida’s toxic trees.
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 at the main parking area.
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.
It separates 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 atop this sandy ridge, the trail parallels the water’s edge, dipping in and out of shady tropical hammocks.
Enjoy 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 and sargassum.
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.
Surroundings change radically as it rises up into the open, desert-like tidal rock barren with its salt-rich soil and stunted plant life. A boardwalk crosses a tide-washed area.
The rock barren is fringed by the mangrove forest, which the trail enters again after 0.8 mile.
A new boardwalk guides you through a healthy patch of red mangroves, edging a rockland hammock before fully climbing up into the hammock.
Gumbo-limbo, blolly, and other tropical trees of the Keys form a dense canopy. Notice the tell-tale oozing bark of poisonwood.
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.
Learn more about Long Key State Park and its trails
See our post-Irma photos of Long Key State Park
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.