This park is closed due to extensive damage to the Florida Keys from Hurricane Irma. It has been visually confirmed that at least some of the Key deer population survived the direct hit on the island.
There is precious little fresh surface water in the Florida Keys, but Big Pine Key is one of the places it exists thanks to the Swiss-cheese nature of the karst bedrock underfoot, which stores water in its crevices and holes. Water surfaces as freshwater marshes and inside a quarry dug during construction of the Overseas Highway. Called Blue Hole, this cenote-like pond is a haven for wildlife, especially the Key deer. The Key deer is the smallest deer in the world, with grown bucks no taller than a German shepherd. In 1947, there were only 50 Key deer known. To prevent species extinction, 84,351 acres on Big Pine Key and on 24 other nearby islands was permanently protected as National Key Deer Refuge, established in 1957.
Location: Big Pine Key and surrounding islands
Lat-Lon: 24.672134, -81.356846
Open: Dawn to dusk. All areas are day use only, no camping
Public access is primarily on Big Pine Key. This is the location of the Visitor Center, where you can pick up a map showing all access points.
The population has rebounded to over 800 deer, and you may see them wandering around the populated areas of Big Pine Key as well as through the woods. There are three nature trails along Key Deer Blvd west of US 1 where these diminutive deer are frequently seen. The most likely place to see them is at Blue Hole.
It’s important to stick to established trails in National Key Deer Refuge due to the large number of poisonwood trees and the occurrence of manchineel trees in the rare pine rockland habitats. Both of these native trees have highly toxic leaves and bark, and their fruits are deadly to humans. Going off-trail puts you at risk of contact with either of these trees. Learn more about these trees.
While the preserve is primarily focused on Big Pine Key, trails into the preserve can be followed at several other locations off US 1, including No Name, Upper Sugarloaf, Lower Sugarloaf, and Cudjoe Key.
At Big Pine Key Shopping Center, you’ll find the National Key Deer Visitor Center 305-872-0774, 200 Key Deer Blvd, tucked away in one corner of the plaza. With interpretive exhibits and staff on hand to answer your questions, they are your primary source for information and maps for all of the National Wildlife Refuges in the Keys. They also carry books and maps for sale.
Explore the park
- Florida’s toxic trees - Southeast Florida is home to two poisonous trees, the poisonwood and the manchineel. Learn how to recognize them so you don't get too close, and find out how truly dangerous they are.