A bike ride with an ocean breeze at your back and brilliant blue waters sparkling in the sun. Who wouldn’t be tempted by that? Especially when we’re talking riding the length of the Florida Keys, a slice of the Caribbean connected to the Florida mainland by US 1. The 109-mile Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail (OHT) is one of the most appealing destinations for cyclists visiting Florida thanks to its unparalleled beauty and abundant services.
Following the route of the Overseas Railroad, the original connector between the islands, the Overseas Heritage Trail crosses many historic railroad bridges in the Florida Keys, offering sweeping panoramas of mangrove-fringed islands in turquoise waters.
After completing a ride along the the length of the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail in November 2018, we are working on a new edition of our guide to the ride. It will be available in early 2019.
Location: Key West to Key Largo
Southern terminus: Southernmost Point [24.546513, -81.797484]
Northern terminus: Garden Cove Drive [25.170925, -80.374141]
Length: 109.2 miles
Land Manager: Office of Greenways and Trails
There are dozens of access points along US 1, but only a handful of parking areas in the Upper Keys, primarily at established city and state parks. The Middle and Lower Keys provide better access to the trail, thanks to pulloffs at the ends of most of the bridges.
While it’s certainly a beautiful route, the Overseas Heritage Trail (OHT) is also a challenging ride because of missing segments, ongoing trail construction, and heavy traffic along the bike lanes. In the most populated areas of the route – Big Pine Key, Marathon, and Key Largo – the bike path is bisected by dozens of driveways, which means watching out for motorists who aren’t watching for you. However, these segments of the trail offer plenty of places you can stop, refuel, and relax.
Where the trail crosses the many historic bridges of the Overseas Railroad in the Middle Keys, anglers, pedestrians, and people parking right on the bike path are a hindrance to anyone looking to ride this trail all in one go.
However, if you take your time and pace the ride over several days, choosing early mornings as your time to be out on the trail, it’s an unparalleled experience for bicyclists. On the quieter islands – of which there are many – you can pick up speed and savor the salt breeze.
In November 2018, we revisited the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail to find out how it fared after Hurricane Irma. We’d visited in June 2018, when there were still many miles of ripped-up bike path. Sorry to report that there has been no forward movement on fixing it. However, the Keys are doing well overall, with most – but not all – businesses reopened.
When we originally attempted to ride the length of the trail in 2015, we kept hearing that it was “all” open as a bike path. Now that we have ridden it all, we can tell you that it is not a continuous bike path, nor will it be anytime soon. At least 30 miles of the ride are along the bike lanes of US 1. You will need to redirect to US 1 to cross most of the bridges through the Florida Keys.
We found a lopsided number of access points for the trail: lots of parking spots with Florida State Park signage in the Middle Keys, pulloffs in the Lower Keys, and almost nowhere to park in the Upper Keys except for at established public parks.
All work on trail building appears to have been halted since Hurricane Irma, particularly on bridge restoration. We saw work focused on reopening the old Seven Mile Bridge to Pigeon Key – which does not serve as part of the bike path, since pieces are missing from it – but nothing going on along any of the other bridges where the trail is slated to go.
Benches are provided in many places, especially at the ends of the long bridge crossings at the southern end of the trail. There are well-spaced campgrounds that a cyclist carrying camping gear can use.
But with so many classic motels and resorts along the route, if you budget for it, you can relax on the beach or the bay every night, and even get in a swim after your ride. Our updated guide will detail where you can find parking along the route, as well as provide recommendations for accommodations, dining, and things to see and do along the 109 miles of the bike route.
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