Of the three segments we’ve divided the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail into, the Lower Keys provide some of the best panoramas along the trail.
Sweeping views of shallow flats dotted with mangroves open to vistas along Florida Bay and behind the reefs of the Atlantic Ocean.
With longer continuous segments of bike path and paths out of sight of US 1, it has some good short scenic trips along it for casual riders.
It also has less traffic crossing the over bike path than along the rest of the trail, since with the exception of Key West the Lower Keys are less densely populated.
While we describe the ride northbound – since you are following US 1 North – in reality most of the time you’re headed compass east through this segment.
Our resources for exploring the area
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Location: Key West to Bahia Honda
Length: 38 miles linear
Land manager: Florida State Parks
Open daylight hours to pedestrian and bicycle use. Hikers should use sunscreen and insect repellent. Leashed dogs welcome. Please pick up after your pet.
Class 1 ebikes (pedaling required) are permitted on state trails but other motorized transport is banned on bike path segments.
Because this is an island hopping route, sun and wind play a factor in your enjoyment of the ride. Check wind direction and speed before deciding which direction to ride, or to ride at all.
Read our information about poisonous plants in Florida before you ride. Along this trail are forests where both poisonwood and manchineel trees are present. Avoid touching them.
Where you start your ride depends on your logistics. The Southernmost Point buoy is compelling geographically, but it isn’t actually along the bike path.
To get there, it’s best to park at Astro Park, Higgs Beach, or Indigenous Park to do the road ride: Atlantic Blvd south to Reynolds St to South St. Round trip is 2 miles from White Street.
White Street is where the trail terminus marker for the East Coast Greenway adjoins C.B. Harvey Rest Beach Park, within view of the pier and the AIDS memorial.
Parallel Atlantic Blvd north along the bike path, passing by a walk-in entrance to the Key West Nature Preserve, a tiny patch of nature next to the beach.
The trail rounds the corner at the T intersection and faces the Atlantic Ocean. When you reach the beach you’re at the south end of Smathers Beach.
While the beach continues for more than a mile, the bike path stays below a wall so views are only at access points.
North of the beach, the bike path is right at the seawall and it’s here you get the most expansive views of the Atlantic Ocean in Key West.
The lack of wave action is because most of the Florida Keys are edged by coral reefs on the Atlantic side, breaking the waves beyond your view.
Turning away from the ocean, the path stays along the water’s edge up Cow Key Channel, where houseboats sometimes anchor in the shallows.
Passing a couple hotels, the Riviera Canal, and the Navy Health Clinic, you come to US 1, 4.6 miles north of the Southernmost Point.
Cross it at the light on the crosswalk and turn right to follow the bike path along the bay side of US 1.
Once over the bridge at Cow Key Channel, you’re on Stock Island. The trailhead at the Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden is just a little west of the next traffic light at College Rd.
The only two campgrounds near Key West, Leo’s and Boyd’s, are on back streets on the opposite side of US 1 and can be reached by crossing at either of the next two traffic lights.
A convenience store sits at Key Haven Rd at 6 miles. These stores are very infrequent in the Florida Keys so if you need water, stop and buy some.
At 6.6 miles the trail reaches its first Florida State Parks sign as it passes a pulloff area along the southbound lanes of US 1.
It goes under the highway to reach a dedicated bike lane on the northbound side of the US 1 Boca Chica Channel Bridge.
On the other side of the channel is Boca Chica Key, home to the Key West Naval Air Station. The bike path dips down a ramp to pass the main entrance at 9 miles and back up again to US 1.
At the top of that ramp the bike path comes to an abrupt end and forces you onto the US 1 bike lane briefly to get around a culvert.
While this is a very minor break in the path, much longer breaks happen frequently farther north, where you must ride the bike lane in the direction of traffic travel.
Leaving Boca Chica Key, the trail uses the first of the first of the historic railroad bridges that make this such an interesting bike route, the Rockland Channel bridge.
The next convenience store adjoins the trail at Boca Chica Rd, just a quarter mile before the parking area at Shark Key wayside.
Just past the pulloff at 12.3 miles, the trail crosses the historic Shark Channel railroad bridge. The next several miles are especially scenic.
As the trail traverses the Saddlebunch Keys, using several historic bridges, you have broad views on either side.
Look down where possible, too. The clear aquamarine water is shallow and you can see sea life at the base of the mangroves.
Baby’s Coffee is a Keys icon and a popular stop before the nearly continuous bike path ends, forcing you into the bike lane of US 1 at Lower Sugarloaf Channel at 16.3 miles.
This is the first, but not the last, of the old railroad bridges that you can’t cross. Some will eventually be restored. Others have become fishing piers.
Cross over two bridges in the Sugarloaf Keys along US 1. The bike path doesn’t reappear until S. Point Drive, 1.4 miles north of where it ended.
It crosses to the bay side of US 1 at a somewhat pointless crossing: don’t take it unless you’re stopping at Sugarloaf Lodge, as you’ll only have to return to the northbound bike lane soon after.
There is no bike path between Sugarloaf Lodge and Park Channel, where at 19.5 miles cyclists can get out of the bike lane to cross the historic Park Channel railroad bridge.
After the pulloff on the north side of the bridge, you’re right back onto the US 1 bike lane again.
At 20.8 miles, the bike path begins again at Johnson Rd on Sugarloaf Key. Watch out for darting iguanas as you pass a short stretch of forest.
Mangrove Mama’s restaurant is on the other side of US 1. A large KOA adjoined the trail just before the historic Bow Channel railroad bridge, but their website indicates they are still closed.
Enjoy nice views across Bow Channel on this crossing. Not far past the pulloff at the north side of the bridge on Cudjoe Key, the trail crosses US 1 to the bay side.
Our experience is that traffic doesn’t stop for crosswalks. But the trail remains on the bay side across all of Cudjoe Key, so cross over.
The north side of Cudjoe Key has massive salt flats, which the trail skims along the edge of along the historic roadbed of old SR 4.
After a side road crossing, you’re in a dense mangrove forest for the rest of this island. At 21.1 miles, the trail crosses US 1 again, this time to lead to the historic Kemp Channel railroad bridge.
Passing through a paved parking area on the north side of this bridge, keep alert for another hop across US 1 to the bay side.
A boardwalk leads the trail to the edge of the flats, where you turn right to continue north via Old SR 4 on Summerland Key.
A mile later, the bike path swings out towards US 1 and parallels it on the bay side before coming to another crosswalk to the ocean side.
After the crosswalk, it crosses East Shore Dr and continues up to the disappointing fence across the Niles Channel bridge, which has yet to be restored for trail use.
Before you get to that fence, hop over to the bike lane along US 1 northbound again. Niles Channel is quite wide and you’ll see a big chunk of the railroad bridge is missing.
On the north side of Niles Channel make a quick jog off the highway to the right to get back on the bike path. Beware the soft sand.
The bike path parallels US 1 northbound all the way across Ramrod Key. Crossing W Indies Dr, you’ll find a convenience store and the Looe Key Dive Resort.
The bike path ends at the end of the island at 28.6 miles, so jump back in the US 1 bike lane to cross over to Little Torch Key, where the path resumes again.
The bike path deposits you onto US 1 for a bridge crossing, and then is continuous to the end of this island, where you hit the next closed bridge.
Back in the bike lane, you can see the bad shape that the railroad bridge is in. Thirty miles into the ride, hop back onto the bike path north of the channel.
It lasts until the next bridge crossing. Note the signs regarding Key deer habitat. This next island is Big Pine Key, one of the largest in the Florida Keys.
It’s here that you need to watch for vehicles crossing and stopping on the bike path, as the path passes many businesses.
At Big Pine Key Blvd, a side path leads past the largest shopping center between Key West and Marathon into the National Key Deer Refuge.
If you’re not stopping for food, restaurants, or a side trip to look for Key deer, stay on the ocean side of US 1. Otherwise swap sides at this light to visit the stores or the refuge.
The path on the bay side of US 1 ends in front of the Nature Center for the Florida Keys NWRs, a new visitor center on the island.
On the ocean side, the bike path continues past St. Peters Church across from the Nature Center and then pushes you out onto the US 1 bike lane.
After the causeway a narrow strip of path flanks US 1 on both sides through the heart of the refuge, which is fenced. Rejoin the bike lane for the next causeway.
As the road curves and the causeway ends, the narrow path starts again. This time there’s a crosswalk, at 34.1 miles.
If you are not stopping at the Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge, which is just ahead on the right and has drinks and snacks at the campground store, use the crosswalk.
You must get to the bay side of US 1 for the next bridge crossing, a lengthy and scenic span across Spanish Harbor.
If you haven’t run into conflicts with fishermen up to this point, this is where they start becoming commonplace.
Most of the bridges in the Middle Keys swarm with casual anglers who set up chairs, tents, and coolers. Watch out for people casting, too.
At the north end of this span, the bike path splits: a side swoop into the Spanish Harbor parking area, or a crosswalk to the ocean side of US 1.
Crossing Scout Key, you ride past two long-established Scouting camps, Camp Sawyer for the Boy Scouts and Camp Wesumkee for the Girl Scouts.
At the north end of the island, the bike path swoops towards what was the grandest and longest railroad bridge in the Keys, the one over Bahia Honda Channel.
Until the early 1970s, US 1 still crossed it. Looking at the crumbling infrastructure, it’s a little terrifying both how narrow and aged it is.
Bahia Honda Channel was the deepest natural channel the Overseas Railroad had to cross, and the resultant bridge designed won international engineering awards.
From this pulloff at 36.3 miles, you can see down the length of the span. But to cross the channel you must join US 1 in the bike lane.
It’s more than a mile across this highway bridge over Bahia Honda Channel, practice for the Seven Mile bridge that lies ahead. Expect a great deal of wind.
Once you reach Bahia Honda Key, the bike path uses an underpass to get to the bay side of US 1.
If you are finishing your ride at the state park itself, ignore the underpass and ride up to the entrance, which you reach at 38 miles.
It’s another half mile to the parking area, where there are restrooms and a gift shop with a snack bar. An entry fee applies to cyclists.
During our research, we wrapped up our first day with a stay at Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge, as it’s tougher to snag a space at Bahia Honda State Park.
To avoid park entrance fees (or if the park is full to capacity), other alternatives for end points include Spanish Harbor at 35.1 miles and Bahia Honda Channel parking at 36.3 miles.
South to north trailheads along the bike route. Click on any icon above for directions.
A limited amount of parking is available at pulloffs adjoining the historic bridges along this part of the trail. Do not assume you can park overnight at these locations.
For overnight or multi-day trips, make arrangements in advance to leave your car at a state park or a business you’ll be patronizing along the route, such as a hotel.
Key West Transit runs the Lower Keys Shuttle up and down US 1 with scheduled stops between Marathon and Key West.
They can get you and your bike back to your car, or close enough. Plan your end point based on their stops, which include Bahia Honda State Park. Check their website in advance.
A small amount of free day use parking is in front of Astro Park and across the street at Higgs Beach and the West Martello Gardens.
All of these are just south of White Street along Atlantic Avenue. Restrooms are available at all three locations.
Free day use parking is available at this low-key nature park across the street from the White Street Pier at the east end of White Street.
Free day use parking is available streetside along the waterfront of Smathers Beach, across from the East Martello and the Key West International Airport. You’ll find restrooms here too.
Key West Tropical Forest
The southernmost trailhead for the Florida Keys National Scenic Byaway, the Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden is a natural beauty spot managed by a nonprofit.
National Key Deer Refuge
At Big Pine Key Blvd, a side path leads west to the refuge trailheads. For day parking and restrooms, check in with the Nature Center for the Florida Keys NWRs along US 1.
Primarily used as a launch point into Florida Bay, the paved parking area at Spanish Harbor marks a free place to park close to the northernmost point of this trail segment.
Bahia Honda Channel
Where US 1 used to climb atop the old railroad bridge to cross the deepest channel in the Florida Keys, this large oceanside pulloff is a popular stop for its scenic views.
Bahia Honda State Park
There is a fee for day use parking at Bahia Honda, but there are restrooms and a snack bar on site, as well as camping: reserve it well in advance.
Check with the park about leaving your vehicle here overnight for a fee during a multi-day ride.
|0.8||Astro Park / Higgs Beach|
|1.0||Indigenous Park / East Coast Greenway Marker|
|5.0||Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden|
|5.2||Leo's Campground 0.1E|
|5.6||Boyd's Campground 0.5E|
|6.6||Boca Chica Channel parking & underpass|
|9.0||Naval Air Station Key West entrance|
|11.9||Shark Key wayside|
|13.4||Saddlebunch No. 5 Channel bridge|
|13.9||Saddlebunch No. 4 Channel bridge|
|15.0||Saddlebunch No. 3 Channel bridge|
|16.5||Lower Sugarloaf Channel pulloff|
|19.7||Park Key Channel pulloff|
|21.4||Cudjoe Key pulloff|
|24.4||Cudjoe North pulloff|
|24.8||Summerland Key parking|
|28.4||Indies Rd Ramrod Key|
|29.7||Pirates Rd/Barry Ave Little Torch Key|
|31.7||Big Pine Key Blvd|
|32.6||Nature Center for the Florida Keys NWRs|
|34.2||Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge Campground 0.1E|
|35.1||Spanish Harbor trailhead|
|36.3||Bahia Honda Channel parking|
|37.7||Bahia Honda underpass|
|38.0||Main entrance Bahia Honda State Park|
Big Pine Key Trail
A side path running 4.5 miles north along Big Pine Key Blvd, the Big Pine Key Trail passes the main shopping center on the island and a park with restrooms within its first mile.
After it enters the National Key Deer Refuge, its first stop is Blue Hole at 2.9 miles, an excellent place for wildlife watching. At 3.2 miles, the Wildlife Trails offer a longer walk in the woods.
Learn more about the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail
Along the Route
Visit these parks and trails along this ride
Within sight of the Atlantic Ocean, Sonny McCoy Indigenous Park is a rare patch of green space in the city of Key West, with native trees and a natural freshwater pond.
With boardwalks and natural footpaths winding amid curated collections against a backdrop of natural Florida Keys habitats, the Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden is a delightful natural destination.
Established in 1957 to prevent the extinction of the diminutive Key deer, National Key Deer Refuge spans 84,351 acres across 25 islands in the Lower Keys.
Articles from our rides and explorations along this trail
Nine months after Hurricane Irma, we headed to the Florida Keys to see how both the infrastructure and the natural areas are healing. Here’s an overview of what we found, from Key West to Key Largo.
Sometimes we take history for granted. A walk through the Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden led to a collection of Cuban chugs, which we didn’t know what they were until we learned their story.
At the Atlantic end of White Street in Key West, a convergence of history, culture, and recreation happens on one of the quieter corners of this bustling island