December 2018 update: Hurricane Irma destroyed the Atlantic side of Bahia Honda State Park, including the tropical hammocks. While we were heartened to see that some silver palms still rise above the shredded forest, access to this portion of the park will not be restored until late 2019. This trail is no longer accessible, although we will still keep the details and links below in hopes it will be re-established next year.
Bahia Honda State Park is blessed with a profusion of rare and unique tropical vegetation. Along the park’s Silver Palm Trail, you’ll meander through the largest grove of silver palms (Coccothrinax argentata) in the United States, just yards away from the strumming waves.
Location: Bahia Honda Key
Length: 0.6 mile
Type: loop or round-trip
Fees: state park entrance fee
Bug Factor: moderate
Restroom: yes, near the beach parking area
The beach is one of the highest rated in Florida for its beauty, and the two campgrounds are very popular during the winter months. Drive down to the south end of the park to explore the Butterfly Garden and the Old Bahia Honda Bridge; rent a sea kayak or snorkeling gear to head out on the calm waters; swim in the sheltered bay.
Enter the park from MM 37 on US 1 on Bahia Honda Key, on the Atlantic Ocean side. At the T intersection, turn left and drive north on the park road past the Sandspur Camping Area and a beach parking area. After 1.3 miles, you reach the end of the road at another beach parking area. The trailhead is at the northern end of the parking area.
Botanists have discovered hundreds of rare and unusual species of plants on this island, ranging from Geiger tree to small-flowered lilythorn. Birders will want to spend some time along the lagoon, as roseate spoonbills are often sighted here.
The Silver Palm Nature Trail starts at the northern end of the parking lot, at the sign. From the trailhead, look off to your right and you’ll see one of those classic Keys views of the placid aquamarine ocean stretching off into the distance beyond the coconut palms. Flanked by gumbo limbo and poisonwood, you start down the trail into the tropical hardwood hammock. An unusually diverse variety of tropical plants grow here. Besides the usual sea grapes, Spanish stopper, Jamaica dogwood, thatch palm, caper tree, and pigeon plum, you’ll find such oddities as Geiger tree, manchineel, and wild allamanda.
Tall sea oxeye and bay cedar top the salt flats along the bay. Looking off to the left through the screen of mangroves, you see the inner cove. Mangrove crabs scurry up prop roots at your approach. In the early morning hours, wading birds come to the salt flats to feed. You’ll see white ibises and colorful pink roseate spoonbills, as well as great white herons stalking the flats.
Rounding a bend, you walk along a corridor of silver palms.the silvery undersides of their fronds shimmering in the sea breeze. Despite damage from Hurricane Georges in 1995, the grove continues to thrive. The silver palms around you represent the largest natural concentration of these rare native plants in the United States. Tucked in this little forest is the national champion silver palm, topping out at 29 feet tall. Preferring soil with a high salt content, most silver palms grow no more than 20 feet tall. After losing their clusters of tiny white blossoms, silver palms bear small purple fruits in the fall.
As the trail drops down into the coastal strand, you hear the increasing chatter of people of the beach. When you reach the dune crossover point at 0.1 mile, continue straight to keep walking along the coastal strand.
The trail enters a corridor between two fences, put in to prevent people wandering off into the coastal strand and destroying this fragile habitat. Silver palms, slender and delicate, rise from the taller dunes. Passing through a forest of sea grapes, you continue between another set of fences, where more silver palms grow off to the left.
Curving right, the trail heads out towards the water, ending on the beach after 0.3 mile. Turn right and walk up the beach. Notice the many drift seeds captured by tangles of sargassum. The Gulf Stream continues to strew its gifts across the shore, leaving tropical almonds, sea beans, and sea hearts on these bright white sands. When you reach the boardwalk, turn right and cross over the dunes. Returning back to the beginning of the trail, you’ve walked 0.6 mile.