A short interpretive loop at Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park, the Windley Trail circles through a tropical hammock before descending to showcase the fossil-rich rock walls of the quarry behind the state park visitors center.
Location: Windley Key, Islamorada
Length: 0.3 mile
Fees / Permits: $2.50 per person (includes 50 cent Monroe County surcharge)
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Bug factor: moderate to extreme
Restroom: at the visitor center
The park is closed Tuesday and Wednesday. Open Thursday to Monday, 8 AM to 5 PM. Please check in at the visitor center to pay your entrance fee before wandering the trails. You may also want to examine the exhibits and see a short film, which will clue you in on the importance of this historic site and its unique geologic wonders.
Guided tours are offered December-April on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 10 AM and 2 PM.
No bicycles permitted on trails. Collecting of fossils or plants is prohibited. You can, however, buy fossils in the gift shop to support the park. Avoid leaving the marked trails as the forest has a lot of poisonwood, one of the more common toxic trees in Florida.
Located 0.5 miles south of MM 85 on US 1 on Windley Key at 84900 Overseas Highway, Islamorada, the park entrance is on the bay side.
0.0 > All trails begin on the rock ledge behind the Alison Fahrer Education Center. Stop in there before you start your hike to pick up a trail guide. The trail system starts next to the antique channeling machine that cut the fossil slabs, and provides you a nice overlook across the Windley Quarry.
0.1 > The Flagler Trail branches off to the right at a signpost. Stay left, continuing your walk through the dense tropical hammock. A few moments later, the Windley Trail branches off to the left at a signpost. Keep left again. The trail leads you along the ecotone between the mangrove forest and the tropical hammock. It is very rooty and sometimes rocky underfoot, so watch your step.
0.2 > The trail makes a sharp left and descends a ramp into the quarry, where you see the roots of red mangroves burrowing into the fossil coral walls next to you. At the bottom of the ramp, turn left to walk along the near wall of the quarry.
If you picked up a trail guide at the visitor center, the numbered fossils are explained in the guide. Some of the easier ones to identify include the including finger corals, with their tiny cups; star coral, with large cups; and brain coral, shaped like a brain.
0.3 > A slab of cut coral rock sits on a cart on the other side of the quarry. As you curve around within the quarry to face the back of the visitor center and come to a ramp leading up to it, you have the option of continuing to follow the quarry walls through a narrow passage. If you do so, keep following the walls and you’ll reach the parking lot after walking a half mile.