The tropical hammocks of the Florida Keys are fascinating places to hike in, as the forests here are both diminutive and thick.
While there is little in the way of understory growth, and lots of surface limestone, the variety of slender trees is particularly showy because of their colorful bark.
Gumbo-limbo, paradise tree, and ironwood are among the many trees found here, as well as the dangerous and toxic poisonwood, which oozes black spots on its trunk.
The Hammock Trail at Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park offers interpretation of habitat and identification of trees to make this a rewarding nature walk.
Resources for exploring the area
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Location: Windley Key
Length: 0.6 mile loop
Address: 84900 Overseas Highway, Islamorada
Fees: $2.50 per person
Restroom: At the visitor center
Land manager: Florida State Parks
Open 8-4, Thu-Mon. No bicycles. Collecting of fossils or plants is prohibited.
Avoid leaving the marked trails as the tropical forest has a lot of poisonwood, one of the more common toxic trees in Florida.
Expect mosquitoes: make sure you use insect repellent. You may encounter great golden digger wasps along the park trails at certain times of year, as we did. According to a bulletin posted, “Great golden digger wasps are not aggressive and will not sting unless provoked.” We suggest wearing closed-toe shoes while hiking here and not walking through any wasp swarms.
Located 0.5 miles south of MM 85 on US 1 on Windley Key, the park entrance is on the bay side.
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, and follow the brick path past the building.
The trail system starts just beyond the overlook across Windley Quarry. Keep left at the first fork, where the Flagler Trail diverges to the right.
Keep right at the next junction where the Windley Trail diverges. Soon after is a sign for a poisonwood tree, an important tree to remember as it is found throughout the Florida Keys.
Do not touch these trees. They have distinctive yellow-tipped leaves and oozing black spots on its bark that look like motor oil. Their sap and fruit are toxic.
However, the endangered white-crowned pigeon feeds on its fruit. Watch carefully and you will notice these pigeons throughout the forest.
The trail swings close to the mangrove forest that fringes this island. Be cautious of swarms of golden digger wasps. Park signs say they do not attack unless provoked.
The trail tunnels through a small hammock of rare thatch palms. After another curve along the mangroves, keep alert for some plants and shrubs marked with pink flagging.
The cacti growing amid the rocks are only found in the Florida Keys.
One of the more fascinating geologic features thus far on the hike is the Russell Quarry, which unlike the others in the park is completely filled and ringed by the tropical hammock.
The remains of an old homestead are here as well. The trail makes its way around a dropoff into a quarry pit, passing a bench.
After you climb up a ramp out of the old quarry, the Hammock Trail meets the Flagler Trail at a T intersection.
You can loop back to the trailhead in either direction, but if you haven’t been to the Flagler Quarry yet, it’s a must-see. Turn left.
The trail soon descends into the quarry. Either follow the marked Flagler Quarry Trail along the quarry wall to your right, or continue straight ahead through the grassy open picnic area in the quarry’s center.
Passing a sign for the Quarry Station Trail, ascend up the limestone ramp to return to the visitor center.
Learn more about Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park
See our photos of Windley Key Fossil Coral Reef
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Winding through an ecotone where tropical forest meets mangroves, the Windley Trail is a quarter mile loop that ends up amid interpretation of quarrying history.
A short interpretive trail at Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park, the Flagler Quarry Trail leads you around the showiest of the quarries and the ruins of the railroad depot.
On a wild sliver of Upper Matecumbe Key, footpaths wind through a rockland tropical hammock where a rocky crevice emits sulfur fumes and you must beware of crocodiles near the mangroves