Immerse into a dense tropical hammock and learn about the tropical trees of the Florida Keys with a walk on the Hammock Trail at Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park. At 0.6 mile, it’s the longest of the loop trails in this state park.
Location: Windley Key, Islamorada
Length: 0.6 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.
The longest of the loop trails at Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park, the Hammock Trail tunnels deep into a tropical hammock full of unusual trees, leading you along the edge of this coral rock island before slicing through its middle. As it does, it follows the ecotone between tropical forest and mangrove forest for a stretch. Two of the other nature trails in the park branch off this one, enabling you to make a variety of short loops. Given the persistent mosquitoes here, you may prefer to keep your walk short.
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 right.
You soon come across a sign pointing out a poisonwood tree. It’s an important one to remember. You don’t want to stray off these or any other trails in the Florida Keys because of this and other toxic trees. It has distinctive yellow-tipped leaves and oozing black spots on its bark that look like motor oil. Although the sap and fruit are toxic to humans, the endangered white-crowned pigeon feeds on its fruit. Watch carefully and you will notice these pigeons throughout the forest.
0.2 > The trail swings close to the mangrove forest that fringes this island. Were it not for the efforts of local residents, the tropical forest you are walking through now was slated to become a condo complex in the 1980s. Fortunately, considering their rich history and importance to wildlife, these 30 acres were preserved. You may encounter great golden digger wasps along this trail at certain times of year, as we did in June. According to a bulletin posted near the restrooms, “Great golden digger wasps are not aggressive and will not sting unless provoked.” We strongly suggest wearing closed-toe shoes while hiking here and not walking through any wasp swarms.
0.3 > Of botanical interest is a small hammock of thatch palms that the trail tunnels through. After another curve along the mangroves, keep alert for some plants and shrubs in the understory, marked with pink flagging. Some are cacti found only in the Florida Keys.
0.4 > 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.
0.5 > 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 this quarry, which adjoined Henry Flagler’s Overseas Railroad route. You can 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.
0.6 > Passing a sign for the Quarry Station Trail, ascend up the limestone ramp to return to the visitor center.