Whether you are a local or visitor to the Florida Keys, there are some ways to get wild that you need to consider—and they have nothing to do with margaritas.
Home to more than 400,000 acres of protected wildlife that make up four National Wildlife Refuges— National Key Deer, Crocodile Lake, Great White Heron, and Key West National Wildlife Refuges— the Florida Keys offer a bounty of opportunities to witness its unique beauty and some of the world’s most endangered habitats, plants, and wildlife species.
Let this brief “bucket list” of Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges activities inspire you to get out there, now.
1. Head out on the water at dawn or just before sunset, when the sea and the sky meet in a mirrored glaze and the light is otherworldly. Drift slowly to take it all in.
2. Snorkel at the mangrove islands with mooring buoys in Key West NWR. Keep your eyes peeled for sea turtles, spotted eagle rays, sea hares, and— sharks. (Don’t worry. You’re not on their menu).
3. Kayak or stand-up paddle along the mangroves- the world’s third largest ecosystem. If you’re quiet enough and keep your distance, you’ll see one of 250 species of birds as they roost, hunt, or wade in any of the NWRs.
4. Touch a Cassiopeia jellyfish on a dare and itch for the rest of the afternoon. (Just kidding! Please don’t touch the wildlife).
5. Go fishing for bonefish, tarpon, and snapper in the backcountry waters of Great White Heron or Key West NWR’s.
6. Watch bottlenose dolphins hunt for their own fish along sandbars or ride your boat’s wake in glee.
7. Snap a photo of the alligators as they nap happily at the Blue Hole in the National Key Deer Refuge and look for the ubiquitous but skittish Key deer, a tiny subspecies of the white-tailed deer found nowhere else in the world. (Resist the urge to feed or pet them. Not only is it bad for them, it’s illegal).
8. Go biking on old State Road 4A on Lower Sugarloaf Key.
9. Volunteer to build a stone house for the endangered Key Largo wood rat at Crocodile Lake NWR.
10. Look up. See an endangered American bald eagle soar by. Stare in awe at the cloud formations. Count yourself lucky to have seen such sights in your lifetime.
To further help you celebrate this natural beauty and encourage you to get outside, US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Complex and their Friends group FAVOR (Friends And Volunteers Of Refuges) will host their first Outdoor Fest—four action-packed days filled with family-friendly, mostly free outdoor adventures and hands-on activities— on Thursday, March 17th through Sunday, March 20th. Reserve your spot and register for one of their many events now.
The Outdoor Fest is brought to you in part by the Monroe County Tourist Development Council. To register and for more information about the refuges, FAVOR, and the list of events, visit www.favorfloridakeys.org/outdoor-fest or contact Kristie Killam at 305.304.9625, email: [email protected].