Biscayne National Park | THE KEYS

Typical undeveloped key at Biscayne National Park

Typical undeveloped key at Biscayne National Park

Boca Chita Key

Elliott Key

Adams Key

For those unfamiliar with the term “key,” it is another word for an island formed from the remnants of a coral reef. Such islands are also called “cays,” and I assume this somehow plays into the name “Bis-cay-ne.” The most famous keys in the United States—maybe the only keys in the country for all I know—are a string of barrier islands that stretch from Biscayne National Park in the east to Dry Tortugas National Park in the west known as the Florida Keys. The last key that can be reached by car is Key West.

Starting just outside the park’s southern boundary is the largest of the keys, Key Largo. Highway 1 runs from the mainland out to the island and then proceeds south to connect everything together until reaching Key West. Nearly all of the southern keys are highly developed with hotels, restaurants, and neighborhoods. In the 1950s another highway was proposed that would run from Key Biscayne to Key Largo and eventually merge with Highway 1. This would allow development of the major keys in today’s park: Boca Chita and Elliott Keys. However, conservationists put a stop to it with the creation of Biscayne National Monument in 1968. The park was subsequently enlarged a couple of times and eventually became a National Park in 1980.

There are nearly fifty keys within the park boundary, some so small that you must look hard to find them on a map. Only a few are closed completely to the public due to being important wildlife habitats, while most of those that are not officially closed are completely covered with forests of hardwoods, mangroves, and other brush, so there is no reason to attempt to go ashore. None have beaches. Only three of the keys have amenities for park visitors: Boca Chita Key, Elliott Key, and Adams Key.

Elliott is the largest, nearly seven-miles long, while Adams and Boca Chita are small enough to walk the perimeters in less than an hour (if you could walk the perimeters). Like the other keys, all are covered with vegetation expect in the few areas that are kept clear by the National Park Service. Boca Chita and Elliott have a campground and a harbor, and all three have a picnic area and at least one short trail. A boat is required to reach all of the keys. For those without a boat, authorized concessionaires conduct excursions to the main islands and other places in the park. See the Guided Tours and Excursions web page here on National Park Planner for details.

I found a neat video shot with a drone off the shore of Elliott Key and in the harbor of Boca Chita Key, and it gives you a good idea of what goes on in the park on busy weekends. (It is illegal to fly a drone in a National Park, but not everybody follows the rules.)

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Last updated on March 2, 2021
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