The Best Outdoor Activities in Key West, Florida

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Taking a trip to Key West is like going stepping back into the 1950’s road trip.  Key West, Florida is the southernmost city in the continental United States.  Much of the city’s attractions relate to its history, nightlife, and fun.  From visiting Ernest Hemingway’s home to President Truman’s Little Whitehouse to Sloppy Joe’s Bar, most tourists come to Key West to see these amazing places.  Key West is so much more than just a mecca for nightlife. The city is home to some top-notch top outdoor adventures.    Here are the best outdoor activities in Key West.

SCUBA Dive the USNS Vandenberg

In 2002, Key West was jealous about the fact that Key Largo had sunk the 510-ft USS Spiegel Grove.  The sinking of Spiegel had given Key Largo the largest artificial reef in the world (at the time).  Key West decided they need their own artificial reef to compete with Spiegel. They were not content with just sinking another ship.  They found the 522-ft long USNS General Hoyt S. Vandenberg.  12 feet, they found a ship to sink that was 12 feet longer.  In 2009, The USNS Vandenberg was sunk 7 miles off the coast of Key West.  Today, the ship teams with marine life and is one of the popular dive sites in the Keys along with Spiegel.  The ship is so long that it takes multiple dives to really get a sense of size of the ship.  It is just over 2 football fields long.  Several holes where cut to allow light to light penetrations.

The Vandenberg sits in 140 ft of water.  The Eagles Nests sits in 40-50 feet of water.  An advanced open water dive certification is required.

Dry Tortugas National Park

A small island about 70-miles west of Key West is perfect for a day trip out of Key West.  Dry Tortugas National Park can be reached by plane or boat. The National Park is a series of small islands.  The largest island is home to Fort Jefferson. Fort Jefferson is a pre-Civil War fort that was held by the Yankees throughout the Civil War.  After the war, the fort was used as a prison.  It is said that the fort is now haunted.

In addition to exploring the fort, the park offers white sand beaches with a guarantee of small crowds.  Visitation is limited by the ferry and float planes.  There is plenty of space along the beaches to lay and enjoy the sunshine. There are plenty of snorkeling opportunities along the fort’s seawall and surrounding waters. Lobsters, eels and other fish can be found along the reefs.

The best way to explore Dry Tortugas National Park is to spend 3-4 days camping. Camping allows visitors time to explore at their own pace and explore the islands after the small crowds (less than 150 people) brought it by the ferry. Check out my guide to camping in Dry Tortugas National Park

Click here to book your Yankee Freedom ferry ticket now.

Parasail above the sparkling waters

Fly above the crystal clear waters surrounding Key West in a parasail.  As a powerboat tows you around as a parachute holds you high in the sky.  All you have to do is sit back and enjoy the ride.  The boat will take you along the sparkling beaches of Key West.  The ride will give you an epic view of the coral reefs hidden under the ocean.

Most tours depart from one of the Key West beaches.  You can fly either solo, tandem or triple (depends on weight).  The flights last about an hour. Book your Key West parasail tour today!

Kayaking or Stand-up Paddle Boarding in the Mangroves

The mangroves play an important role in the ecosystems in the Florida Keys.  Their roots protect the shorelines from erosion and provide a nursery for baby fishes and wildlife.  The birds of the Florida Keys will nest and roost in mangroves.  The mangroves provide flat water for easy paddling experience.  In addition to mangroves, the kayaking trails will meander thru creeks as well seagrass areas.  In the seagrass areas, you might see small rays, barracudas, or a cute little nurse shark. In other sections, you might see some conch and sea snails or other small fish.  In the mangroves look above for egrets, herons, or birds of prey.

Check out the mangroves with a kayaking tour of Geiger Key.  Click here to book.

Photo from Flickr – Bureau of Land Management

Snorkeling the Coral Reefs

Check out the colorful life below the sea with a snorkeling tour of the Florida Keys coral reefs.  Most the coral reefs are just off the shore and the best way to explore them is to take a boat charter out to visit them.  Unless you are a super avid snorkeling, a 3-hour day trip is more than enough time to explore the reefs.  The reefs are teeming with fish from sergeant majors to yellow snappers.  It isn’t uncommon to see green see turtles or black reef tip sharks among the coral formations.

If you are willing to dive down and get a closer look without touching the coral, you might find some lobsters or eels.  If you should see any Lionfish please report these fish to your guide so he can report it.  Lionfish are an invasive species that are killing many native fish species.

Book your 3-hour snorkeling adventure here.


Sailing Around the Islands

Experience the power of the wind while sailing around Key West in a historical sailboat.  The sailing excursion will take show you some of the famed sight Key West sights from For Zachary Taylor, Mallory Square and Sunset Pier.  Experienced sailors will show you how to make a sailboat fly like the wind or an America Cups Race winner. The boat is a replica of the original America Cup winner.  The Schooner America 2.0 is 105-feet long with 3,6000 square feet of sail.

Depending on your mood, you can do a day sail or a sunset sail.  Find out how to schedule a Key West daya sail or Key West sunset sail.

Photo From Flickr – Haricharan

Deep Sea Fishing

The waters around Key West are full of marine life.  If you are looking for the freshest saltwater fish, consider heading out on a deep sea fishing charter. Depending on the season, Key West has bountiful opportunities to catch marlin, mahi-mahi, grouper, kingfish, snapper, tarpon or tuna.  The charters can take you up to 90 miles from Key West looking for the best fishing grounds.  The day is spent enjoying the water, sunshine and with a little luck a bountiful catch.

The charters can provide rods, reels, and tackles so you don’t have to bring your own. The charter will also handle getting your fishing license.  The guides know the best sites to target your desired fish species.  If you don’t want to clean the fish, the charter will clean your fish for you.  Many restaurants will cook your fish for you.

Most tour operators offer private charters but here is one that will let you book as an individual.

Photo Credit Flickr – theSuperStar

Fort Zachary Taylor State Park

Like Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas National Park, Fort Zachary is a pre-Civil War era fort.  The fort was used during the Civil War by the north to prevent blockage running.  The fort also saw use during the Spanish-American War, World War I and II, and the Cuban Missile Crisis.  There are daily tours of the fort.

Fort Zachary Taylor State Park is more than just a historical fort.  The park is home to one of Key West’s favorite beaches.  The beach offers a chance to get in some swimming and snorkeling. A couple of years ago, Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium and NOAA planted some coral in the swimming area.  This will help build up the reef in the area and add an underwater snorkeling trail.  As well, the park offers a short nature trail.

Photo Credit Flickr – Ben Pettifer

What are your favorite Outdoor Activities in Key West, Florida?

Sick of the Key West nightlife? Looking to do more than drink on Duval Street? Want to explore more of the outdoor adventures opportunities in Key West has to offer? Key West might not be as known for its outdoor adventures but this key is full of opportunities. Check out the 8 best outdoor activities in Key West.

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