Do you enjoy taking the path less travelled? We’ll agree there is something special about discovering a hidden gem that not many others get to experience. If you are planning a trip to the Florida Keys but want to steer clear of the more commercialized islands, you’ll be thrilled to discover some of these best-kept secret islands in the Keys.
Upper Sugarloaf Key
Upper Sugarloaf Key may have a residential area, school and shops but much of the island is covered in untouched wilderness. Amongst the thickets of trees and bog streams, you’ll find ancient ruins up to 4 feet-tall thought to have been built by the Caloosa aboriginal tribes that once inhabited the area. Some of the top activities to do on the island include hiking and kayaking through the unspoiled mangroves. The marina also offers fishing charters for those looking to cast a line.
Once you’re done working up an appetite head to Mangrove Mamas for a bite. With a Caribbean flair, the restaurant serves island dishes like conch fritters, seafood quesadillas and spicy fish tacos.
Tarpon Belly Key
In the 1960s, a man attempted to turn Tarpon Belly Key into a shrimp farm but his mission soon failed despite his efforts. The rubble he left behind can still be found on the island along with an abandoned truck. Today the island is privately owned and frequented by locals who frequent the island for picnics, barbecues, kayaking and camping.
There is also a beautiful coral reef just off the beach, which makes this secret island in the Keys a favorite snorkeling spot. Getting there can be quite a chore however, so booking a private tour is the best way to see Tarpon Belly Key. Private tour operators offer a Paddle Boat Adventure in a motorized kayak, getting you to your destination in style. The trip includes lunch, snorkeling gear and bottled water.
Lignumvitae Key is now known as Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park but was once home to wrecker Jacob Housman and thereafter a small pineapple and watermelon farm. In 1919, a wealthy scientist bought the island and built the large caretakers home that now serves as the island’s visitor information center. The island is covered in tropical hardwood hammock with walking paths being the top attraction. The island is only accessible by boat or kayak so is a truly secluded island to explore.
In the 1830s, Indian Key had a thriving community with a hotel, general store and warehouses being built on the island. However by 1840, the town was attacked and burnt to the ground, with all who survived abandoning the island. It has been uninhabited ever since. Today, Indian Key is a State Park with a number of nature trails, swimming areas and an observation tower to enjoy. The ruins have been left untouched, now covered in thick vines and jungle foliage. The hiking paths follow much of what was the town’s original street grid.
Kayaking to the island from nearby Robbie’s Marina is the most popular way of getting there. You’ll get swept up in the mystery of the island from the moment you approach its mangrove-lined shore. It is one of the best secret islands in the Keys for adventure-seekers.
In the 1970s, Lois Key was a base for monkey breeders who sold the animals off to medical research facilities. This was put to a stop in 1998 when the operation was ordered to be shut down due to the mangroves being destroyed by the monkeys and the water polluted by their excrement. Now, 20 years later, the mangroves have largely recovered and the water is no longer polluted but the island remains uninhabited. It is only accessible by boat tours which depart from nearby Summerland Key.
Hundreds of years ago, Hoagen Key was inhabited by the Calusa tribe but today the island is deserted. Locals kayak to the untouched island regularly and the area is also a popular fishing spot with tarpon inhabiting the waters, making it one of the best secret islands in the Keys for fishing enthusiasts.
If you’re visiting Longboat Key, you will find Greer Island at the northern tip, colloquially known as Beer Can Island. The small island is accessible by boat or at low-tide, you can even walk across. If you do walk across, be cognizant of the tides because you won’t be able to walk back when high tide rolls in! There is a large, secluded beach you can enjoy relaxing on which is also known for being a great spot for shelling. Other than that, locals visit the island for birdwatching, swimming and boating.
Melody Key is one of the best secret islands in the Keys. The island is privately owned and one of very few secluded islands in the Keys that offers accommodation. While only accessible by boat and off-the-grid, don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll be roughing it on Melody Key. The sprawling mansion has a state-of-art solar power system and back-up power to ensure you’re living in luxury for the duration of your stay. Enjoy having the 6-acre island to yourself with the safety of nearby Summerland Key being only a mile off-shore.
While Melody Key is one of the only secret islands in the Keys that you can actually stay on overnight, the other hidden gems are well-worth a day trip. Many of the abandoned islands in the Florida Keys have colorful histories which are interesting to learn more about. It can be fascinating to explore islands where ancient civilizations and tribes once thrived and imagine what their lives there would have looked like. So if you’re ready to escape and head off the beaten path, add these secret islands in the Keys to your list.