So, I took my own advice. If you follow me on Instagram, you are well aware by now that I am officially working overnights, and getting used to the new schedule has been nothing short of a struggle. Realizing that I was really craving some sunlight, I planned a semi-last-minute trip to the place known for the one thing I needed: the Sunshine State!
The Florida Keys had popped into my head maybe a year or two ago, when I was craving Bahamian food—namely conch. And before you face palm, YES, I also looked at plane tickets to the Bahamas back then! At the time, I wasn’t able to make any type of trip like that into a reality, found a super awesome Bahamian restaurant in Atlanta (accurately named Conch Heaven), and visions of clear blue waters were replaced with snowy mountains for the time being.
In my pursuit of American wilderness, southern Florida crossed my radar again as a possible road trip destination teeming with nature—not to mention the fact that Dry Tortugas National Park is so incredibly gorgeous that there’s no way it’s actually a real place, but that’s a story for a different day.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be giving you a more in-depth look at my trip to Florida’s keys and national parks, but first I thought I’d share a more general itinerary of my week!
DAY ONE: Travel Day
For me, this means driving south from Atlanta, GA to Homestead, FL.
FOOD: road snacks—you can pack your own or stop along the way.
LODGING: Long Pine Key Campground at Everglades National Park, my personal favorite out of all my accommodations on this trip!
DAY TWO: Everglades National Park and Overseas Highway
Long Pine Key Campground is about 35 miles from the Flamingo Visitor Center, with lots to see in between. The Pahayokee Overlook and Mahogany Hammock trail are both accessible and great ways to see diverse ecosystems. There are also numerous ponds and launch points for water travel.
The dock is the biggest attraction in Flamingo for those looking for water access, but even if you don’t have a boat, Flamingo is a great place to see manatees and crocodiles!
Heading back toward the park from Long Pine Key Campground, you’ll find Royal Palm. This area is home to the Anhinga Trail and Gumbo Limbo Trail, accessible and filled with alligators!
FOOD: Robert is Here fruit stand is so much more than a fruit stand! You’ll find sandwiches, milkshakes, and local produce at this popular tourist attraction, and it definitely lives up to the hype!
Take the Overseas Highway south toward Key West! There are plenty of places to stop along the way, including the Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center in Key Largo and The Turtle Hospital in Marathon. Or if you spent all of your time in the Everglades that morning, drive straight to your destination and watch the changes in each key as you go.
FOOD: No Name Pub in Big Pine Key is known for their pizza, as well as their walls covered in dollar bills.
LODGING: Boyd’s Key West Campground on Stock Island
DAY THREE: Key West, Florida
For a beach town, Key West is highly diverse and had something for everyone! History buffs can stop by the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum or Truman’s Little White House; beach bums can enjoy Smathers beach; for nature lovers, the West Martello Tower or the butterfly conservatory; and if you want to vacation hard, Duval Street is full of pubs and bars.
FOOD: Kermit’s Key Lime Shoppe for chocolate covered key lime pie on a stick! (Beware: they ship all over the United States and you will never stop wanting this….excuse me while I place an order!)
Hogfish Bar and Grill—walking distance from your campground, you’ll find half-transients/tourists and half-locals. Be prepared for a good time!
LODGING: Boyd’s Key West Campground
DAY FOUR: Dry Tortugas National Park
Get up early to load your camping gear onto the Yankee Freedom Ferry. Don’t forget Dramamine in case the water is choppy like it was for me! (If not for yourself, bring some and share it.)
Once on Garden Key, there are lots of options for adventure—snorkeling, birding, beachin’, fort tours, or exploring on your own. You can also bring your own kayak if you want to be on the water!
FOOD: the ferry serves a continental-style breakfast and lunch on the boat.
You’ll be responsible for feeding yourself while on the island…unless you meet some really awesome campers who offer to feed you instead. (Shout out to my island friends!)
LODGING: Dry Tortugas National Park Campground on Garden Key—cash only. There are other ways to arrive at Dry Tortugas National Park, which I’ll discuss more in the future, but if you want to camp, the ferry is your only option.
DAY FIVE: Dry Tortugas National Park
Enjoy the morning of peace and quiet before the ferry arrives. Whatever activities you didn’t do yesterday—now’s your chance. I spent my first day exploring and [trying to] snorkel, so I caught the tour and checked out the birds on my second day.
FOOD: If you fed yourself lunch yesterday, today is your day to eat on the boat. If not, today you’re on your own for lunch.
Take the ferry back to Key West and drive north back to Homestead, Florida.
FOOD: You’ll be in Key West at dinner time, so you have the option to eat in town. Personally, I was so exhausted from the park that I just ate snacks along the road.
LODGING: Everglades International Hostel in Florida City. You can camp on the grounds or grab a bed in the dorms.
DAY SIX: Biscayne National Park
Spend today in the final national park in the region by taking a tour with the Biscayne National Park Institute. They offer lots of different options including sailing, snorkeling and paddling, as well as an accessible tour of Boca Chita.
I chose the all day snorkeling and paddling tour, and can’t say enough good things about it!
FOOD: Treat yourself to a nice dinner for your final evening of vacation at Black Point Ocean Grill. Just north of the park, this marina restaurant is good for fresh fish and ambience.
Option One—Everglades International Hostel in Florida City.
Option Two—take Tamiami Trail west and stay at a campground in Big Cypress National Preserve.
DAY SEVEN: Travel Day
If you chose to stay in Florida City, you have the option to spend your morning revisiting the Everglades or Biscayne National Park. You could also drive into Miami and see the city.
If you drove to Big Cypress National Preserve, you could check out the Oasis Visitor Center, bike to the observation tower in Shark Valley, or continue west to the Gulf Coast in Everglades National Park.
Gauge your morning activity based on how much time you have before you need to catch your flight or begin driving north.
I did none of this, and drove north on I-95 to Savannah, GA, got dinner with my bestie, and took a nap on her couch before heading home.
Stay tuned for a closer look at my week long escape to paradise!