Marathon to Key West may only be 45 miles apart, with a straight through drive time of around an hour, but the following stops should definitely be on your itinerary! The Florida Keys as a road trip is pretty short as far as road trips go, spanning just 112 miles of US Route 1, however it makes up for it in uniqueness. Also known as the ‘Overseas Highway’, the majority of the road is exactly that, a road over the sea! The highway crosses 29 of the Florida Keys islands which are connected by 42 bridges!
Disclosure: Some attractions in this post where hosted, as always options are my own.
Marathon to Key West
Marathon Key: The Turtle Hospital
The first stop on your Marathon to Key West road trip should be a visit to the Turtle Hospital! Marathon Florida is home to the first hospital of its kind in the whole WORLD. The guys at this sea turtle rehabilitation centre do an AMAZING job of raising awareness of the species as well as rescuing them and nursing them back to health.
The hospital is open daily and run 90 minute educational tours, giving visitors a look at some of the behind the scenes workings of the hospital. It’s open 7 days a week between 9am – 6pm (last tour at 4pm).
They handle all types of ‘turtle problems’. From injuries caused by humans, such as turtles that have been struck by a boat and ones that have swallowed waste (plastic etc) to natural problems like Fibropapillomatosis tumours and turtles that have been caught by changing sea temperatures during the migration season.
The Turtle Hospital, Marathon Florida
Hundreds of turtles pass through their doors each year, with most of them being re-released back into the wild. There are a few permanent residents on-site that due to their injuries, wouldn’t be able to survive in the wild, but are able to live a happy, healthy life at the centre!
There’s so much to do in Marathon Florida, you can find out more here.
Little Duck Key: Seven Mile Bridge
Bridge to Key West
Seven Mile Bridge is the longest bridge in the Florida Keys, connecting Marathon Key to Little Duck Key. The current bridge, which opened in 1982, is actually just under seven miles long. The original ‘Seven Mile Bridge’ runs alongside the current vehicle bridge and is open to pedestrians and cyclists.
When driving along the bridge, there is nowhere to stop and get out. The best place to park up is at the Little Duck Key public boat ramp. If you are driving from Marathon to Key West, the car park will be on the right hand side of the road.
Here you’ll be able to get out and walk along the pedestrian part of the bridge. This is also a popular fishing spot. They even have an annual bridge run where the Seven Mile Bridge gets closed to all public traffic for just over an hour while the race takes place!
For drone fliers wanting to take aerial pictures of Seven Mile Bridge, this is also the best place to send it up. The city of Marathon is a no fly zone, even outside of the Marathon airport radius, so the Little Duck Key end of the bridge is the only option!
Bahia Honda Key/Spanish Harbor Key: Bahia Honda Rail Bridge
A short way along from the Seven Mile Bridge you’ll come across the remains of the Bahia Honda Rail Bridge. I would suggest the best place to see it is from is Bahia Honda Key State Park on Bahia Honda Key (left hand side of the road heading southbound). There’s a car park at Calusa Beach and you can walk along a small section of the old bridge from this side.
I actually stopped in a small roadside parking area on the left hand side of the road, just as you reach Spanish Harbor Key. You’ll see the old rail bridge on your left as you drive over the new bridge. The responsible person in me wouldn’t recommend this track though.
(Looking back at Bahia Honda Key)
The history of the Bahia Honda Rail Bridge (along with the original Seven Mile Bridge) is pretty interesting. For a long time, the Florida Keys could only be reached by boat. Henry Flagler, the founder of Standard Oil, paid for and built the Miami to Key West stretch of the Florida East Coast Railway. The Overseas Railway opened in 1912.
Along with the Overseas Railway, he also planned to build a luxury hotel in Key West exclusively for the passengers of the railway to stay at once they reached the Southernmost point of the USA. Henry Flagler died before the completion of the hotel, but in 1920 the Casa Marina Waldorf Astoria was opened, sticking to his ‘visions’ as much as possible. The hotel is now operated by Hilton.
In 1935 a large portion of the railway line was destroyed by a hurricane. The railway was never repaired. Instead the bridge was converted into the Overseas Highway for vehicle traffic instead. When the new road bridge opened in the 1980’s, the old rail bridge was no longer used. Two parts of the old bridge were removed to help boat traffic to pass under the bridge, which is what can still be seen today!
Big Pine Key: Key Deer
Through a section of the Lower Keys you’ll come across road signs warning you to watch your speed due to the deer population. In some areas the speed limit even lowers at night to help protect the deer!
Key Deer are found only in the Lower Keys (mainly between Big Pine Key and Sugarloaf Key) in Florida. They are the smallest species of white-tailed deer in North America and are classed as endangered.
With all the warning signs around, I was really hoping that I’d be able to see one. I was also terrified driving this stretch because I didn’t want to be responsible for killing one if it ran out in front of my car!
Deciding that the best bet would be to try out the ‘National Key Deer Refuge‘ centre, which turns out to be shut on a Sunday (open Monday to Saturday, 10am – 3pm), AND we ended up driving right past it anyway, we carried along one of the ‘back roads’ hoping to come across one.
Just as we went to give up and turn around in the small parking area for the ‘Blue Hole’, there were 2 deer right in front of us just chilling on the path! I got out and stood by my car, just watching it from a little way back and then it decided to come over, have a sniff of me and then trot off onto the other side of the road. It wasn’t bothered by us at all, didn’t run away or anything!
Ramrod Key: Boondocks Mini Golf
Yes I have a mini golf obsession, I can’t help it and if I find a course when I travel, I just have to stop and play. So it was no surprise that I stumbled across the only mini golf course in the Lower Florida Keys (and the Southernmost course in the USA)!
Boondocks has been in business for over 25 years, starting life as an ice cream shop. It now claims to be the largest Tiki Bar in the Florida Keys, with a large food menu (including a ‘pet menu’…a menu FOR pets, you don’t buy/eat pets…), live music EVERY night and of course the mini golf course! As of February 2019 Boondocks will also be home to a Saturday morning farmer’s market.
(Me – the mini golf champion, with my score card to prove it!)
There is also a concession stand for quick snacks and drinks while playing mini golf. I had a frozen chocolate dipped Key Lime Pie on a stick!
Boondocks is open 7 days a week. The mini golf is open from 10am until 10pm with the restaurant and bar opening from 11am until 11pm.
I have a wholeeeee guide purely for all the things to do in Key West which you can find below:
If you’ve made the road trip along the Overseas Highway, a good thing to see in Key West is the Route 1 Mile Marker 0. A lot of places along the Overseas Highway will display their mile marker (MM) location!
The Conch Tour Train also goes by the Casa Marina hotel (‘Henry Flagler’s’ hotel), which is where I first learnt a little bit about the Overseas Railway and the history of Key West.
If you’re staying in Key West overnight, the Ibis Bay Beach Resort is a good option for somewhere to stay. The hotel is located JUST over the bridge into Key West, making it really easy to find. They have free parking and a free shuttle bus with 2 downtown drop off locations that leaves the hotel on the hour.
Frequently Asked Questions
How far is Marathon FL from Key West: Approximately 50 miles
Marathon FL to Key West Drive Time: Around 1 hour with no stops
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