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With winter approaching and freezing temperatures at home it seemed like the ideal time to cycle the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail. This 106.5 mile Rail-Trail offers a scenic tropical bicycling adventure without leaving the continental United States.
The trail runs on Henry Flagler’s old railroad from mile marker 106 in Key Largo to mile marker 0 in Key West, Florida parallel to US Route 1. While more than 75 miles of the rail-trail were paved, several large sections of the trail and bridges were recently damaged by hurricane Irma. Unfortunately, much of the damage has not been repaired yet. As a result, cyclists are forced on to the roadway on bike lanes or narrow shoulders with the usual road debris and hazards. I did experience a flat.
So, riders beware! Although this trail is classified as a rail trail, it is not for the faint of heart when it comes to riding on the road. Expect a lot of road cycling on a busy highway with cars and large trucks speeding by alongside of you. In addition, the trail continually changes from side to side along US Route 1 forcing cyclists to cross the highway.
My wife and I took the trip together and really enjoyed it. We started at Key Largo by parking our vehicle (free of charge with advance arrangements) at the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce/Visitor's Center. We unloaded our bikes here and started at 6 AM pedaling south from mile marker 106. We were in Key West at 4 PM. Other than a few blinding rainstorms, the trip was uneventful. We enjoyed an extra day and night in Key West, then headed north. Knowing that wind conditions are tougher going north, we planned the return trip in 2 days - smart planning! 50 miles into the 20-25 mph winds was all we wanted to tackle in one day. All along the way, you'll find great little restaurants, shops, etc. On the way north, we decided not to tempt our fate a second time on the 7 mile bridge. Here's a secret...the Lower Keys has a bus service with stops scattered all throughout the Keys. Buses have bike racks on them, and for just a few bucks you can put your bike on the bus and ride across the 7 mile bridge, or through any other areas that you wish not to bike. One more tip...we took a long time in advance studying Google Earth satellite and street views to get a good idea of what we were up against. Very good tool to help you see the bike path, bridges, etc.
I was pleased to also see a bit of construction going on as well on the bridges. Yes, several of the bridges are closed as other posts have pointed out, but it's all about finding the funds for these infrastructure projects. I will look forward to the day when the trail is complete and bikers can be totally separate from traffic.
All in all, it was a great 212 mile trip (less 10 miles on the bus!)...if you like biking in a tropical environment, this may be the trail for you.
This is my first time biking the Overseas Heritage Trail and I normally don't bike anywhere besides dedicated bike trails. I biked the trail on Thu/Fri April 20-21.
I had my wife drop me off in Key Largo on day 1 and I biked to Marathon. The bike trail and lanes were really well thought out and the few times I had to cross the street really were not a big deal. Just waited for an ebb to the traffic and easy peasy. I was happily surprised at how wide the bike lanes were.
Day 2 started with biking over the 7-mile bridge and for the most part of this ride, I rode on the oncoming side of the road. This part of the ride did not have as many miles of dedicated bike trails and a number of the pedestrian bridges were closed forcing me to bike over the bridges. I had no issues with this as there was more than enough space (4-6+ ft) keeping me away from cars. There were a number of sections of this part of the trail where I had to ride on the road/curb but for the most part, I typically had a 4+ ft curb. My preference is to ride against oncoming traffic (on the curb or bike lane) as I feel if someone swerves off the road, I at least will see it and have time to get out of the way. I made sure to keep a blinking light on the front and rear of the bike and the two times I saw a car start swerving onto the curb, they immediately corrected as I assume they saw me and my blinking light. Both drivers had their cell phone in their hand as they passed.
I used the comments on this site to prepare for the ride and hope my comments provide help for others. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip and most likely will bike the entire trip in one day the next time.
My wife and I completed the Florida Keys trail in late January, 2017. We did the ride in four days while enjoying stops to various Keys for the evenings. It was a great experience as we concluded our trip with two days in Key West. However, like many have reviewed on this site, expect a lot of road biking with car zooming around you. Overall I would estimate road cycling at about 80-85% with the remainder being nice trails for bikers/walkers. My wife is a bit hesitant for doing rides on roads. The good news is she is glad she did it...however if she had known the road activity she would have passed on this trip. The following recaps our trip for your consideration:
-Rented the bikes from All Keys Cycles in Key Largo. Nice guys with older but very well conditioned bikes. Bikes came with a tube and CO2 pump. It was needed as we did get one flat. All Keys Cycles picked up our bike in Key West. Bikes are hybrids, highly recommended. Don't suggest road bikes unless you stay on the road 100%.
-First day biked from Key Largo to Cheeca Lodge in Islamorada. Very nice resort with reasonable prices. Highly recommend. We stopped for a drink at Marker 88, nice stop with great views. About 22 miles this day.
-Day two Islamorada to Marathon. Longer ride around 35 miles. We wanted to get to Marathon to take on 7 Mile Bridge early in the morning. Stop in to Angler and Ale for lunch on Duck Key-awesome. In Marathon stayed at Tranquility Bay Resort. Nice resort with a bar great views of the gulf.
-Day Three, started at sunrise to take on 7 Mile Bridge. Start early for less traffic. There was still a significant amount of traffic with a narrow bike lane. No issues, the fastest my wife went all week. :) Destination was Ramrod Key, Looe Resort, about 22 miles. We got there around 10a, room unavailable until 3pm. Very little to do in lower keys unless you are a fishermen or diver. We are neither. Nice folks with "retro" accommodations.
-Day Four, destination Key West. Great ride from Ramrod Key, mostly trail with a few surprises of trail endings...then back on Highway 1. Around a 30 mile ride. Stayed at Saint Hotel an Autograph Selection hotel of Marriott. Used my points. Great location on Eaton street and a secret exit for Duvall street. Highly recommended. We enjoyed a couple days and drinks in Key West with no more biking.
-Saturday walked over to Enterprise to pick up our rental car for a day. Drove to Ft. Lauderdale airport.
In sum, a great experience. If you are comfortable on the road, a Highway...go for it. We are glad we did but wouldn't do it again. BTW, you go over 43 bridges.
Lets continue to help Rails To Trails so maybe some dollars can be allocated in advancing the Keys Trail.
I just completed the ride from Key Largo to Key West for the 2nd year in a row and this year a friend joined me. We both are experienced bike riders who ride about 2000-3000 miles a year in our home states of MA and NY. We enjoyed the ride, but have a few concerns relative as to why the signage is very limited. Also, I'm asking the same question that others have asked in reviews - why are the some of the rebuilt bridges for bikers and walkers closed and there are no signs to let you know this until you get to the bridge (many times having to cross the road) and find them locked. This happened four times during the trip before we decided to stay o the the left hand side, riding facing traffic for the last 25 miles to Key West (knowing that all the bridges are on the Northbound side). More signage to alert bikers of bridges that are closed would make this ride much safer.
We did the complete ride and rode across all bridges including the 7 mile bridge with no problems. However, everyone should consider the wind conditions, especially when riding over the 7 mile bridge. If it's too windy, avoid it until a calmer day. We had no tire problems and my wife dropped us off at the starting point each day and then picked us up. We averaged 25-35 miles a day with 2 - 3 hours of riding time a day. If we do this again, we will do it in 3 days - we are 70 years old and had no problem with the ride.
We hope that the FDOT will prioritize safety for this trail for everyone. Proper signage is most important as this keeps bikers from crossing the road when it's not necessary.
This trail goes through one of the most unique and beautiful parts
of the U.S. and we enjoyed riding over the bridges to see the amazing views of the water. Happy and safe biking!
I pedaled from Fort Clinch to Key West along route 1 and A1A last week. I've heard about unsafe conditions along the Overseas Heritage Trail, but found this not to be true. The Florida DOT is doing an amazing job building roads with trails and side paths all along my trip. Florida could become one of the top states for bicycling. If you don't want to ride the slower paths, only the streets, then I guess there is more danger from traffic than I encountered on my slower ride using sidewalks and paths when avaiable.
When you are pedaling to the Keys from Florida City or Homestead DO NOT use Card Sound Road. US1 is very safe with a wide shoulder bike path. I am trying to get Google Maps to direct bikers to US1 but have not had any success.
Our group of 8 riders was very excited to ride this trail. We've always emphasized water-based activities when in the Keys, so this would be a totally different kind of trip. Let me preface my remarks by saying we are all experienced road riders. We commute by bike, ride Rail Trails, tour country roads, etc. My husband and I have been all over with our road tandem, including the Blue Ridge Parkway, Skyline Drive, and Northern Ireland. We started our ride in Key Largo and rode to Key West, then back (total 225 miles in 5.5 days). Not really sure this can be considered a Rail Trail experience. Let me first start with the pros: The scenery is beautiful, there are plenty of places along the way for eating, drinking, sight-seeing, and lodging, and certain off-road sections are wonderful. Now the cons. The trail is constantly changing sides of the road, forcing cyclists to cross busy US1. We decided it was safer to ride in the bike lane rather than crossing the road in most cases (exceptions being the Long Bridge and Old Dixie Highway). The ride down was easier because of the wind at our backs, and even the Seven Mile Bridge wasn't too bad since it didn't take that long to get across. However, the ride from south to north (or west to east) has the better trail. More of the off-the-road trail is on the east side of the highway. The Seven Mile Bridge coming back was the most terrifying bike riding we've ever done! Not only is the shoulder (not an explicit bike lane) more narrow than most of the other bridges, but the speed limit is 55 mph. In my opinion, there's no need for the speed limit to be over 45 ANYWHERE in the Keys, and should mostly be 35 mph. Another issue we had was that most of the bridges had adjacent, intact bridges alongside for pedestrians and bicyclists, but for some unknown reason they were closed! Perhaps the bridges have been deemed unsafe, but to be riding along, and all of a sudden the trail ends, with no paved access back to the highway, is ridiculous. Then to return to the trail after the bridge, again we were forced to off-road it through grass and gravel. Several times we would cross the highway to get to the pedestrian bridge only to find it was gated closed. We suffered six flats all together during this ride. All in all we had a fun trip but would not recommend this for novices. Certain sections were wonderful, truly off the road and separated with vegetation, or the old highway, or even a smooth path. But a lot of the trail was no more than a glorified sidewalk (especially through the "towns" where we were competing with cars entering and exiting businesses--highly dangerous). Perhaps in a few years the pedestrian/bicycles bridges will be open and the ride will be better. But for us, we've checked this off our bucket list and there's no need to do it again.
We just finished riding on the Heritage trail May 2016.. Several tips to make it more enjoyable. Go only from Key Largo to Key West. Riding South to North is more difficult because of the wind. We stayed at a great hotel in Key Largo called Marina del Mar Resort. Great views, tiki bar and pool. You can also leave your car there for several days and rent a van from Key West to Key Largo for the return trip. Go to dinner at The Fish House for the best seafood in the Keys especially Yellowtail snapper in lemon sauce. Then go to Jimmie Johnson's restaurant called the Big Chill for cocktails and nice sunset. Both are only a 5 minute drive from hotel heading north. Leave at 6am the next morning and ride 46 miles to Marathon and stay at the Holiday Inn Express. This is very close to the start of the Seven Mile Bridge. Travel the next day 56 miles to Key West. 60-70% of the trail is a dedicated bike trail and 30-40% is on US 1 South. There is a lot of sharp debri on the seven mile bridge which is the only time we got a flat tire. Bring an extra tube and CO2 cartridge. We only passed one bike shop on the way down visible from the roads so be prepared. Bike path is only 4 ft wide on the 7 mile bridge. There are only a few places to eat along the way so bring plenty of water. While in Key West take a sunset powered catamaran with a company called Fury. Ask for the boat with the band. Also take a 2 hr high speed ferry to The Dry Tortugas(Ft. Jefferson) Great tour but snorkeling is average. Guided tour of the Hemmingway house was excellent. I would also take the Trolley guided hop on hop off ride in Key West. I would only go from Key Largo to Key West but not the opposite way. Overall it was a great trip but trails are not as good as your routine rails to trails but it is worth doing once especially if you have never been to the Keys. Hope this is helpful.
I just returned from my second camping/biking trip in the Keys. This year I planned to ride the entire distance from Key Largo to Key West both ways. I had three days to accomplish this, a tight schedule and a lofty goal for a 71 year old man. Being all alone, I planned on riding a section, then turning around and riding back to my truck, then driving to the next section. I planned on returning to my camp site each evening.
I Arrived at Long Key State Park early to set up my camp and then ride a 24 mile loop around Long Key before dark. The Next morning I began where I left off south, and rode 36 miles to Key Largo and 36 miles back. I had to ride some of the way on the hi-way shoulder, but I never encountered anyplace where it was too narrow for my Catrike.
The next two days I rode several shorter sections totaling 50 miles each day. I skipped over the 7 mile bridge and two other long bridges and two other short stretches where the shoulder was just too narrow, one on Upper Sugerloaf Key and one on Big Coppet Key. Overall I found the trail an improvement over last year and I expect it will improve again before I come next spring. On my second day I watched a crew laying a section of new trail on Little Torch Key and the next day I made fresh tracks on it.
The people I encountered were extremely pleasant, especially in Marathon and Key West, where I rode around a bit on the city streets. I can't tell you how many "thumbs up" my Catrike and I received from drivers even as I impeded their movement.
In all I rode 193.6 miles, spent 14.6 hours peddling and averaged 13.27 MPH...
What follows are some reflections for casual bikers on biking the Keys slowly (4 days) from Key Largo to Key West. My wife and I are in our 60's. This was our first significant bike trip outside of 15 mile day trips on rails-to-trails trails near out home in Western Pennsylvania. I will include some of the logistical details such as getting a bus or taxi across 7-Mile Bridge at Marathon, and catching a bus (buses actually) from Key West to Key Largo. If you have questions after reading this, or would like dining and lodging recommendations, please contact me (joelw.cannon at gmail). I benefitted greatly from Bob Youker's advice (another resource whose comments appear on this site), and am happy to helping others in the same way.
First some general observations. I expect that the trail is unique in that almost all of it lies along Highway 1, a busy, noisy highway that is 4 lanes wide for most of the way. Those expecting something like the quiet Rails-To-Trails rides elsewhere may be disappointed. This is a function of the Keys' geography. In many spots, the land will extend 50 yards or less to either side of the highway. There is no place to put a trail away from the road. Despite the noise, it proved to be a pleasant February ride for us as we left snow and winter behind, and enjoyed the ocean, Palm Trees, etc. Most of the trail is right along the road and it crosses multiple times (with patience, we had no trouble crossing -- but if not patient, these crossings will be dangerous), I suspect that we never waited more than a minute for a sufficient break in traffic for an easy crossing. There are several short ~1-5 mile stretches where the trail is separate from the road, or where there are quieter sections of parallel roads. There are also nice parks in which to quietly explore the Keys ecology.
Several comments I read before embarking had me worried about flat tires. We had no flats and and encountered few of the problematic rocks the comments mentioned. I suspect the people who had these sorts of troubles were serious bikers with road bikes who chose to ride on the highway shoulder. We rented hybrids in Key Largo (at All Keys Cycle). The bike trail winds a bit and is probably too slow for serious bikers.
The trail is on the order of 90% finished. There is a wide shoulder in several sections where it is not finished. The principal exceptions are the bridges, some of which have relatively narrow (4 -6 feet) shoulders. Others have nice wide shoulders that make riding comfortable. In some cases, there are parallel bike and pedestrian bridges. Occasionally we encountered bike/pedestrian bridges that appeared to be complete and ready, but had not been opened. In others, a little closer observation revealed that the parallel bridges had decayed and clearly would have been dangerous had they been open. Perhaps because I have had more experience riding with traffic while growing up in rural Oregon and while commuting by bicycle in traffic while living in San Diego, riding on the shoulder of the bridges or the sections of the road that required it did not bother me. Riding on the shoulders did bother my wife, who commented that, "It will be a great trail 10 years from now when the trail is completely finished," and expressed her desire not to ride the trail again until it is finished. I expect most casual cyclists will want to take a taxi or bus across Seven Mile Bridge (on the lower Keys side of Marathon). The cheapest option if you can get it is to catch the Key West Transit Lower Keys Shuttle, which has a bike rack on the front. Unfortunately, there was only 1 bike spot available when the bus appeared so I had to call a Taxi, which took me across the bridge for $20. I believe 2 of the 4 Marathon taxis have bike racks. On the plus side, the views from the bridges are stunning if you can relax enough to look around.
If you travel in February as we did, you will want to make reservations and make them at least several weeks, preferably a month, before traveling. We managed to get all our reservations 3 weeks before leaving, but it was tight. Be prepared to spend money on lodging. With one exception, we found we had never paid so much for so little -- we were surprised that the Lower Keys were as expensive as Key West.
If you are used to frequenting Starbucks or high-end coffee shops, you may find the Upper and Middle Keys a throwback to a different time. I discovered that if you pass a coffee shop, you are probably not going to find another for some time. Two exceptions were a Bistro in Islamarada, whose proprieter was a French immigrant, and Baby's Coffee on or near Sugarloaf Key. The Cuban Coffee shops also offer a pleasant if sweet alternative.
Trip Details: We took All-Keys Shuttle from Ft. Lauderdale airport (be sure to make reservations) to All Keys Cycle in Key Largo ($40/person), where we rented our bikes and pedaled to our Motel. We stayed multiple nights at several places. The biking days included:
Day 1: Key Largo to Islamarada (17.5 miles)
Day 2: Islamarada to Marathon (31.5 mies)
Day 3: Marathon to Sugarloaf Key (28 miles, plus 7 miles taxi across Seven Mile Bridge)
Day 4: Sugarloaf Key to Key West (16 miles)
After a few days in Key West, we caught the Key West Transit Lower Keys Shuttle near the start of its route ($1.50 for seniors). Get off The Lower Keys Shuttle at the K-Mart in Marathon (Mile 50). From there, we caught the Miami-Dade Shuttle, which cost $2.65 -- that may be discounted for being a senior). No bike rack, but the bikes were stowed in the luggage compartment in the bus and, based on my conversation when I called to get the schedule, and make sure we could get our bike's on, they carry bikes regularly. Since the Lower Keys Shuttle carried only 2 or 3 bikes (depending on the bus), it was a bit stressful waiting to see if we could get our bikes on the shuttle. We caught the bus at what was nearly the first stop (near the post office in the historic district). I believe the bus starts from Key West Transit's office. If that is the case, I might be inclined to pedal there next time to reduce the chances of not being able to use the bike rack.
Some of the nice side trips we took, were to Pennekamp and Dagny Johnson State Parks in Key Largo. Long Key State Park had a great nature trail showing the ecology of the Keys (so did Pennekamp). Sombrero Beach Park in Marathon is another little gem. There is burned wooden bridge on Sugarloaf Key that we learned about from two locals. It was off the beaten path and made a pleasant side trip out through the woods and channels. Geiger Key Marina also provided a nice side trip. We also enjoyed pedaling off the highway to look at some of the neighborhoods.
Two nice places to depart from and ride on a quiet road parallel to the highway include Old Route 4A on Plantation Key, which you get on by staying left as you come of the Tavernier Creek Bridge, and Old Route 4A again in Islamarada, which you get on by turning left at Chesapeake Resort.
Call (305-853-3571) or email the Florida Overseas Heritage Trail office and get a current map. The double-wide map is nice for planning using on your trip. You will also probably want to link to the on-line version: https://www.floridastateparks.org/park-documents/Florida-Keys/map
A somewhat out-of-date, but still useful guide, prepared in 2011 is here: http://www.dep.state.fl.us/gwt/state/keystrail/pdf/SOUTHBOUND.pdf It seems to be an orphaned site which is difficult to find using search engines. Hopefully this link will stay active. Much more of the trail from 7-Mile Bridge into Key West has been finished since the guide was produced.
For side trails: http://www.dep.state.fl.us/gwt/state/keystrail/bike_trails.htm
The 2014 Rails-to-Trails magazine article that piqued our interest in the ride: http://magazine.railstotrails.org/resources/magflipbooks/2014_winter/index.html
You can get a large folded map of the Keys with lots of detail for $7.99 at http://www.kappamapgroup.com/
It appears Florida DOT is removing part of the heritage Trail on marathon key
How disappointing! It appears the DOT is going to remove a full half mile of the trail that is already established! Making an extra car lane out of it - I suppose to support new development on Somberro Road (a developer wants to tear out more natural treed area and put in 50 plus units - so I guess they need to make the road wider for cars too!).
WORK TO BE PERFORMED:
South of 33 Street/MM 48.70 to North of 37 Street/MM 49.03
• Repaving and restriping the road
• Widening the roadway to add a two-way turning lane
• Modifying the intersection at 33 Street from a T intersection to a four sided intersection
• Installing new drainage, curb and gutter, and sidewalks
• Updating signage and pavement markings
• Designating the outside travel lanes to be shared with bicycles known as a “sharrow”
• Removing the existing Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail on the north side and removal of the asphalt sidewalk on the south side
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