Tucked away in Islamorada, just off the Overseas Highway, you’ll find a Florida State Park full of history, poison trees, and coral reef fossils! The Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park is a great little stop on your drive through the Keys, a fun excursion if you’re staying in Key Largo or Islamorada, and an interesting site for kids, adults, history lovers, scientists, and sea lovers alike! Here is everything you need to know before your visit.
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- Northbound or Southbound on the Overseas Highway: Southbound
- Parking: Yes
- Restrooms: Yes
- Fee: $2.50 per person
- Time: 1-1.5 hours
What is a Fossil Reef?
Basically, this is limestone with fossilized imprints of coral reef dating back hundreds, or even thousands, of years. They call this “Key Largo limestone,” and in the early 20th century, it was quarried and used to help build the Overseas Railroad. After the 1935 hurricane that destroyed the railroad, the stone was quarried for decorative stonework that you’ll find throughout the Keys. In fact, the Hurricane Monument in Islamorada is made of this stone.
Find the book about the 1935 hurricane that inspired me to visit Islamorada:
Your 2021 Travel-inspired Reading List
What to Bring With You
It’s hot at this state park, and there’s not a whole lot of shade to go around! You’ll want to bring water, sunscreen, bug repellent, and a hat, but you’ll also want to make sure you’re wearing a solid pair of close-toed walking shoes. Before you visit, make sure you have the essentials:
More here: The Ultimate List of Hiking Tips
Parking and Entry Fee
There is a small, gravel parking lot at the entrance of this State Park. When you walk toward the entry, you will see an honor pay kiosk. The price is $2.50 per person, which you can place inside the provided envelope, tear off the ticket stub from the envelope, and place the envelope in the kiosk. Put the ticket stub in your car, or keep it with you if you are visiting on foot or on a bicycle.
The visitor center and ticket window were both closed due to COVID when we visited, but there was someone there to help if we needed it. If you have questions when you arrive, don’t hesitate to ask. Bathrooms are available, but masks were required inside when we visited (not outside at the State Park).
Also helpful: Tips for Driving in the Florida Keys
Exploring the Park
There are several tails at this park, which all meet up, and they total about 1.5 miles altogether. We hiked them all because we wanted to see everything (of course). There are pamphlets available to help you know what you’re looking at on each trail. There are also clearly marked and color-coded signposts to help you navigate the trails.
A note on terminology: a “hammock” as seen here, is not a lounger in a tree. It’s a canopy of trees creating a habitat for local wildlife and native plants. Beware of the “Poisonwood Trees!” But don’t worry too much–they’re well-marked!
What to See
The quarry itself is massive. You can see the lines where the drills they used would make holes in the stone to make it easier to cut. Some of the tools and machinery are also on display.
Taking an up-close look at the coral fossils is amazing. They’re so well-defined, even after all these years! But what was fascinating to me was that nature still found a way to thrive in such a hot, rock-hard, human-altered environment.
More here: 5 Ultimate Habits of Flexible Travelers
Want more? Check out the Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park website, and take a look at all my posts about Islamorada and the Keys on my United States Page!
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