Everything You Need to Know about Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park in Islamorada

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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Quick Facts

  • Northbound or Southbound on the Overseas Highway: Southbound
  • Parking: Yes
  • Restrooms: Yes
  • Fee: $2.50 per person
  • Time: 1-1.5 hours
The trails are well-defined, but the gravel and roots make them uneven in some places.
Read more: What to Know Before You Visit the Florida Keys

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.

Coral Reef Fossils
Coral Reef Fossils in the Quarry
1935 Hurricane Monument on Islamorada
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:

Even on the tree-covered trails, there’s not much shade!
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).

Honor Pay Station
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!

Handy map of the trails at the park.
There is plenty of clear signage to help you figure out where to go!
The Poisonwood trees are well-marked!
Read on: 7 Travel Rules You Don’t Know Until Someone Tells You

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.

Check out the remaining machinery used to cut the coral, as well as some left over from the railroad.
The Quarry

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.

Nature finds a way!
These pretty little purple flowers seemed to sprout up from nothing!
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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