Has the drive from Miami to Key West long been on your family bucket list but you’ve never quite made it?
A tropical paradise famous for its dreamy turquoise waters and outdoor adventures in the sun. The southernmost point in continental USA, the Florida Keys offer an exciting mix of state and national parks, beautiful beaches, and lively entertainment.
Whilst not one of the longest road trips in the USA, it’s definitely one of the most beautiful and dramatic.
Time to pull out your planner, here we’re going to talk you through exactly how to plan your Florida Keys road trip with the best attractions and perfect accommodation stops from Miami to Key West.
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What is the Distance Miami to Key West?
The shortest distance from Miami to Key West is 166 miles. The Overseas Highway (Florida City to Key West) section of the journey is about 90 miles long.
The Overseas Highway connects 43 of the nearly 800 islands of the Florida Keys.
You will, of course, want to make plenty of stops along the way which will add to this total distance. A direct drive to the very tip of the Florida Keys from Miami to Key West, without heavy traffic, will take you approximately 3.5 hours.
To help you deal with the “are we there yet” chorus, make use of the prominent Mile Markers that count down to 0 at Key West!
How Long do I Need in the Florida Keys?
This is entirely up to you! You may prefer to choose a central location along the keys and stay for a whole week, just making day trips, or if taking on this itinerary one stop at a time, you could allow at least 3 to 5 days.
We’d suggest splitting your time between the Lower, Middle, and Upper Keys to experience everything that’s on offer.
Best Time of Year to Drive Miami to Key West
The weather in the Florida Keys is warm all year round with a subtropical climate. Expect summer highs around 75 to 90 degrees. The coldest month is January, still tapping in at a mild 74 degrees.
The best time of year to road trip the Florida Keys is Winter and Spring – with the optimal months being April and May when the crowds are lower but before the summer heat feels a little oppressive!
Spring Break is very popular but also crowded and the most expensive time to visit the Florida Keys.
From June to November is Florida’s hurricane season – peaking around late August to October. It’s certainly not impossible to visit at this time, but do expect rain showers and humidity.
The greater issue for family road-trippers is if something does go wrong, it is really quite remote. However, the “good thing” about hurricanes, is you can usually get pretty good advanced information. You should normally get enough warning if storms are severe enough you need to evacuate the area.
Best Stops on a Florida Keys Road Trip
The Florida Keys are well known as a tropical paradise. Though the sandy beaches here aren’t quite as soft and white as other parts of Florida or the Caribbean, it’s still an outdoor-lovers paradise. There are plenty of adventures still to be had in the water and at the many fun roadside stops – making it an ideal family road trip destination.
Use this guide for the best stops in the Florida Keys from Miami to Key West to help plan your family adventure filled with fun in the sun!
Everglades National Park
Before you hit the Florida Keys, your journey south of Miami takes you right to Everglades National Park, one of the most popular national parks on the east coast.
Known for its unique wildlife, Everglades National Park is a must-see when you’re in the south of Florida. Famous for airboat rides it’s the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States, perfect to visit in winter.
Whilst airboat tours with authorized operators are undoubtedly a highlight, they’re not the only way to see and experience this incredible national park. Why not try canoes or kayaks, tram tours, or bike rentals?
Always a great way to start your outdoor adventure when road tripping the Florida Keys with kids.
Got a Fourth Grader in the family? See how you can make this fun and exciting stop for FREE!
As one of the most famed destinations in the area, Key Largo is the perfect tropical paradise to start your trip along the Florida Keys.
Many will want to race straight to Key West, but if you want an escape from hectic city life and you’re interested in diving and snorkeling then Key Largo is the perfect stop for you. We love that there are so many outdoor things to do in Key Largo, along with hidden restaurants and shops to explore.
A visit to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is one of the best things to do in Key Largo. Famously the country’s first undersea park, not only will you get amazing views of the coral reef and tropical fish but you can also see the Christ Of The Abyss statue.
Key Largo is famous for its marinas, tackle shops, and of course, all the amazing diving and snorkeling opportunities – we love that you can snorkel right off the beach at John Pennekamp State Park, or take a tour out to a reef.
Another popular dive spot for advanced divers is Spiegel Grove Shipwreck.
If snorkeling and diving aren’t your thing, then try a glass-bottom boat tour or paddle boarding, or simply enjoy the sunshine under the palm trees of Harry Harris Park & Beach.
Traveling with kids, you’ll want to add to your itinerary a stop in at Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park, a shady 2.4-mile trail full of birds and butterflies.
You can also stop for free (though a small donation is appreciated) at the Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center to learn more about the bird species of the Florida Keys.
Plan to stay at least a night or two in Key Largo before continuing your Miami to Key West journey.
Islamorada is a beautiful stop that covers six of the “Middle Keys” of the Florida Keys.
Here you can enjoy up-close encounters with dolphins and view a real treasure chest from the 16th century at the History Of Diving Museum – a great stop for a slice of Florida Keys history.
Next, head to Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park to see the fossilized coral reef, or stop to shop at one of the many fun and quirky shops around Rain Barrel Village – a great spot for picking up any beach wears you need and souvenirs.
If you’re interested in marine life then the Theater Of The Sea is a must-visit while in Islamorada. Here they offer all kinds of interactive exhibits including swimming with dolphins and meeting sea turtles.
Don’t miss a lunch stop at the Florida Keys Brewing Company! Think not just brews in the garden but fun garden games and live music. There’s also a taco truck making it a great family day out in the sun.
At Mile Marker 67.5, Long Key is a tranquil haven for swimming, kayaking, bird watching or simply relaxing on beautiful shorelines with a picnic at Long Key State Park.
Covering both oceanside and bayside, the area was badly devastated by Hurricane Irma in 2017 but much work has been done to restore the native mangroves and popular ocean camping facilities in the park. Waking up with the views of the turquoise water of the keys will feel like a dream, an ideal stopping point for nature lovers.
You’ll find two hiking trails within the park giving you a chance for close-up encounters with plants and the animals that call the Keys home.
You can bring your own kayak or rent one from the Ranger station to paddle along the beautiful shorelines and see a wide variety of wildlife.
In the Middle Keys, you’ll find one of the lesser-known islands, Grassy Key. Located between Marathon and Islamorada, it is one of the most laid backed and relaxed keys, often overlooked.
Here, you can rent a boat for fishing, and snorkeling and you are only a short drive or boat ride from Marathon if you need any supplies.
Stop by the Dolphin Research Center where they rescue and rehabilitate dolphins. This nonprofit center offers many educational programs including swimming with rehabilitated dolphins.
Make sure to catch the incredible sunset from the beautiful shoreline of Grassy Key.
Marathon is one of the major stops on your Florida Keys journey from Miami to Key West. The city encompasses an impressive 13 small islands and has a more urban feel than some of the other more remote spots.
While it may have a more urban feel, there’s still an incredible range of outdoor activity options including beaches, barrier reefs, spotting loggerhead turtles, and a Natural History Museum.
An incredibly popular stop for families is the Turtle Hospital for a unique opportunity to learn about the process of rehabilitating injured sea turtles. Learn about the different species of turtles that live in the Keys, and the damaging effects of human behavior. Make sure to book these tours in advance as they do book up fast!
Marathon is also known as the sport fishing center of the Middle Keys, for the full experience arrange a charter for deep-sea or reef fishing.
For swimmers, Sombrero Beach is one of the best beaches on the Florida Keys. The beach park has a great playground for kids and you’ll find a few small waves here too. Not so great for snorkelers but perfect for paddling and soft sand – just what you expect of a “normal” Florida beach!
Marathon is also the starting point for walking the Seven Mile Bridge, one of the most scenic and famous parts of the Florida Keys drive. The third longest bridge in the USA connects Knight’s Key, Bahia Honda Key, Big Pine Key, and Duck Key.
Bahia Honda Key
If you are looking for a quiet and secluded family getaway then Bahia Honda Key is perfect for you. The palm-lined beaches, clear turquoise water, and awe-inspiring sunsets will have you relaxed in no time.
This small but exceptional island in the Florida Keys is known for Bahia Honda State Park, which contains the gorgeous Calusa Beach – among the most beautiful in the USA!
One of our favorite stops, the state park encompassing over 500 acres offers some of the best snorkeling and beachcombing in all of Florida. Note, due to the park’s huge popularity, if day-use parking reaches capacity, it will close. Day parking fee $8.
If you’re looking for a bit of adventure try chartering a boat trip to the reef for a snorkeling excursion. Or rent a kayak, paddleboard or snorkeling gear to explore at your own pace.
If you’re visiting in around April/May you may catch the hammerhead shark migration.
Camping is available here at Loggerhead Beach on the Atlantic side and Calusa Beach on the Florida Bay, but do note spots are notoriously hard to come by! Some areas remain closed for rehabilitation.
Big Pine Key
Big Pine Key, located about 30 miles north of Key West, is perfect for those who love nature. One of the larger islands, this Key is full of relaxing water activities such as boating, fishing, scuba diving, and snorkeling. You’ll also find some of the best and freshest seafood on Big Pine Key.
Visit the National Key Deer Refuge where you’ll get to see this miniature species of deer thrive. An endangered species only found in the lower Florida Keys, this is a unique wildlife opportunity, protecting over 400 acres.
Check out the Blue Water Hole, a freshwater lake located in a former quarry if you are interested in spotting alligators and turtles.
Little Torch Key
This lush island gets its name from the torchwood tree and was a frequent fishing destination of President Truman.
If you’re looking for a bit of adventure try exploring the colorful coral reef at Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary.
Explore the downtown area in search of museums and boutiques or that next delicious meal. Little Torch Key is also home to one of the best exclusive luxury resorts in all of the Keys – Little Palm Island Resort And Spa.
Key West is the end of Highway One and by far the most popular spot in the Florida Keys and for good reason!
On your final road trip stop, there are so many things to do in the beautiful and tropical paradise of Key West – a Caribbean island vibe, particularly spring break. It is a beautiful city to get out and tour on foot after your long drive.
Most will start with a visit to Duval Street for museums, souvenir shops, galleries, and cafes. This lively street is also home to some of Key West’s best historical attractions including the Ernest Hemingway Home And Museum (aka the cat museum), Strand Theater, and the Southernmost House.
Check out Mallory Square and lively Old Town Key West for the nightly sunset celebration. Here, entertainers and vendors gather to create a festive atmosphere for visitors enjoying the iconic Key West sunsets.
Kids will love the beautiful Key West Butterfly And Nature Conservancy which provides the unique opportunity to mingle with 60 species of stunning butterflies.
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park is one of the most beautiful beach parks, and a great snorkeling spot, while Rest Beach and Higgs Memorial Beach are great for wildlife spotting
Parking is crazy expensive when you get to Key West so park up at your accommodation. If not touring on foot, the best way to get around Key West is by bike. Another fun and unique way to see the town and learn about Key West’s history is to ride the Conch Train, hear stories about the city and get on and off at different points.
And yes – you simply have to queue up for your turn to have a photo at the Southernmost Point Buoy “home of the sunset”!
Dry Tortugas National Park done
Only accessible by seaplane or boat, this archipelago of seven small islands covering 100 square miles is home to Fort Jefferson, a 19th Century fortification that takes up the entirety of one of the small islands.
Dry Tortugas is a favorite among divers and snorkelers for both its spectacular coral reef, as well as enormous shipwrecks to explore. For the best snorkeling spots make sure to stop at Historic Coaling Pier or Garden Key’s Coral Head.
Park entry is $15USD per person valid for 7 days (free with your 4th Grader Pass, or invest in the America the Beautiful pass). Ferry tickets include entry to the park, whilst arrivals by seaplane need to pay upon arrival or have a pre-paid digital pass.
The Ferry, Yankee Freedom, departs delay from Key West at 8:00 AM and takes approximately 2 hours 15 minutes to reach Fort Jefferson. Your return ferry departs at 3:00 PM.
You can also arrange private tours to the national park with authorized operators from bird watching specialists to snorkeling and diving tours, eco-tours, and guided fishing.
Accommodation in the Florida Keys
We have mentioned a few resorts and hotels along the way but it’s important to note there are all types of accommodation in the Florida Keys. You’ll find everything from resorts to boutique hotels as well as camping grounds and RV parks.
We suggest splitting your accommodation between Lower, Upper, and Middle Keys and spending at least a night in each. You’ll want slightly longer in Key West if you’ll be making the long day trip out to Dry Tortugas too.
- Key West is a walkable and bustling place, full of boutique hotels, whereas Key Largo is more relaxed resorts, kayaking, and snorkeling. Both can be equally incredible, just know what you’re getting, especially when traveling with kids!
- Airbnb or VRBO can be great too for Florida Keys accommodation, but may require a minimum stay; they tend not to work out as economical for a family if you’re just overnighting, once you add cleaning fees and charges, but great if you want to settle somewhere for a week or two.
Camping in the Florida Keys
11 State Parks can be found in the Florida Keys, though only four offer camping –
- Bahia Honda State Park
- Curry Hammock State Park
- John Pennekeamp Coral Reef State Parks
- Long Key State Park
These camping spots should be booked online in advance.
For RVs there are several options, try
More Tips For Road Tripping in Florida
- Want to combine Key West with a Disney trip? Key West is around 6 hours from Orlando. Whilst its a long way with kids in the car, it is doable to get from Orlando to Key West in a day – we’d suggest breaking it up by stopping in Key Largo though, then slowly making your way down the Keys.
- A lot of the Ocean Highway is single lane, this will slow you down, so sit back, relax and take in the views!
- Gas stops can be found frequently en route at most of the larger keys. Larger grocery stores are found on Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, and Key West.
- For a bit of road trip fun, keep your eye out for Wyland Whaling Walls – artworks can be found along the Miami to Key West drive.
- Beaches in the Florida Keys aren’t as pristine as other beaches in Florida, this is not one of the state’s ultimate white sand beach destinations! The waters here are good for snorkeling, fishing, kayaking, and other water sports – but just set expectations if you’re planning a beachy Florida vacation!
- Bugs are an unfortunate problem in the Florida Keys. Take plenty of bug spray and bite treatment with you.
- Never forget an important road trip item again! Use our Ultimate Family Road Trip checklist to prepare for your journey
The Florida Keys is truly a unique part of Florida with a distinct vibe. Far from your typical beach trip to Florida, you will find it culturally enriching and packed full of nature experiences, snorkeling opportunities, and other water adventures. Take your time to absorb the best of the Florida Keys!
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