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Florida Keys Wilderness

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A man dressed in blue, standing knee-deep in the crystal clear water of the flats, fly fishing.
Library image #589: Flats fishing

Introduction

The United States Congress designated the Florida Keys Wilderness (map) in 1975 and it now has a total of 6,197 acres. All of this wilderness is located in Florida and is managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Description

The wilderness area of the Florida Keys consists of many islands off shore of the main chain of Keys that are bisected by US 1. These islands are administered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as part of National Key Deer Refuge and Key West and Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuges. They protect a seemingly endless expanse of sea, sky, and islands between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean south of Florida's southern mainland coast. Although beaches exist on some of the islands, tangles of mangroves make access to most islands difficult. The Wilderness area consists of all the Marquesas Keys; Mooney Harbor Key; all the Gull Keys; Boca Crande Key; Woman Key; Man Key; Little Mullet Key; Big Mullet Key; Cottrell Key; Archer Key; Mule Key; Barracouta Keys; Joe Ingram Key; Crawfish Key; Sand Key; Rock Key; Eastern Dry Rocks; all the keys west of Key West; Crane Key; Little Swash Keys; Upper Harbor Key; Big Spanish Key; Little Spanish Key; Crawl Key; Little Pine Key Mangrove; Water Key Mangroves; Water Key; Little Pine Key; Horseshoe Keys; West Bahia Honda Key; Mayo Key; Annette Key; Howe Key; Water Keys islands in Sections 14, 15, 23, and 26; Cutoe Key islands in Sections 19, 20, and 21; Johnson Keys islands in Sections 19, 29, 30, and 32; and parts of Raccoon Key.

Access to those islands (above mean high tide) are permitted only with a special use permit, however, you are welcome to use the surrounding waters for boating, fishing and other permitted recreational purposes. Some islands have special buffer zones, and some have regulations regarding use of motors, and speed zones.

Planning to Visit the Florida Keys Wilderness?

Leave No Trace

Overnight camping is not permitted in the wilderness areas of the three refuges in the Lower Florida Keys. The nearest facilities are in Key West. Commerical operators are currently not permitted to access the refuge islands. Access to the islands is by private or rented vessels. Accessing areas above mean high tide require a special use permit. For further information, contact National Key Deer Refuge visitor center, Big Pine Key Plaza, 179 Key Deer Blvd. Big Pine Key, FL. 33043, 305-872-0774, or at keydeer@fws.gov.