Visitor Activities

flats pic

We encourage you to get outdoors in the Key West National Wildlife Refuge, you will be amazed at what you'll experience.  



  • Fishing and Boating

    fishing hogfish

    The “backcountry” waters within the boundaries of the Key West NWR contain over 200,000 acres of prime fishing habitat. In fact, these are some of the best waters for saltwater recreational fishing in North America. Visitors come from all over the world to fish here. Saltwater fishing activities in the backcountry areas include recreational hook and line for finfish and lobstering.  From sportfish like tarpon and bonefish, to snappers and groupers, you won't be disappointed.  Make sure you follow Florida saltwater fishing regulations.  

     There are lots of boating opportunities within the boundaries of the Key West NWR. Propeller driven boats, row boats, kayaks, canoes and sailboats are permitted. There are vessel prohibitions that apply to use of personal watercrafts (jet skis), hovercrafts and airboats. There is also no water skiing or pulling of tubes, or other similar devices.

    Know the regulations: Some areas have restricted access and no entry zones marked by buoys. Some areas have idle speed or no-motor zones. For a full list of Wildlife Management Areas within Great White Heron NWR and their regulations, click here.

    Much of the water is shallow, so please be sure to use a gps and/or nautical charts to navigate to avoid damaging shallow seagrass and hard bottom habitats. 

  • Wildlife Viewing and Photography

    wildlife viewing lauren pelican

    Opportunities abound for wildlife viewing in the Great White Heron NWR. We’d suggest bringing along your binoculars and if taking photographs, using a zoom or telephoto lens to get up close without disturbing wildlife.

    The mangrove islands of Key West NWR are home to over 250 species of resident and migratory birds. Birds use the protected mangroves to nest, rest and provide easy access to feeding grounds. The shallow marine waters contain sand, mud and seagrass flats that are used extensively by foraging wading birds. Species diversity and number vary seasonally with winter months hosting the most wading birds, pelicans (white and brown) and shorebirds. Sea turtles, manatees, and dolphins all live within or visit the refuge seasonally. They are commonly spotted, but travel around so much that you aren’t always guaranteed to see them.

    For residents, there is also a newly established refuge photography club (Florida Keys Wildlife Refuges Photography Club) that meets monthly, with monthly field excursions to various places on the refuge and beyond. The park ranger participates in these activities. This club provides a great opportunity to educate visitors and residents about the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges. There is also a newly created Photo Club Facebook page and a photo display at the visitor center. 

    If you are interested in viewing our Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Bird List, you can access it here.  

  • Snorkeling and Diving


    There aren't any specific snorkeling or diving programs offered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the Key West NWR.  There are, however, various private ecotour boats operating within the refuge boundaries.  While we cannot recommend one over another, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary has a Blue Star Certification Program that certifies dive and snorkel boats that have gone through a reef-friendly education program.  If you are interested in viewing that list, please click here.