The refuge offers a wonderful opportunity to get out outdoors and enjoy nature. If you want to see the Key deer, they wander freely throughout refuge lands and our local community. The best time to spot them is early in the morning or towards sunset, although mid-day sightings occur as well. Refuge lands are open to the public one half hour prior to sunrise through one half hour after sunset.
We ask that people drive cautiously while in Key deer country, from Big Pine and No Name Keys, west to Lower Sugarloaf Key. Please be considerate of other drivers and pull cars completely off roads when viewing wildlife.
Activities on the land-based portions of the refuge include walking/hiking, birding, photography, dog walking (on leash only), geocaching (refuge-placed caches), nature sketching, environmental education, ranger-led tours (seasonally) are all options. Biking is allowed on most rustic trails/fireroads, but not at Blue Hole, the Nature Trails or Long Beach.
Offshore in the shallow saltwaters surrounding the refuge lands you can enjoy boating (motorized and non-motorized), fishing, and snorkeling/diving. State fishing regulations apply.
National Key Deer Refuge trails vary in their accessibility and location. Some have paved and hardened surfaces, while others are more rustic. Visitors are advised to carry water and wear sun protection while exploring the trails. Parts of trails may be inundated with water during the rainy season. Seasonally, insects like mosquitos may be a nuisance. No motorized vehicles (cars, motorcycles, ATV’s, golf carts, etc.) are allowed on any refuge lands or trails.
This is wild Florida at its finest and we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the possibility of encountering potentially hazardous wildlife or plants on your travels. Prior to visiting the rustic trails/fire roads we suggest that you familiarize yourself with poisonwood, a native plant that can cause similar skin irritation as poison ivy and poison oak. It also should be noted that American alligators, American crocodiles, and Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes all live in this refuge, although sightings are extremely rare.
Refuge trails are open to the public one half hour prior to sunrise through on half hour after sunset
Blue Hole Observation Platform- located three miles north of US 1 on Key Deer Blvd, the Blue Hole area provides a great opportunity for people of all ages and abilities to get outdoors and view our native wildlife. Blue Hole was originally a limestone quarry; it is now filled with freshwater, and shaded by native plants. There is a short, shaded paved trail from the paved parking lot to the observation platform, making it accessible to everyone. Typical wildlife species include: American alligator, osprey, green herons and other wading birds, anhinga, magnificent frigatebirds, white-crowned pigeon, white-eyed vireo, blue-gray gnatcatcher and many more. Many turtles and fish call the Blue Hole home as well, including some wayward tarpon who got stuck there after the storm surge of Hurricane Wilma in 2005 and Hurricane Irma in 2017. There are no bikes allowed on this trail and bike racks are provided at the trail head to secure your bicycles.
Watson and Mannillo Nature Trails- These interpretive trails are located a ¼ mile north of the Blue Hole, on Key Deer Blvd. There are two trails here; the Mannillo Trail, named in honor of Fred Mannillo, a local environmental advocate, is a short (800 yards) out and back trail, composed of hardened crushed limestone. There are three benches located along the trail to relax and enjoy nature, the trail ends at an observation platform that is situated within a freshwater wetland area. The Watson Trail, named for the first Refuge Manager Jack Watson, is a 2/3 mile loop trail through pine rockland, freshwater wetland and hardwood hammock habitat. These trails are located in full sun, so plan your trip accordingly. In summer they are best visited early in the morning and then later in the day, towards sunset. There are no bikes allowed on this trail and bike racks are provided at the trail head to secure your bicycles.
No Name Key Trails- No Name Key is located east of Big Pine Key on Watson Rd/Old State Rd 4A. Trails on No Name Key are considered rustic. They are basically fire roads that extend south of Watson Rd/Old State Rd 4A. These rustic trails also run east-west from the southbound extensions. Use caution when hiking as surfaces are uneven and trees like Poisonwood (a cousin to Poison Ivy/Oak) may overhang. Be sure to bring water, sun protection and sturdy shoes as you wander these shaded hardwood hammock and pine rockland habitat trails. Bicycles are allowed on these trails but it should be noted that the terrain is rough and can be slippery.
Upper Sugarloaf Key Trail- Located on Crane Blvd, Upper Sugarloaf Key. Turn at the Hwy US 1 traffic light on Upper Sugarloaf Key and travel approx. 1.3 miles until the road ends at the refuge gate. This trail is paved and accessible to walkers, hikers and bicyclists. Length is 1.5 miles or 3 miles round trip. No motorized vehicles allowed. This trail is open to the sun, so bring water and sun protection.
Lower Sugarloaf/Saddlebunch Key “End of the Road” Trail- This 3.5 mile long (7 mile out and back) rustic trail travels the remains of old State Road 4A, the original roadway to Key West. This trail is rustic, with uneven surfaces and with overgrown vegetation that may be covering parts of the trail. Bring plenty of water, sturdy shoes and sun protection. The trail is open to hikers and bicyclists.
Other Facilities in the Complex
The National Key Deer Refuge is part of the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Complex. The other three refuges include: Key West NWR (est. 1908), Great White Heron NWR (est. 1938) and Crocodile Lake NWR (est. 1980).
Rules and Policies
Please consider the health and welfare of the wildlife and habitats on your visit.
From Key West- head east/north on HWY US 1 to Big Pine Key. The Nature Center is located just past the only traffic light on the island, on the left (north) side of the road. Look for the blue Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges sign.
From South Florida and upper Florida Keys- Take HWY US 1 south and west to Big Pine Key. The Nature Center is located just prior to the only traffic light on the island. Turn right, (north) into the Nature Center parking lot.