The 3 Best Micro Adventures in the Florida Keys
By: Colin Boyd and Sofi Aldinio of Afuera Vida
Our approach to travel is to rarely schedule things too far out besides plane tickets. Perhaps this is why we drawn to moving into a van and living on the road; needing the daily choice as to where and how to spend our time. The flexibility appears to offer total freedom, but it also comes with the daily pressure of guiding the ship ensuring our crew of four is well rested, has full bellies and is eager and positive about the day ahead.
While each day is unique, some dedicated to work, travel or play, we seek to set up a daily #microadventure for our family - a term coined by Allistair Humphreys an adventurer from England. The concept was targeted towards the office worker to inspire adventures before and after work along with the weekend. We've commandeered the term to become a daily philosophy that ensures we create a memorable experience outside as a family on a daily basis.
While, we only spent a week in the Florida Keys, we wanted to share our favorite 3x microadventures with you.
Bahia Honda State Park
Driving south on Route 1, it would be easy to bypass the lush green entrance into Bahia Honda State Park. Little did we know that beyond the entrance gate was our first taste of why people visit and rave about the Florida Keys: endless turquoise waters and bright white sand. With coconut trees looming overhead, we felt like we just drove into a postcard. Fortunately we had budgeted to have the day as a beach day and we happily spent 8 hours exploring one of the most gorgeous parks on the Keys. We set up on the western beach as it felt a bit more family friendly offering shade, easy access to our rig, the nature center, calm waters and space to stretch out.
Grandy Oats Coconola treats and trailmix rounded out our avocado and cheese sandwich lunch and by naptime we were able to load up our boys into the carriers and strollers and gain some some perspective from atop the original but decommissioned auto bridge. From here the water evolved from just turquoise into a collage of tropical blues that filled our wanderlust cups. After our boys fell asleep we transitioned to the eastern shore for sundown as the crowd thinned observing the schools of small fish dart out of the way of larger predators. We prepared a quick mango black bean salad in the rig as the sun retreated, preparing for our next stop on the journey as we did not make reservations to stay overnight inside the Park.
Whether you are camping for a week or are solely looking for a daytrip, this is an absolute must for anyone visiting the Florida Keys.
Dry Tortugas National Park
For those willing to embark on a microadventure that leans more on the full blown adventure side, we absolutely recommend a camping trip to the Dry Tortuga National Park. Sitting 70 miles to the West of Key West, about 70 miles north of Cuba and many more to Mexico, lies Fort Jefferson in the heart of the Dry Tortugas. Composed of over 16 million bricks Fort Jefferson is the largest brick structure in the Western Hemisphere and it was specifically set up to guard America's interests in the 1800's. A fun fact we learned was that the final 15 vertical feet or so of the fort is composed of bricks made in Maine.
A camping trip to the Tortugas does typically require more advanced notice than what we're used to and booking a week in advance is a laughable offense for the Yankee Freedom Ferry - the sole operator of the transportation necessary to get to the islands. Knowing that this was exactly the type of trip we wanted to do, I meticulously followed their advice, calling daily hoping for a cancelation window. We lucked into a three day window to stay at America's most tropical national park.
With all our gear in our rig, you would think packing for the trip would have been easy; we are seasoned island campers of island camping trips as a family of 3 in Maine. But, like anything with two children, it's just straight up more challenging. From snorkels and swimmies to just the right baby carriers, we spent hours ripping the van apart to search out the necessary gear to ensure we'd have everything needed on the remote islands.
We loaded all of our gear including all of our own fresh water onto the catamaran before daybreak and by 8 AM were whisked out of the harbor into an envelope of blue with no shore in sight. Within 2 hours we had reached our new home base and quickly set up base camp in a small coastal stand of coconut trees. Coconola on almond butter topped bananas kept everyone fueled up ensuring we were able to explore the entire island including the subterranean world.
We spent three days in this park, witnessing personalized sunrises and sets, swimming and snorkeling in crystal clear, warm sea water and exploring Fort Jefferson. Our last morning was the highlight, packing our Granola bowls stacked with mango, watermelon, yogurt and almond butter over to the secluded north beach to enjoy a gourmet breakfast in the most exotic setting we had been as a family.
While definitely stretching the budget, this is an unforgettable trip and a must if you'd rather be camping on an island than going from restaurant to tourist attraction in Key West. However, take our advice and book in advance!
The Jumping Bridge
This spot clearly describes itself and while not necessarily everyone's choice activity, it was exactly what we needed to recollect some energy and continue to discover the overlooked areas in the Keys. The Jumping Bridge is a mellow 5 minute walk down what was Route 5A on Sugarloaf Key. The bridge, stands in the midst of a sea of man groves with seemingly no refuge from the heat. Yet, like an oasis, a turquoise channel cuts through the sulfuric rocks beneath. At about 20 ft tall plus a little extra on the handrail, it was the perfect size to rediscover back flips, swan dive fronts and gainers; this goes without mentioning the 72 degree water. Even Sofi was able to jump more than a couple times, a rarity with the cold water spots we are used to.
We returned to the van within the hour, nourishing our need to adventure and explore outside of the typical roadside attractions. We recommend this stop to anyone traveling through Sugarloaf Key as a way to wash off the long drive in either direction.