Windley Key is the site of a former coral limestone quarry that has been a State Park since 1985. There is an education center — at MM 85.5 bay side on Overseas Highway — which displays interesting exhibits on the area's geology, botany and history. Visits and ranger-guided tours of Windley Key are available. There are no longer guided tours at Indian Key, but visitors are still welcome to enjoy the place on their own, before dark. Lignumvitae Key still has guided tours and San Pedro Archeological Underwater Preserve is, of course, still there to be enjoyed. All of the above-mentioned are now designated with "State Park" at the ends of their names and some historical notes follow. Tours are given on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. (Mondays through Wednesdays you can dock and walk around the yards, but cannot visit the park or house on Lignumvitae.) Fees are nominal; at press time we're told Lignumvitae tours are still only $1 per person and the dock has 3.5' at low water. For moreinformation call the park rangers at Windley Key, 305-664-2540. If you prefer to take a local ferry there are a few in the area and the rangers can tell you about them
Whale Harbor Channel marks the northern end of Upper Matecumbe. There are two anchorages of note on the bay side. The area directly inshore at Mile 1160 is the larger but less protected of the two; Little Basin to the west is shallower but better protected. Local knowledge says the basin can float four feet, and it’s bordered by a number of waterfront facilities including the Lorelei Restaurant, a favorite watering hole for local boatmen and anglers. There's a boat ramp, too. A bit farther down you'll find the WorldWide Sportsman/Bayside Marina complex — a full service marina that welcomes transients and emphasizes both back country and ocean fishing. The store is big and well stocked with lots more than fishing supplies ... everything from clothes to snacks to stock the galley. The upstairs restaurant has a great view, and there's another restaurant next door. There are others along the way, including Islamorada Marina with boatyard services and LaSiesta Marina with the same clean, quiet atmosphere many have found makes a great home-away-from-home while cruising.
At Mile 1162 on the ocean side of the southern end of Upper Matecumbe you’ll find Bud & Mary’s Marina, a full service operation and a favorite among fishermen and the charter boats for which Islamorada is famous.
Islamorada fishing is regarded by many as the best and most varied in the continental United States. You can go offshore to troll for sailfish, blue and white marlin, or delicious dolphin. You can also fish deep for snapper and grouper, or work the waters around the reefs for a variety of sport fish. The flats on the ocean side are famous for bonefish and permit, and on the bay side for seatrout and redfish. Big tarpon and snook feed in the waters on both sides, making the bridges some of the best and most accessible fishing for shorebound anglers. When the wind and weather go bad on the ocean side, fishermen often move to the bay side — and vice versa.
At Mile 1164 is Indian Key, which dates back to 1836 and was actually the site of Dade County’s first county seat. Originally settled by Jacob Houseman, a Key Wester not well known for straight dealing, the island passed to Dr. Harry Perrine, who turned it into a tropical botanical garden. None of this impressed the local Caloosas who attacked the key in 1840, destroyed everything, and killed most of the inhabitants.
Indian Key is only directly accessible to small craft, but there’s good anchorage offshore (complete with mooring buoys) to dinghy in from. The island is an interesting historical site and the botanical garden is well worth taking the time to visit. We're told the term "botanical garden" may be somewhat misleading ... thinking of it more as a "...tropical hammock alive with flora and fauna..." would be more appropriate. Lignumvitae Key is at Mile 1164 on the bay side. Captain Frank Papy says to watch there for small park markers protecting the grass flats.
At Mile 1168, Matecumbe Bight on the bay side offers a decent anchorage except in a norther. Two miles farther south, the end of Lower Matecumbe Key is marked on the ocean side by Caloosa Cove Resort.
At Mile 1170, you’ll find Channel Five, a great bay-to-ocean channel with plenty of water and 65 feet of overhead clearance. Three miles farther down, the ICW intersects with the marked course across Florida Bay to Cape Sable and Flamingo — a good-enough shortcut if you're in a hurry to get to the Gulf coast, don't need a lot of depth, and are willing to miss the lower keys and Key West. Boats that need more water make their turn farther south at Vaca Key. (Continue...)
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