Relax and re-energize in Key West’s best kept secret! Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park is just a short bike ride from party-central Duval Street – but a world apart. A natural world! And of course, there’s history, too!
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park Overview
Okay, so maybe Fort Zachary Taylor Park isn’t exactly a locals-only secret. For one, it’s the location of the iconic wooden signpost showing directions and distances from Key West to other thrilling places around the world, like Miami, London, New York City, and the Dry Tortugas National Park. But the Florida State Park is off the beaten path from the more famous attractions, like the Hemingway House, the Southern-Most Point of the USA marker, and all the restaurants and bars around Duval Street and Mallory Square.
In general, Key West isn’t necessarily known for beaches and natural beauty – but for charming architecture, vibrant night life, and all-around positive, open-minded human interactions. Oh, and cats with extra toes, of course.
We highly recommend you take a break from the streets of Key West and enjoy the USA’s most southern state park. While there are other beaches along the south-side of Key West, none offer quite the same kind of diverse nature, culture, and history.
Of course, there is the fort itself. But that’s far from all Fort Taylor Park has to offer. There is a bit of forest full of cool critters, hiking and bike trails, the beach, the gin-clear waters for swimming, snorkeling, fishing and paddling – and finally the view west to watch marine action and magnificent sunsets.
Fort Taylor was built in the Civil War era to defend the harbor of Key West. While not directly involved in these conflicts, it was part of the military strategy during the world wars and of course, the Cuban Missile Crisis. There are still more modern military facilities next-door. And from the state park beach you can see the recognizable shapes of the listening station built to keep an ear on Cuba.
What to Do at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park
You’ve got to check out the fort – at least once. Make it upstairs and get views of the pretty unbelievable natural colors of the Florida Keys. You might also see a huge cruise ship in the harbor.
Appreciate the wildlife: there are birds, lizards and fish galore. And to appreciate the plant life more, there are signs along the trail around the fort and moat full of fascinating facts.
Fishing and snorkeling are especially good at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park because of the gin-clear water and the variety of fish close to shore. Piles of large rocks in the water provide for ideal environments. Beware that the beach itself is rather rocky with stones and bits of coral. It’s not the sugary sand of Indian Rocks Beach. 😉
Of course you can also just swim, sunbathe, cool off in the shade, read, dream and try to recover from your hangover. If you forgot anything you can buy all kinds of food and necessities Cayo Hueso Café and Shop. You can also rent snorkels and such from the little hut. There are lots of picnic tables throughout the shady wooded area above the beach.
As you can see from this post, there are lots of photo ops. So take that photo of the iconic sign post and at least one lizard photo.
What else? You can paddle with a kayak or SUP, you can scuba dive. Hey, you can even get married. To make a reservation for a special event, like a wedding, visit the park’s commercial website.
And definitely stay to watch the sunset! However, once the sun has passed the horizon, the rangers will come around and tell you to leave. If you want to continue enjoying the beautiful sky until last light, head out of the park and a bit north past the naval ships.
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park Location, Hours, and Fee
601 Howard England Way
Key West, FL 33040
Official Florida State Park website
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park is open every day from 8:00am until sunset. The fort closes at 5 p.m and offers a narrated tour at 11:00am. The Cayo Hueso Café, Shop and Beach Rentals hours are 10:00am to 6:00pm.
The entry fee starts at $6.50 per vehicle, with each additional person getting charged $ .50. Admission on foot or bike is $ 2.50. Even with your annual Florida State Parks Pass you may have to pay an additional $ .50 Monroe County surcharge.
How to Get to Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
The park is at the very last, south-western tip of Key West. You get to Key West by following US 1 south all the way to the end (unless you took the ferry from Ft. Myers or flew in or took a boat.) Now that you’re in this gem of a town and heart of the Conch Republic, you can walk, bike or drive into Fort Zachary Historic State Park. Be warned: It’s quite a haul from Duval Street or any hotels or homes, since there is some military land around. So if you’re walking: wear a hat and sunscreen – and bring water 🙂
More Photos of Fort Taylor Park
Other Florida Happier Places
Let’s Inspire Each Other!
Have you been to Key West or the Florida Keys? Tell us about your experience. Or tell us about one of your favorite nature getaways that’s tucked away near a big city or more urban attraction. Feel free to share links to your photos and blog posts. Seriously, let’s inspire each other to: Take a break. Go outside. Have fun.
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All photos in this post were taken by Luci Westphal.