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Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park (Key West, Florida)

Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park beach and shady trees, Key West, Florida, Happier Place

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.

woman on a bench looking at sea, Key West, Fort Zachary Taylor Park, Florida, Judith
Take a break from all the urban fun and just breathe.

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.

Sunset with silhouetted sailboat and people watching from rock wall
The alternative to the raucous Mallory Square sunset party: watching sailboats glide by from the rock wall at Fort Zachary Taylor Park.

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.

View from Fort Zachary Taylor of buildings and sea beyond
The view from Fort Zachary Taylor of the fort buildings and sea beyond.

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.

View through a window of Fort Taylor to the moat and plant life beyond.
View through a window of Fort Taylor to the moat and plant life beyond.

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.

Large, colorful iguana in Fort Zachary Taylor Park, Key West, Florida
Large, colorful iguana just walking among the picnic tables chewing on some plants. The horn on its snout indicates it’s probably descended from a Guatemalan iguana.

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. ๐Ÿ˜‰

people on the beach and in the blue Key West water, rock wall inviting fish and birds and snorkelers
Sunbathing on the rather rocky beach with an eye on the man-made rock formation inviting fish, birds and snorkeling people.

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.

Iconic wooden destinations sign post, Miami, London, New York City, Fort Zachary Taylor Park, Key West, beach, at dusk, Happier Place
The iconic destination sign post pointing from Key West all over the world – at dusk on the beach in Fort Taylor Park.

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.

Sunset between windswept palm trees in Key West
Setting sun between windswept palm trees. What more do you want?

Fort Zachary Taylor State Park Location, Hours, and Fee

601 Howard England Way
Key West, FL 33040
Phone: 305-292-6713
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.

Banyan trees south of the moat of Fort Zachary Taylor, Key West
How cool are these guys? Banyan trees between Fort Taylor and the beach.

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

Biking along the shore of Key West, view from Fort Zachary, red and green channel markers 14 and 15, Florida Keys
People biking through the park along the shore between the fort and iconic red and green Florida Keys channel markers (14 and 15).

More Photos of Fort Taylor Park

Large, colorful, adult iguana with black striped tail, spines and dewlap, called Green Iguana or American Iguana, invasive species in Key West and South Florida
Large, colorful, adult iguana with black striped tail, spines and dewlap, is actually called Green Iguana or American Iguana and considered an invasive species in South Florida. Please note the tree for size reference.
Juvenile Green Iguana or American Iguana shows off its bright green color on Key West, Fort Taylor Park
Much smaller juvenile Green Iguana shows off its bright green as it runs around the woods close to the fort.
Curlytail Lizard on a tree in the Florida Keys.
Curlytail Lizard on a tree almost perfectly camouflaged – except there are no curly sticks around here.
Classic view from Fort Zachary Taylor: cormorant flying above sailboat, channel marker, and the sea with another key at the horizon.
Classic view from Fort Zachary Taylor: cormorant flying above sailboat, channel marker, and the sea with another key at the horizon.
Not yellow warbler or pine warbler, but a migrating prairie warbler found in Taylor Park, Key West, Florida.
UPDATED by Luci: While I wasn’t sure if this was a yellow warbler or pine warbler, I was informed by Raymond Dake on IG that this is a PRAIRIE warbler. Check out Raymond’s matching photo of that kind of bird in Kansas. It’s a migrating bird that gets around… You know what we call them down here: snow bird!
Curved stairs inside civil war era Fort Zachary Taylor
Curved stairs lead to the top of civil war era Fort Zachary Taylor in Key West.
Canons all lined up inside Fort Zachary Taylor in the Florida Keys
A free guided walking tour of through the fort is offered daily at 11 am.
Bench, table and cross in nook inside civil war era Fort Zachary Taylor.
A nook and a bench reserved inside the fort for contemplation. Outside there is nature. Just sayin’
Fort Zachary Taylor canons lined up with windows over the moat
Canons all lined up and pointed at the windows facing west over the moat and the open sea beyond.
Shade from the trees, sunshine, beach or the Caribbean colored water beyond, Fort Zachary Park, Key West
Shade from the trees, sunshine, beach or the Caribbean colored water beyond? Your choice.
Sand, Australian Pines and the sea, amazing colors at Fort Zachary Taylor, Key West
The amazing colors of Fort Zachary Taylor: the bright ground, the dark green of the Australian Pines and the vibrant blue sea. Talk about a Happier Place! To help preserve it, there’s an organization to save the pines.
Strangler fig intertwined with banyan tree? Key West, Florida Keys
Is this a strangler fig intertwined with a banyan tree? Who can tell?
Enjoying the view of the beach from the shade of the Australian Pine
Enjoying the view of the beach from the shade underneath the Australian Pines.
Spying on the spies, Cuba listening station on Key West next to military beach next to Fort Zachary Taylor Park beach, Key West, Florida
Spying on the spies: Cuba listening station on Key West next to military beach enjoyed by personnel, next to Fort Zachary Taylor Park beach, enjoyed by civilians. Key West, Florida: a little bit for everybody!
Going dark inside the fort on Key West
Going dark inside the fort on Key West.
Sunset beach and clouds, Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, Florida State Park, Key West
Going dark as the sun sets over the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor at the end of the connected Florida Keys.
One more sunset with sailboat from the rock wall jetty in the Florida State Park on Key West.
One more sunset with sailboat from the rock wall jetty in the Florida State Park on Key West.
purple and orange post-sunset sky and water behind silhouetted palm tree, Key West, Florida
The most amazing colors happen AFTER the sun has set. Too bad Florida state parks usually kick you out as soon as the sun has set – and not after “last light”.
Iconic, famous, wooden direction signs with cities and distances in miles, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, London, Rome, Paris, Habana, Fort Lauderdale - on Key West, Fort Taylor Park
Where to next? Maybe the iconic sign in this Key West park can be our inspiration…

Other Florida Happier Places

Florida Keys Highlight: Bahia Honda State Park

Anastasia State Park on Anastasia Island (Florida) + VIDEO

Meet Mermaids and Paddle A Crystal Clear River: Weeki Wachee Springs and River (Florida)

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.

Please leave a reply in the comment section below.


Save your favorite images to Pinterest!

Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, Key West's best-kept secret, Happier Place, Florida
Key West Sunset through wind-swept Palm Trees at Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, Happier Place, Florida

All photos in this post were taken by Luci Westphal.

12 thoughts on “Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park (Key West, Florida)

  1. I love how well-maintained the Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State is. I’ll definitely add this in my itinerary when I visit Florida.

  2. Such an amazing place to chill and relax. I was also stunned with all the photos you took. I wish i could visit there someday.

  3. I am glad I came across your post. We are going to Key West at the end of May and I was not sure where to start visiting.

  4. My mom would love this as she loves to visit state parks, especially with history. I am going to share this with her!

    1. How wonderful you can share this with your mom. I hope she likes what she sees. And maybe one day you can visit this park together ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Everything looks so very pretty! I would so stay there and enjoy my time. Awesome park!

    1. Thank you for your comment, Lyosha. I think you’d like visiting the park a lot. I wonder what you would wear for the occasion ๐Ÿ˜‰

  6. Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park looks life a lovely place to explore the the wild life and the exotic lizards. Thanks for the pins , will have a look when am at the place.

  7. Thank you so much for the virtual tour of Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. It is such a beautiful place with so much to see and do. Hopefully someday we can plan a trip there and enjoy these sights in person.

  8. The fort pictures look amazing. I haven’t been to Florida before even though I lived in Georgia for a while. The images look very inviting!

  9. Wow! Luci, these are fantastic photographs. I’ve haven’t been to the Keys yet. It’s our plan to do so this year, Jeff’s been pushing it. I thought it might be too touristy and just crowded. After seeing your pics and reading your wonderfully descriptive narrative, I’m ready to go before it’s too late. All the best from our Happier Place to yours.

    1. Thank you so much for your lovely comment, Beth! And I’m so glad my post could help convince you to make that Key West trip. Jeff is totally right to push it. Yes, there are a lot of tourists, but mainly around Duval Street and Mallory Square – especially on the weekends and during high season. But during the week and shoulder-season and in tucked-away Happier Places like this park, you’ll get the feeling it’s locals-only and there’s a reason why people love living here. And if you drive down there, then you can come see us on the way down and up! Bonus!!!
      xx Luci

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