The National Key Deer Refuge was established in 1957 in order to protect the wildlife of the Florida Keys. It is located in the Lower Florida Keys, is made up of about 9,000 acres mangrove forests, freshwater wetlands, hardwood hammocks, and pine forests.
A majority of the Refuge is on Big Pine Key. Here you will find the headquarters of the National Key Deer Refuge as well as Blue Hole, the Fred Manillo Wildlife Trail, and the Jack Watson Wildlife Trail. There are also hiking trails on Upper Sugarloaf Key, Lower Sugarloaf Key, and Cudjoe Key.
Big Pine Key alone is home to over 450 species of plants. The rainwater here is collected in the limestone allowing this wide array of plant life to thrive along with animals like the key deer, the marsh rabbit, the silver rice rat, and several species of birds.
All of the plants and wildlife in the Refuge are protected. It is illegal to feed any wildlife that you come upon in the Refuge. It is recommended that you observe the wildlife from your vehicle, but if you are hiking or outside of a vehicle when you see the wildlife, do not approach it. They are not pets and encroaching on their territory, feeding them, or the like is considered molestation or harassment.
Throughout the year there are guided tours along some of the different wildlife trails. They are usually in the early morning to avoid the heat of the day. You can find out about these events by contacting the headquarters of the National Key Deer Refuge at 305-872-3675.
For more information about the protected plant life and wildlife in this area, click on this National Key Deer Refuge Fact Sheet provided by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
For more information about things to do in Key West and the Florida Keys, check out www.gotothekeys.com or call us at 1-888-362-3474.