How Many Keys Are in the Florida Keys? Fun Facts About the Area

As someone who was born in Florida and raised here, I often visit the Florida Keys. Most people think Key West is the only one, but many others exist.

In fact, I often get asked: How many keys are in the Florida Keys? I usually giggle when people look shocked at the answer provided.

Whether you’re hoping to catch marine wildlife or wish to be impressed by the tropical hardwood trees, the Florida Keys are highly misunderstood. Today, I will fix that.

If you’re planning to visit the Florida Keys and have questions, this guide is for you. Let’s get started!

How Many Keys Are in the Florida Keys?

How Many Florida Keys Are There?

The main question on everyone’s mind is how many keys are in the Florida Keys?

Before answering, we need to know what a “key” is and learn how the Florida Keys got their name. It’s time for a short history lesson.

Florida Keys – History

“Key” is actually a term derived from “cayo,” which is a Spanish word that, translated, means “little island.”

The Native American Tequesta and Calusta tribes originally inhabited the Florida Keys. During the 16th century, Ponce de Leon came to Florida while searching for the Fountain of Youth. Ultimately, the Spaniards charted the “los cayos,” which we now refer to as the Florida Keys!

After a few centuries, Key West was officially called “Cayo Huesso,” which means Bone Island. The reason for this is that the Spaniards found it covered in bones.

Overall, English sailors heard the phrase Cayo Huesso, which sounded like “Kay Way-so” to them. Eventually, this morphed into what we now refer to as Key West.

In a sense, a key is simply a little island, and there are plenty of them in this area.

Florida Keys Island

Total Number of Florida Keys

You’ll find more than 800 keys in the Florida Keys group of islands, which stretches over 120 miles between Key West and Key Largo. Each one is named, which is pretty cool.

Number of Inhabited Keys

Though there are more than 800 named keys in the Florida Keys, many of them aren’t reachable by vehicle. Only about 30 are inhabited, but tourists tend to stay on the more popular ones.

Regions of the Florida Keys

Generally, the Florida Keys are grouped into different areas, and the regions can be quite confusing. Ultimately, the islands are in the Florida Straits and divide the Atlantic Ocean while defining an edge of the Florida Bay.

Most of the time, people group the Keys into five regions: Key West, the Lower Keys, Marathon, Islamorada, and Key Largo.

Marathon and Islamorada are often talked about as though they were singular islands, but they’re not. Both are regions of the island chain, containing various small keys. However, Key West and Key Largo are their own islands.

You’ll also hear people referring to the Florida Keys as the Lower Keys, Middle Keys, and Upper Keys. These labels will overlap with the five regions above.

Traditionally, the Upper Keys include Key Largo and the Islamorada islands, while the Middle Keys focus more on the Marathon group. The Lower Keys then continue to Key West, which is off the southern coast of Florida.

List of Major Florida Keys

While roughly 30 of the Florida Keys are always inhabited, most visitors stay on a handful. Here are the major Keys:

1. Key Largo

Key Largo

Key Largo is in the northernmost part and is known for its natural wonders, including stunning views and coral reefs. You’ll find Everglades National Park and the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park here.

If you’re focused on snorkeling and diving, Key Largo is one of the most popular choices. It features plenty of underwater marine life and is roughly one hour from Miami International Airport.

Here’s a quick guide on driving to Key Largo from Miami.

2. Islamorada

Islamorada

South of Key Largo, you’ll find Islamorada, which features two offshore islands (Lignumvitae Key and Indian Key). There are also four Keys (Lower Matecumbe Key, Upper Matecumbe Key, Windley Key, and Plantation Key).

Most consider it the sport-fishing capital of the state because there are countless boating excursion options for interested folks. It takes about 90 minutes to get from Miami to Islamorada.

Once you are there, there are plenty of attractions. For me, the highlight is always dining at Ziggies!

3. Marathon

Marathon Key is idyllic for family travelers because it has something for everyone. This collection of 13 small islands stretches from Long Pine Key to Vaca Key, and each one offers unique experiences and attractions.

It will take roughly 2 hours and 15 minutes to go from Miami to Marathon, and most people visit here to see the Seven Mile Bridge at its southernmost end. This seven-mile stretch is almost completely over the water, so it’s a stunning experience to enjoy.

The Middle Keys and Marathon include:

  • Pigeon Key
  • Grassy Key
  • Fat Deer Key
  • Deer Key
  • East/West Sister’s Island
  • Crawl Key
  • Little Crawl Key
  • Stirrup Key
  • Long Point Key
  • Vaca Key
  • Hog Key
  • Knight Keys
  • Duck Key
  • The Conch Keys
  • Long Key

Ultimately, the Grassy Keys, Crawl, Long Point, Vaca Key, Knight Key, and Fat Deer Key are incorporated parts of Marathon.

4. Key West

Key West

After visiting Marathon Key, you will likely turn west if you’re driving. This is the more remote and romantic region of the chain, called the Lower Keys. You’ll feel like you’re in another country, and there are two wildlife refugee areas here to help you get away from the stressors of everyday life.

The Lower Keys start with the Seven Mile Bridge. It will take roughly 2.5 hours from Miami to the start of the bridge, though expect to travel another hour to go through them all.

Overall, the Lower Keys include:

  • Key West
  • Boca Chica Key
  • Saddlebunch Keys
  • Cudjoe Key
  • Stock Island
  • Sugarloaf Key
  • Ramrod Key
  • Summerland Key
  • Middle Torch Key
  • Big Torch Key
  • Little Torch Key
  • Spanish Harbor Key
  • Big Pine Key
  • Bahia Honda Key

On Big Pine Key, you’ll find the National Key Deer Refuge. It’s open to the public and free to visit. You can enjoy 9,200 acres of freshwater wetlands, mangrove forests, and more.

6. Other Florida Keys

While those listed above are the most popular Florida Keys, here are a few others to consider for your next trip to the area:

  • Tavernier
  • No Name Key
  • Long Key

Where Do You Find the Florida Keys?

Florida City is the last major town you’ll find before heading to the Florida Keys. It’s south of Homestead and is a great place to get snacks and fuel.

After passing Florida City, you must drive across “The Stretch,” which is the local term for Highway US1. This 18-mile section connects Key Largo and Florida City.

Once you’re in Key Largo, you’re officially on the Overseas Highway, which takes you to Key West.

More Facts to Love About the Florida Keys

Here are a few more tidbits of information you might want to know about the Florida Keys before going on vacation:

Orlando and the Florida Keys

There are roughly 400 miles between Orlando and Key West, so it takes about 6.5 hours to drive.

However, it’s only 300 miles from Orlando to Key Largo, which takes roughly 4.5 hours. I recommend covering both areas if your itinerary allows for a longer trip.

Largest Florida Key

Key Largo is the largest Key. It’s over 33 miles long, which is impressive since Key West is just 4 miles long.

Unless you’re only planning to visit Key West, I recommend renting a car so that you can experience both.

If you’re planning to stay in the Upper Keys, you’ll find the main attractions are spread out. Many visitors drive the 30 minutes to Islamorada from Key Largo to ensure they hit the popular spots.

Population of the Florida Keys

According to the 2020 US census, there are roughly 82,874 people living in the Florida Keys, and Key West has the largest population of all the islands.

If you visit, you’ll see that the rest of the Keys are spread out compared to Key West. Though it’s only 2 miles wide and 4 miles long, roughly 25,000 people live there!

Seven Mile Bridge and Others in the Florida Keys

Seven Mile Bridge

There are a total of 42 bridges that connect all the tropical islands, though the most famous is the Seven Mile Bridge. It connects Little Duck and Knight’s Key, and you’ll cross it if you head to Key West from Marathon.

You’ll see two bridges as you go to Key West from Marathon. The completed one is more modern, and you’ll drive over it. However, the second bridge has an interesting history.

In the 1900s, Henry Flagler wanted to expand the Florida East Coast Railway to reach Key West. The bridge was hit by the strongest hurricane in the US in 1935, which destroyed it.

Afterward, the railway was converted into the Overseas Highway. In 1982, that was replaced by the new bridge, though portions of the old one stand today.

Ultimately, the Old Seven Mile Bridge is a popular place to fish, walk, and bike if you’re in the Middle Keys. I recommend doing so, but you should also check out the Pigeon Key Express, which is a tram ride taking you to Pigeon Key.

FAQs About the Florida Keys

While I’ve tried to be as thorough as possible when explaining the Florida Keys, you may still have questions. Hopefully, you’ll find the answers you seek below:

Is It Safe to Visit the Florida Keys?

Yes, it is very safe to visit the Florida Keys. However, I will say that petty crime is quite common in Key West. Therefore, you should always be aware of your surroundings at all times.

How Do You Travel to the Florida Keys?

Personally, I prefer to take a road trip to Key West from Key Largo when visiting the Florida Keys.

You can also fly to Key West and make your way north, or fly to Fort Lauderdale or into Miami and head south.

Regardless of your preferences, I recommend that you drive from one end of the Florida Keys to the other to experience everything they have to offer. If you only focus on Key West, it’s like going to NYC and staying at Times Square the whole time.

Which Is the Most Popular Florida Key?

It’s no surprise to most that Key West is the most popular Florida Key.

When I tell people I’m heading to the Florida Keys, most of them ask specifically about Key West. I don’t mind, but I do remind them that there are so many others to enjoy.

Ultimately, Key West is the most popular of the Florida Keys. Primarily, this is because people often take a cruise. Though it’s a great way to experience the area if you’re new, you’ll need a few days to get a true feel of this amazing town.

Are There Differences Between Key Largo and Key West?

Key Largo and Key West are pretty much complete opposites of each other. Here’s a brief summary to help you understand what I mean:

Overall, Key West has a bigger population and is the only “city” in the Florida Keys. With more than 25,000 people, there are plenty of things to enjoy, such as attractions, tours, restaurants, and bars. Plus, it’s tiny, so you don’t need to rent a vehicle to explore it.

Alternatively, Key Largo is a sleepy town. Most of the things to do here revolve around water. This Key is home to the first undersea park in the US. The John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park offers the best snorkeling in the area. I recommend booking a snorkel tour for the perfect experience.

How Many Days Should You Stay in the Florida Keys?

If you truly want to experience the Florida Keys and go from Key Largo to Key West, it’s wise to give yourself five to seven days.

However, if you have less time, you could visit everything in three to four days. I’ve done it, though it all felt rushed. There are so many things to do in Key West that you can easily spend the whole time there alone.

I recommend giving yourself at least three days, though seven is ideal.

When Is the Best Time to Stay in the Florida Keys?

Most people visit the Florida Keys between December and January. However, I’m a local, so I never do so because there are longer wait times at restaurants and higher hotel prices.

Personally, my favorite time to visit the Keys is during April and May. The weather is quite mild, and the ocean is warm. Plus, you’ll avoid rainy afternoons and the potentially perilous hurricane season during those months.

If you simply can’t get away until November, this is also a decent time. Though it might be slightly colder than the spring, you’ll still have plenty of things to do.

Typically, June through September is the off-season because of the high humidity and heat. I don’t mind visiting during those months and recommend it for those who can handle the temperatures.  If you want more information on the best time to visit the Keys, check out this guide.

What Should You Pack for a Trip to the Florida Keys?

As with all tropical destinations, you’ll need a few essentials for the Florida Keys.

You’ll want to purchase reef-safe sunscreen. Most brands contain chemicals that could damage coral reefs, so you need something specific to protect yourself and the environment.

There are also other essentials, such as beach towels, after-sun lotion, and sunglasses. I recommend bringing your snorkel gear if you have it, but most tours allow you to rent the necessary items.

Other things to consider include:

  • Swimwear (I recommend bringing at least two swimsuits/trunks)
  • Flip-flops and easy-wear slip-ons
  • Shorts/skirts
  • Loose-fitting shirts

Final Thoughts on the Florida Keys

Whether you want to visit the Upper or Lower Florida Keys, it’s important to be prepared. This guide can help you understand what’s out there and where to go. I’ve also recommended my favorite ways to travel and what to pack for the trip.

Hopefully, you’re more excited about your future trip to the Florida Keys. It’s a great place for the whole family, and you’re sure to experience live music, a fun atmosphere, and tons of tours.

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About 

Tim Schmidt is a 20+ year Entrepreneur and Digital Marketer. A Fort Lauderdale-based "Digital Nomad," he enjoys traveling as much as possible with family and friends. AllWorld is his escape to document all of his adventures, including being a hardcore "foodie." He has property in Costa Rica and visits several times each year and is happy to offer his expert advice for planning your trip.

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