Fort Lauderdale to Key West road trip

You are currently viewing Fort Lauderdale to Key West road trip

There’s no drive quite like a Fort Lauderdale to Key West road trip. After a first stop in the wild Everglades, where the alligators rule, leave mainland Florida behind and embrace the unique Overseas Highway. Hopping from island to island, this itinerary takes full advantage of the palm-dotted Florida Keys.

Disclosure: All listings are independently selected. If you buy something through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more ›

  • Total distance: 215 mi / 346 km
  • Total driving time: 4.5 h

Key guide: Narrow down the best place to stay for you with our complete guide on where to stay in Key West.

1. Fort Lauderdale

It’s time to start the awe-inspiring drive from Fort Lauderdale to Key West. But if you haven’t had time to do so yet, relish Fort Lauderdale’s watery beauty before you head south.

Tour Fort Lauderdale’s canals

Fringed by sugar-white beaches, many visitors head straight to Fort Lauderdale Beach and remain there for the duration of their stay. However, did you know that Fort Lauderdale is nicknamed the “Venice of America” for its extensive canal system?

The Intracoastal Waterway, running for 3,000 miles (4828 km) along the East Coast of the US, shows its best side in Fort Lauderdale.

Sheltered from the open Atlantic Ocean, Fort Lauderdale’s canals are lined by mansions and dotted with yachts. You may also see some marine wildlife here, including humble manatees and hungry tarpon.

Taking you around on the canals, Fort Lauderdale’s Water Taxi offers top sightseeing and transportation in one. Hop on to get from point A to point B or just to enjoy the tropical setting.

2. Everglades National Park

  • Driving distance: 77 mi / 124 km
  • Driving time: 1.5 h

As you work your way south from Fort Lauderdale towards the Florida Keys, you have the world-famous Everglades to your west. That’s too much of an opportunity to miss out on — let’s see what those gators are up to!

Count alligators in the Everglades

Everglades National Park is the only wetland of its kind in America. The South Florida symbol encompasses an impressive 1.5 million acres of pure wilderness.

To fully discover it, you need to park your car.

At the Everglades’ southern entrance, just a few miles past Ernest Coe Visitor Center, the Anhinga Trail showcases the park’s wildlife. Although this trail only spans 0.8 miles (1.3 km), it’s lined by what you came for — alligators.

Also want an airboat ride, offering both more stunning scenery and sightings of curious locals, through the swamp (or slow-flowing river that the Everglades really is)? If so, stop by at the Everglades Alligator Farm too.

Alligator laying in grass next to water, Everglades National Park, Florida
Count gators as you drive from FLL to Key West.

3. Key Largo

  • Driving distance: 41 mi / 66 km
  • Driving time: 1 h

Key West, the capital of the Florida Keys, tries to pull you towards its bustling attractions. Yet every area of the Florida Keys has its own charm, and for the best experience — the Overseas Highway requires time.

So don’t miss out on the best things to do in Key Largo before you turn your attention further south.

As indicated by its name, Key Largo is at 33 miles (53 km) long the largest segment of the Keys. This island, where the Overseas Highway begins, is a great place to make acquaintance with the Florida Keys’ love for water.

What’s the Overseas Highway? It’s a highway and attraction extending for 113 miles (182 km) from the southern tip of mainland Florida to Key West. It remarkably jumps from island to island making it easy for everyone to enjoy the secluded Florida Keys.

Discover John Pennekamp

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, located at the start of the Overseas Highway, is known as the first undersea park in the United States. This park, home to beautiful coral reefs and an impressive marine life, really shows how rich the Keys are in natural beauty.

Explore John Pennekamp’s corals by diving and snorkeling. Or, if you don’t want to tip your feet in the water, savor the undersea park’s beauty aboard a glass-bottom boat.

Recline aboard the African Queen

Another nice way to explore the waters of the Florida Keys and to learn some movie history is by taking the African Queen on the Key Largo canals. This steamboat got famous through the 1951 movie, starring Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart, with the same name.

An African Queen canal trip is, of course, extra interesting if you have seen the movie. But even if you haven’t seen it, the boat tour is a pleasant activity.

Where to stay

You find quintessential lodging already at the start of the Overseas Highway. Stunning Key Largo hotels and resorts show that you don’t need to go deep into the Florida Keys to find some real gems.

Overseas Highway sign in Key Largo, Florida
From Fort Lauderdale to Key West on the Overseas Highway.

4. Islamorada

  • Driving distance: 17 mi / 27 km
  • Driving time: 0.5 h

After a first taste of Florida Keys in Key Largo, the road trip from Fort Lauderdale to Key West continues further down in the Keys. It’s time to check out all the fun things to do in Islamorada.

Islamorada is packed with opportunities to fully take in the beautiful environment of the Florida Keys. The area is known as the sport-fishing capital of the world, and water activities are in abundance.

Kayak to bygone Indian Key

Within sight of the Overseas Highway, Indian Key Historic State Park is a unique stop. However, this one is located about half a mile offshore and only accessible by boat.

Boasting a surprisingly rich past, Indian Key became the first county seat of Dade County in 1836. Wrecking ships was big business, and the first Indian Key inhabitants even wanted to compete with Key West.

In the end it didn’t work out, and a long time has passed since anyone lived on Indian Key. But a visit to the island is both historically interesting and a great chance to see some exceptional marine life.

To get to Indian Key, many visitors rent kayaks at the nearby Robbie’s Marina and paddle over.

Feed hungry tarpons at Robbie’s

Waterfront in Islamorada, Robbie’s is both a fun and tasty stop.

Experience wise, people from all around the world go to Robbie’s for the opportunity to feed tarpons. In fact, the place has become an institution along the Overseas Highway.

Massive silver giants wait at Robbie’s dock for food. They love to snatch it right out of your hands — those tarpons certainly aren’t shy when you dangle fish on the surface — and down in their stomachs it goes.

While you’re here, neither miss out on Robbie’s Hungry Tarpon Restaurant and Thirsty Tarpon Bar. No matter if you’re after breakfast, lunch, dinner or cocktails, Robbie’s is a great place to be.

Where to stay

Islamorada is a lovely base. You can’t stay on Indian Key nowadays, but the resorts in Islamorada are famous for their stunning offerings.

Clear waters, white sand and swaying palm trees in Islamorada, Florida
Islamorada’s world-class setting.

5. Marathon

  • Driving distance: 30 mi / 48 km
  • Driving time: 0.5 h

As you leave Islamorada, you have passed the halfway point between Miami and Key West. In Marathon you’re instead about halfway to Key West from the start of the Overseas Highway.

When the Florida Keys Overseas Railroad was built in the early 1900s, the stakes were high and efforts put in by the workers enormous. They worked day and night to finish the project on schedule.

As they worked, the men said that “this is getting to be a real marathon”. Hence the name for the local station and later city was born.

Hit soft Sombrero Beach

In the endless Florida Keys summer, the ultimate itinerary from Fort Lauderdale to Key West, of course, needs lovely beaches. So stop by at Sombrero Beach in Marathon, one of the very best beaches in the Florida Keys.

Sombrero Beach appeals with a sandy shoreline, calm waters and palm trees that give shade for when the direct sun feels too strong. Its shallow water is ideal for a day of unwinding, sunbathing, swimming and snorkeling.

Get to know Florida Keys’ turtles

From April to October, it’s nesting season for the Florida Keys’ population of loggerhead turtles. That’s great, but how can you get close to and learn more about them as you drive from Fort Lauderdale to Key West?

For a beautiful learning experience, head to the Florida Keys Turtle Hospital in Marathon. The turtle hospital rehabilitates injured sea turtles and return them to their natural habitat.

If you book a guided tour, you get to learn everything there’s to know about turtles and the hospital’s efforts to save them. A visit is rewarding both for adults and younger travelers on a family road trip.

Where to stay

The heart of Florida Keys, Marathon is a true island oasis. To really make the most of the time in the central Florida Keys area, Marathon provides several great places to stay.

Aerial view of iconic Seven Mile Bridge spanning the clear blue waters of the Florida Keys
The iconic Seven Mile Bridge, just west of Marathon.

6. Lower Keys

  • Driving distance: 21 mi / 34 km
  • Driving time: 0.5 h

Now the Fort Lauderdale to Key West road trip is getting really deep into the Florida Keys. The Lower Keys is the area of the Keys after the Seven Mile Bridge, which includes every key from Bahia Honda Key and Big Pine Key until Key West.

Kick back on Bahia Honda Beach

Spending time in Florida Keys is as much about unwinding as it is about seeing things.

Sombrero Beach, situated higher up in the Florida Keys, is always mentioned as one of the best beaches in the region. Another renowned beach not to miss on the FLL to Key West road trip is located in the Lower Keys, Bahia Honda Beach.

In Bahia Honda State Park you find a picturesque beach for perfect days in the sun. The beach, overlooking the historic Bahia Honda Rail Bridge, has crystal-clear water and lots of shoreline to explore. Its shallow water makes it a great stop for families.

Unload all your beach gear, and preferably a tasty picnic, for this one.

Marvel at the Florida Keys’ mini deer

Big Pine Key is the place of the National Key Deer Refuge. It has been established to protect Florida Keys wildlife, most famously the Key deer.

The Key deer is the tiniest member of the North American white-tailed deer family. So you might be surprised about how small it really is.

Covering 9,000 acres, the refuge is also home to the Lower Key marsh rabbit and the silver rice rat.

This is a fun place to visit for anyone who likes nature and animals.

Impress co-travelers: Bucks (males) reach 30 inches (76 cm) at the shoulders and weigh around 80 pounds (36 kg). Does (females) are even smaller, reaching 26 inches (66 cm) at shoulders and weighing 65 pounds (29 kg). That’s certainly tiny, isn’t it?

Where to stay

The Lower Keys area is quiet and sheltered from distractions. But that just makes it the the most perfect place to unwind before you reach the quirky Key West.

Bahia Honda State Park in Florida Keys,  overlooking the historic Bahia Honda Rail Bridge
View from Bahia Honda Beach.

7. Key West

  • Driving distance: 29 mi / 47 km
  • Driving time: 0.5 h

After a spectacular road trip from Fort Lauderdale to Key West, you’re finally there. In Key West not only does the Overseas Highway end but also the continental United States.

Let’s make the most of our time in this unique city.

Step into the Hemingway Home

If just one thing to do is mandatory in Key West, it’s probably the Ernest Hemingway Home. Here, on Whitehead Street and surrounded by Key West tranquility, the celebrated American writer and Nobel Prize winner spent a majority of the 1930s.

As you tour Hemingway’s former home and workplace, dotted with descendants of the writer’s own cats, the many colorful stories fascinate you. From the wives, he was married four times, to the of the time cutting-edge swimming pool, there’s so much to indulge in.

Dine and drink on Duval Street

Key West locals with a sense of humor, which includes most of them, say Duval Street is the longest street in the world. After all, it runs from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean.

But distances aren’t long in the island city Key West. Duval Street is, in fact, just a little over one mile long. However, lined by one quirky attraction after another, one mile is more than enough.

Check out Duval’s many cute souvenir shops, enjoy a slice of key lime pie or sit down at Sloppy Joe’s, once Hemingway’s favorite bar, for one of the most iconic nightlife experiences in America.

Mallory Square, home of the nightly sunset celebration, is located at the northern end of Duval Street. At Duval’s southern conclusion, the family-friendly Butterfly Garden shows that Duval is a street for all ages.

Where to stay

Following a loaded FLL to Key West road trip, it’s nice not to have to rely on your car for a while. Stay in Old Town of Key West to enjoy walking distance to most sights.
Statue depicting railroad tycoon Henry Flagler sitting on bench outside Flagler Station in Key West
You have arrived in Key West.

Road trip from Fort Lauderdale to Key West FAQ

How long does it take to drive the ultimate Fort Lauderdale to Key West road trip?

This ultimate Fort Lauderdale to Key West road trip is 215 miles (346 km) long, taking roughly 4.5 hours excluding any stops along the way. If you just take the quickest route from FLL to Key West, without the Everglades detour, the drive is 190 miles (306 km) and 4 hours.

Where should I stop between FLL and Key West?

The main stops included on the itinerary are Fort Lauderdale, Everglades National Park, Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Lower Keys and Key West.

How many days do I need to take the Fort Lauderdale to Key West road trip?

It’s certainly possible to drive from Fort Lauderdale to Key West in just a day. But while people do that all the time, the best approach for this itinerary, and for the Overseas Highway in general, is to take it step by step. Although the Overseas Highway is an incredibly scenic drive, it needs multiple days to be fully appreciated.

Sign up for our newsletter to get monthly updates.

Leave a Reply