If you’re making plans to explore the Florida Keys, there’s a new way to do it — a way that’s fun, fascinating and focused on nature. You can now discover the island chain’s eco-attractions and environmental offerings by using the free Florida Keys Eco-Experience Trail pass.
In a nutshell, it’s a mobile-exclusive digital pass that lets you check in at area businesses and earn points while exploring the rich natural world and wildlife of the Keys — the appealing and intriguing southernmost island chain in the continental United States.
The Eco-Experience Trail pass includes nearly 50 geo-tagged, bookable activities that encourage you to experience and connect with the Keys’ environment and sustainability initiatives.
It was created by the island chain’s tourism council along with technology company Bandwango.
So how does it work? First, access the pass at fla-keys.com/experience and activate it. After that simple step, you can begin exploring parks and nature tours, wildlife centers and refuges, coral restoration opportunities, eco-adventures and much more from Key Largo to Key West.
Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park features one of the largest tracts of West Indian tropical hardwood hammock in the United States.
The pass also features fishing, diving and snorkeling tours in the protected waters of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary that surrounds the Keys — many conducted by sanctuary-certified Blue Star operators who are committed to promoting responsible and sustainable recreation practices that reduce environmental impact.
Upon checking in at a location on the pass, you’ll receive points based on the level of the experience. Once a specific number of points is earned, you can exchange them for Keys-focused prizes.
Plus some participating businesses provide value-added offerings or incentives.
So what kind of adventures are spotlighted on the Eco-Experience Trail pass? Read on for a small sampling of those you’ll find.
ONE: Discover one of the United States’ largest tracts of West Indian tropical hardwood hammock at the 2,683-acre Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park. It’s home to 84 protected animal and plant species and features over 6 miles of trails — making it a prime place to hike.
TWO: Go catch-and-release fishing in the tranquil, shallow flats off the Upper Keys with Captain Barry Hoffman of Florida Keys Flats Fishing, a Blue Star–certified operator. Search for species like bonefish, tarpon, snook and redfish while spotting local birds and exploring mangrove estuaries and the unique the Keys backcountry.
Touring the 2-acre fruit farm Grimal Grove — billed as the first and only breadfruit grove in the continental United States — is a fascinating Lower Keys eco-experience. (Photo courtesy of Grimal Grove)
THREE: Cycle, walk, run, rollerblade, view a variety of marine life and watch sunrises and sunsets along a restored 2.2-mile section of the famed Old Seven Mile Bridge that parallels the Florida Keys Overseas Highway. Nicknamed “Old Seven,” the oft-photographed Middle Keys span is sometimes described as a linear park, and also serves as the gateway to historic Pigeon Key.
FOUR: Tour Big Pine Key’s Grimal Grove, a 2-acre fruit farm billed as the first and only breadfruit grove in the continental United States. Take a 90-minute guided “fruit hunting” excursion to learn about (and taste!) exotic subtropical and tropical fruits. You might even get to press your own sugar cane.
FIVE: Observe dolphins in the wild with Honest Eco Sustainable Nature Tours. Climb aboard SQUID, Key West’s first electric-powered charter boat, for an eco-friendly four-hour dolphin watching and snorkeling tour. Departing from the Key West Historic Seaport, it’s biologist guided and absolutely unforgettable.
“The Eco-Experience Trail pass is an easy-to-use, mobile-based ‘passport’ that introduces visitors to the best of the Florida Keys’ natural attractions,” said Rita Irwin, chair of the tourism council. “Once they connect with the island chain’s environment, they can make eco-conscious choices that help protect it.”
And who wouldn’t want to protect and preserve the region’s one-of-a-kind natural world? So check out the pass today, and start planning your “eco-experience” escape to the Keys.