This unique loop ride takes in Florida’s largest city, longest bridges, and wildest swamplands, showcasing the best of South Florida along a pair of Adventure Cycling routes. To begin, we’ll follow the southernmost section of the Atlantic Coast route, from the Fort Lauderdale vicinity to Key West (with a side trip in a van to Everglades National Park). Then, after catching an evening ferry around the tip of Florida to Fort Myers, we’ll follow the Florida Connector back across the state via LaBelle and South Bay, nestled at the southern end of massive Lake Okeechobee.
|Start Date:||Jan 17, 2015||End Date:||Jan 27, 2015|
|Start Location:||Ft. Lauderdale, FL||End Location:||Ft. Lauderdale, FL|
|Total Days:||11||Riding Days:||8|
|Average Daily Mileage:||48.4||Surface:||Paved|
|Riders:||14||Airport:||Ft. Lauderdale/Hollywood Intl.|
|Tour Leader:||Dave Cox||Meals:||Shared cooking|
|Physical Difficulty:||Intermediate||Level of Support:||Self Contained|
Hollywood (Fort Lauderdale area). We’ll gather at the bright and lively Hollywood Beach area, named one of America’s “top-ten nostalgic promenades” by USA Today. Just a few miles away is Fort Lauderdale and it’s elaborate system of canals, which earned it the nickname, “the Venice of America.” If you prefer gawking at yachts over people watching, this is the place for you: An estimated 42,000 yachts harbor in the city’s hundred marinas and boatyards.
Hollywood to Florida City, 58 miles. The northern portions of today’s ride generally follow Highway A1A, which maintains low speed limits and has marked bike lanes that make it a more pleasant and manageable cycling experience. South of Bal Harbour, aka “Florida’s Paradise,” the route becomes less trafficked as it follows side roads, sidewalks, and shaded bike paths through neighborhoods of stately homes. We’ll visit the famously bohemian Coconut Grove neighborhood, a walking village with palm-tree-lined sidewalks leading to one of the East Coast’s most alluring sailing bays. Our destination for the night is Florida City, gateway to the Keys.
Layover day. Today as a special treat, we’ll shuttle van to the eastern reaches of Everglades National Park. Before heading out, though, we might want to get our bearings at the Ernest Coe Visitor Center, located just outside Florida City in Homestead. In the park proper, we’ll find a series of walking trails; the Pa-hay-okee Overlook Trail features an observation tower that’s a great place to spot native birds. The area encompassing Everglades National Park, now the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States and a designated International Biosphere Reserve, was inhabited largely by the Calusa Indians prior to the arrival of the Spanish in 1513. Thought to have first emerged around 1000 B.C., the Calusa were a highly organized society that left behind tools made of shells and wood, architectural shell works, and evidence of canoe trails.
Florida City to Key Largo, 32 miles. After today’s introduction to cycling in the Keys, we’ll overnight at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, where the campsites surround the eastern side of Key Largo. Scuba tours and glass-bottom boat tours are available, and the visitor center features a 30,000-gallon saltwater aquarium teeming with life, and a theater that shows nature videos.
Key Largo to Marathon, 55 miles. Today the Overseas Highway leads us through Islamorada, Indian Key, Long Key State Park, and, finally Marathon. We’ll ride across several of the relatively new, bike-friendly bridges that link the Keys. Other available highlights of the day include the Theater Of The Sea in Islamorada, where you can swim with dolphins, sea lions, and rays. Options on Long Key include canoeing through a chain of lagoons or hiking the Golden Orb Trail. Our destination, Marathon, occupies several of the central Keys. It was named by Florida East Coast Railroad workers who toiled at an unrelenting pace to complete the railroad — a real marathon of a job.
Marathon to Big Pine Key, 15 miles. Today is almost a layover day. We'll cross the New Sevenmile Bridge to Bahia Honda State Park on Big Pine Key. The 500-acre park features lovely sand beaches and some of the best snorkeling and beachcombing in Florida. Sea kayaks are also available for rent, and make a great way to explore the quiet waters off the key.
Big Pine Key to Key West, 34 miles. Key West has been likened to a more laid-back version of New Orleans. Originally known as Cayo Hueso, Spanish for “bone key," it’s said the island was so named because early European visitors found it to be littered with human bones.
Layover day, Key West. There’s so much to see and do in Key West that just one layover day can’t do it justice. Still, you can give it your best shot. There’s the Key West Aquarium (built by the WPA in 1932–34), Mel Fisher’s Treasures (exhibits from shipwrecks discovered by the famous treasure hunter), the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, the Harry S Truman Little White House, the Key West Lighthouse, the Half Shell Raw Bar — you get the picture. Before nightfall, however, we’ll board a ferry to Fort Myers.
Ft. Myers to LaBelle, 43 miles. Though we’ve only boated around the tip of Florida, today’s riding may make you think we washed up in a new world. Our inland crossing of South Florida is completely different from the coastal riding we’ve been doing up to this point. If time permits we might visit the winter home of Thomas A. Edison on the Caloosahatchee River. Edison’s beautiful Seminole Lodge and riverfront estate served as the great inventor’s winter retreat from 1886 until his death in 1931. His friend, Henry Ford, purchased neighboring property, and Ford and Edison whiled away a lot of winter hours together in the tropical climes of southwest Florida.
LaBelle to South Bay, 78 miles. LaBelle has always been a workingman’s town of drovers, fruit growers, and trappers. Our destination, South Bay, is the westernmost municipality in the South Florida metro area. It sits at the southern end of Lake Okeechobee, the largest freshwater lake in Florida and the seventh largest in the continental U.S. Big as it is, its average depth is a mere nine feet.
South Bay to Ft. Lauderdale, 72 miles. Today it’s back to the beach and civilization! You may find this hard to believe as most of the route to South Bay is deserted and void of services. Before you know it we’ll complete our big loop sun-drenched, satisfied, and ready to take on winter … well, at least two of the above.
"The camaraderie of the group was amazing and really was the highlight of the whole experience. Even before the tour started, two members of the group jumped in and helped me with a logistical problem I had in getting my bike to the start of the tour. That set the tone and we were there for each other, working together for the whole tour."
2014 Tour Participant
"I enjoyed cycling through all the keys, seeing the beautiful blue waters, sunrise out of my sent over the Atlantic, and sunsets. Snorkeling off Pennekamp in the rain was fantastic, great reef and so many fish. Even the ferry to Fort Myers was great."
2014 Tour Participant
"The Everglades tour was an exciting off the bike experience and the opportunity to go snorkeling on the coral reefs was great. There was plenty of exploring to do on the shorter mileage days."
2013 Tour Participant
"The Everglades tour guide was awesome. Snorkeling was great. I just wish the ride back to Hollywood had more than sugar cane fields - the Keys were awesome."
2014 Tour Participant