Onroute Logo

Travel & recreation

Destinations | Drives | Nature | Guides

Natural Places

Cedar Keys

National Wildlife Refuge

Florida Wildlife




Twelve small barrier islands at the southern end of the Big Bend were made a refuge, beginning with President Hoover's proclamation of 1929 which protected Snake, Deadman's (Bird), and North keys. Nine islands were added later. Four of them (Snake, Bird, North, and Seashore) are designated wilderness areas.

Native peoples occupied the islands for more than a thousand years. Since the Spanish era, the islands have had a colorful history. Seahorse Key, the outermost island, has been used as a military hospital, and served as a detention camp for captured natives during the Second Seminole War (1835-1842). A lighthouse was built on this island in 1851, and abandoned in 1952. Now, under the aegis of the University of Florida, the lighthouse serves as a center for marine research and environmental education. The island was formed as a giant sand dune, and the dune survives as the central ridge, rising to a height of 52 feet—the highest point on the state's west coast.

On most of the islands, the higher points (ranging from five to 20 feet above sea level) are covered with an upland forest of live oak, laurel oak, cabbage palm and red bay. The surprisingly verdant understory includes saw palmetto, cherry laurel, yaupon, wild olive, prickly pear, eastern red cedar, and Spanish bayonet. The parts of the islands closer to the sea suffer from frequent flooding, and are made up of salt marshes and mangrove swamps.

While the island interiors are closed to the public, to protect the fragile ecosystems, all of the beaches except those on Seahorse Key are open to the public Year-round. They are happily visited during daylight hours by tourists who take a boat from Cedar Key to collect shells, beachcomb, identify birds, and take pictures. Seahorse Key and the waters surrounding it are closed from March 1 through June 30. During the rest of the year you'll be able to visit one of Florida's finest water bird rookeries, with up to 100,000 egrets, white ibis, cormorants, herons, pelicans, anhingas, and other species. Not all of these birds nest on Seahorse Key and you'll find a strong complement of birds on the other islands too.

Most of the islands can be reached only at high tide, as mud and sand flats appear when the tide recedes. This is a primitive area, where camping is not permitted, and visitors are asked to pack out everything they take onto the islands. For information on the islands, call the Refuge Manager in Chiefland, at 352-493-0238.While camping is not permitted on the islands of the refuge, you'll find a private campground and RV park in Cedar Key, and a campground in Manatee Springs State Park, about 20 minutes drive north.

Fraser Bridges


Search hotels, cruises,
and vacation packages around the world

go to the Hotel Guide


Tecopa Hot Springs, California



Travel Resources


Hotels - Vacation Packages
Condos, Suites
and Vacation Homes

Onroute Travel & Nature Books

Florida's Big Bend - Home

Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge

Waccasassa Bay State Preserve

The Lower Suwanee

Manatee Springs and O'leno State Parks

Ichetucknee Springs State Park

Peacock Springs StateRecreation Area

Suwanee River State Park

Attractions Below the Big Bend


Natural Places

Big Bend National Park

Cedar Keys Wildlife Refuge

Florida's Nature Coast

Everglades National Park

Florida's Big Bend

Grand Canyon North Rim

California's Grover Hot Springs State Park

Gulf Islands National Seashore

Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy Valley

There's Life in Death Valley

New Mexico's Gila Wilderness

Canada's Pacific Rim National Park

The Texas Gulf Coast