Glades to the Florida Keys Bicycle Tour
The Glades to the Florida Keys Bicycle Tour is a 101-mile round trip from Chekika Ranger Station of Everglades National Park in central Dade County (just west of Miami) to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park on Key Largo. The route is designed to be a two-day, full-weekend trip.
The Chekika to Pennekamp route explores an extraordinary part of South Floridafrom Everglade grasslands to rich farming regions to mangrove swamps, where the great glades merge into the sea. The route ends on Key Largo, the key with the greatest land area and the closest connection with the mainland. Yet, Key Largo is typical of the great chain of coral and limestone islands that grace Florida's southern tip for 100 miles into the Caribbean Sea. Pennekamp State Park is famous for its snorkeling and diving.
River of Grass
Initial and final sections of this route lie between Chekika Ranger Station and Florida City. The southbound and northbound routes are the same for about nine miles to Silver Palm Drive. There the southbound route turns west then south to take advantage of the lesser traveled roads near the municipal airport. The northbound route returns through downtown Homestead and past the Dade County Fruit and Spice Park.
Chekika Ranger Station is surrounded by glade land, predominately covered by grasses. Higher ground or "hammocks" feature hardwood trees and tropical plants. Boardwalks lead to an interpretative exhibit about the area. An artesian swimming pond with a waterfall and fountain is a pleasant place too. Camping is available at the 20-site campground in the hammock. In October 1991, the park was donated to Everglades National Park as part of a 100,000-acre expansion to preserve, protect, and restore historic hydroperiods in the glades.
Chekika is named for a Seminole chief who led various raids during the Second Seminole War in 1839 and 1840. On one raid, Dr. Henry Perrine, a physician-botanist of renown, was killed, inciting retaliation by U.S. Army militia. The soldiers canoed into the Everglades, surprising and killing Chekika at his hideout, ten miles north of the present recreation site. This reprisal was significant in demonstrating that Indians were not necessarily safe in their watery wilderness.
From the glades area, the route crosses canals that have helped drain the marsh and create the adjacent farmland. The rich muck soils are famous for their winter vegetable production of beans, cabbage, celery, sweet corn, lettuce, potatoes, squash, cucumbers, and tomatoes. You'll pass fine groves of citrus, avocados, and papayas. Small tropical plant nurseries are everywhere too. Roads are open and unshaded, so be sure to wear sunscreen and a helmet, and carry water.
Twenty miles into the ride you'll arrive at Robert's Fruit Stand at the corner of Palm Drive and Tower Road (on the outskirts of Florida City). It's a refreshing stop with a great fruit selection. Florida City has a deserted air of an old town overshadowed by the urban development rising to the north in Homestead. The town was founded in 1913 and called Detroit until the Postal Department required residents to think up a more original name. Homestead has wide, palm-lined boulevards and a bustling old-town flavor.
On the northbound route the Dade County Fruit and Spice Park has an awe-inspiring arboretum of tropical trees from around the world, which bears all sorts of exotic fruit and spices. The park has picnic areas, restrooms, and a small store with books and topical tidbits.
From Florida City the route crosses U.S. 1 and travels southeast on Card Sound Road to Key Largo. Card Sound Road is the old highway, the route of the earliest road building efforts to connect the keys.
This great Overseas Highway opened in 1938. The road followed the corridor established by the overseas extension of the Florida East Coast Railway, completed by Henry Flagler in 1916. The railway was finished at great cost as 700 workers died in hurricanes and construction accidents. Later, much of the track was swept away in storms, and the railway was abandoned in 1935. The highway soon followed.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is very popular, and reservations for camping are imperative to ensure space. Snorkeling and dive trips to the reef are offered by the park.
Directions to Take-off Point
Chekika Ranger Station can be reached from Miami by following the Tamiami Trail (U.S. 41 ) west to Krome Avenue (SR 997). Turn south on Krome for nine miles, then turn west on SW 168th Street (also called Richmond Drive). Follow l68th west for about 8 miles until it ends, then turn north. The Chekika entrance will be 0.6 mile to the north. Check with park rangers at the entrance station for advice on the best place to park and let rangers know if you plan to leave your car overnight.
Southbound from Chekika to Florida City:
0.0 Chekika Ranger Station Entrance. Turn right onto SW 237 Ave.
0.6 Turn left onto Richmond Dr. SW 168 St.
4.6 Turn right onto SW 197 Ave.
5.8 Speed bumps, canal crossing.
6.0 Turn left as pavement curves left and becomes SW 192 St.
6.3 Turn right onto SW 194 Ave after passing Caribbean Tree Farms.
8.8 Turn right onto Silver Palm Drive SW 232 St.
11.0 Turn left onto SW 217 Ave.
14.4 Homestead General Airport.
18.0 Turn left onto Palm Drive West Palm Ave.
21.0 Robert's Fruit Market
22.0 Turn right onto Krome Ave SW 177 Ave.
22.8 Turn right onto US Highway 1.
23.0 Turn left onto Card Sound Road Old Dixie Highway
Northbound from Pennekamp to Florida City:
28.7 Turn right onto US 1
28.9 Turn left onto Krome Avenue SR 997 North. Pass Farmer's Market, Florida Pioneer Museum.
32.7 Turn left onto Avocado Drive SW 296 St.
34.7 Turn right onto Richard Road SW 197 Ave.
36.7 Turn right onto Bauer Dr SW 264 St.
37.7 Turn left on Redland Road 187 Ave.
38.7 Turn left onto Coconut Palm Dr SW 248 St pass Fruit and Spice Park.
39.2 Turn right onto Tower Road SW 192 Ave.
40.2 Turn left onto Silver Palm Drive SW 232 St.
40.5 Turn right onto SW 194 Ave Comfort Road
43.0 Turn left onto SW 192 St.
43.3 Turn right onto SW 197 Ave, pavement curves right, crosses canal
44.7 Turn left onto Richmond Dr. (SW 168 St unmarked "T" intersection). Cross canal and go to road end.
48.7 Turn right onto SW 237 Ave.
49.3 Turn left into Chekika Ranger Station
Total Trip Mileage: 101.0
As well as these directions, you should bring along your own map , in case you miss a turn, get lost, a road changes, or for any of the other thousands of reasons that you may need to vary your route.
The northern section of this tour has different south- and northbound courses between Chekika and Florida City. The quieter roads of Dade County's fruit and vegetable farming area provide enjoyable cycling routes in congested South Florida. Many of the roads are unsigned (especially at the north end of the route, near Chekika), so pay special attention to the route directions and mileage. The northern routes could be used to form a 44-mile loop, which makes a good day's ride from Chekika.
On the southernmost part of the bicycle route, there are only two roads to the Keys, both carrying high volumes of traffic. The lesser traveled road, SR 905, via Card Sound Road, was selected for the tour route. This road still carries quite a bit of traffic, with volumes less on the weekends. During the week, a large number of trucks travel this way, hauling rock into Miami.
The roads leading from Chekika are very narrow and straight. Traffic is light but includes an occasional large truck. Weekend traffic is heavier midmorning Saturday and Sunday afternoon with people headed to and from Chekika. Watch for rearview mirrors on pick-up trucks and RV's that extend farther than usual.
Traffic is light on most of the roads between Richmond Drive and Florida City. However, don't become too complacent. Area drivers have a reputation for disregarding stop signs, so ride defensively.
Card Sound Road is flat and straight with a very narrow, grassy shoulder between the pavement and guardrail. The ten-foot lanes give a bit of room on the pavement, but not much. During the week the road is very busy with rock trucks. On weekends the road carries less traffic, but many vehicles are pulling boat trailers. Ride this road with caution and be wary of extended rearview mirrors. Early morning riding will allow you to avoid much of the traffic. There is no charge for bicycles at the bridge toll station if you do not ride over the metal counter in pavement. Otherwise, pay $1 per vehicle.
After crossing Carl Sound Road, SR 905 leads from the north end of the island to U.S. 1. SR 905 also has ten-foot lanes, but less traffic and a pleasantly smooth surface.
At U.S. 1, cyclists can either ride with the heavy, fast traffic on the highway or use the separate bike path on the south side of U.S. 1. The bike path leads directly to the state park entrance and runs the entire length of Key Largo. The beginning of the bike path at the junction of SR 905 and US 1 is not marked. If you choose to ride U.S. 1, be sure to ride predictably with no sudden maneuvers. Watch well ahead for pavement hazards such as sand, rocks, or glass.
The route has little shade, and convenience stores are few and far apart. Be sure to carry plenty of water, snack food, and sunscreen.
Southbound, between Chekika and Florida City, there are no services, i.e., gas stations, convenience stores, or public telephones. The route is fairly desolate in this respect, so go prepared. Be sure to carry a tire patch kit, bicycle pump, simple tools including tire irons, rain gear, sunscreen, road food, and plenty of water.
No services are available for the 16 miles on Card Sound Road except for Alabama Jacks Bar, near the toll station. A convenience store is at the intersection of SR 905 and U.S. 1. A few stores are passed before you reach the entrance to Pennekamp where you can resupply groceries and such. There is a greater variety of stores further south, about three miles past the state park entrance.
Northbound on the return, the route passes through downtown Homestead where you'll find a complete line of services, including bike shops, restaurants, motels, and grocery stores.
For more information on the parks and reservations, contact the Chekika Ranger Station at Everglades National Park or the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park at (305) 451-1202
Emergency: Phone 911 throughout the ride area.
Many thanks to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for this tour description.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication