Caribbean Island Kayaking, Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas, Florida

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14210A, Kayak


  • Explore and snorkel Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas
  • Kayak gin-clear water in Florida Keys and snorkel the reef
  • Enjoy Key West and Fantasy Fest


  • Sea kayaks and instruction
  • All on-trip transportation
  • Lodging on the water and tasty meals reflecting local cuisine


DatesOct 26–Nov 1, 2014
StaffPatrick Nichols

Trip Overview

The Trip

Off the south coast of Florida, nestled comfortably between the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, lie hundreds of keys. Hemingway made these keys his home for the same reasons we visit them: serenity and isolation, tropical forests and white-sand beaches, crystalline waters, adventure, tropical wildlife, excellent local cuisine, and colorful sunsets. In all your travels, you'll never see anywhere like Key West. Each evening, the whole island shuts down for half an hour and everyone gathers on the docks -- for no other reason than to toast the night's arrival. Nowhere else in America will you walk through forests where even the names of the trees seem so magical: gumbo-limbo, strangler fig, poisonwood, and mastic.


Day 1: On Sunday, the leader will meet all participants at our nicely appointed house on the water near Marathon. If you're flying into Miami, we encourage you to take advantage of the Keys shuttle. If you wish to drive, we'll send you directions. Plan to arrive by 4 p.m. The first meal of the trip is dinner. Before dinner we will have a "mini-introduction to kayaking workshop" and then toast the sunset.

Day 2: On Monday morning, after a yummy Southern-style breakfast, we jump in the transport van and head for Curry Hammock State Park. Curry Hammock is famous for the birds of prey that frequent this newest Keys State Park. This is a great place to get your feet wet. We'll paddle a mangrove tunnel, then we'll eat lunch at a magnificent beach with fossilized coquina rock.

Day 3: On Tuesday, we make our way into Key West. This is your opportunity to explore Key West and experience Fantasy Fest (Key West's version of Halloween). Everyone on the island gets dressed in his or her craziest, most outrageous costume and body paint. Be sure to bring your camera, it has been compared to the New Orleans Mardi Gras celebrations. This is a wild day in Key West!

Day 4: On Wednesday, we cruise out to the Looe Key Marine Sanctuary and snorkel with this protected reef's inhabitants. Brilliantly colored parrotfish and other reef residents glide by to greet us. The snorkel express leaves from Bahia Honda. The beach here is consistently rated in the top 10 in Florida.

Day 5: On Thursday, we leave bright and early for Key West and catch our ferry to the Dry Tortugas. Our three-hour cruise will transport us to the least-visited national park in the U.S. We'll snorkel and explore the incredible Garden Key, have lunch, and enjoy the whole day here. Departing late afternoon, we will arrive back in Key West in time to enjoy the Key West sunset celebration.

Day 6: Friday, we will paddle to the near shore island called Lignum Vitae and then off to Indian Key to eat a picnic lunch, snorkel, and explore the Indian Key State Historic Site. In the evening, we will take a sunset paddle through a mangrove labyrinth. At week's end you will have a greater understanding of the delicate nature of the living reef, as well as the meaning of the laid-back Keys' attitude "Keyed up and Conched out."

Day 7: The trip ends on Saturday morning after breakfast at 9 a.m.

The leaders will make every reasonable effort to meet the goals outlined in the itinerary. Please keep in mind that weather or other conditions beyond our control may cause us to modify the itinerary in order to ensure the safety and well-being of the group.



Getting There

Miami International is the best choice for participants flying in. You can pick up the Keys shuttle from the airport or carpool with others on the trip. Directions will be provided to all participants. 

Accommodations and Food

Our nicely appointed house is on the water near the Atlantic and Gulf. It is a very comfortable, large house that comes with a pool and hot tub. Our small group (just 10 participants) will enjoy separate shared rooms. The house has a huge living area with plenty of room for everyone to relax in and enjoy. All meals will be prepared by the leaders and we ask that everyone assists with cleanup. Vegetarians can be accommodated, but please make sure the leaders are aware of your special needs before the trip. 

Trip Difficulty

This is a great trip for a beginner. Seasoned kayakers and novices will find it great fun. Your leaders are kayak instructors and instruction will be available throughout the trip. Expect to paddle one to two hours at a time. On a paddle day our time on the water will be a maximum of three to four hours. This leaves us time for snorkeling, beach combing, swimming, and exploring all the wonders of the fabulous Florida Keys. If you are looking for more paddle time, our house is on the water. If you don't feel like paddling, take the day off -- perhaps do a little fishing from the dock. If you are not having fun, you are not paying attention. 

Equipment and Clothing

A list of recommended items to bring will be sent to all participants. Don't forget the smile.



  • Hiaasen, Carl, Native Tongue.
  • Dorsey, Tim, Cadillac Beach.
  • Larson, Gary, There's A Hair In My Dirt.


We will discuss and see firsthand how the Keys and Gulf were affected by the BP oil spill. Our group will raise their awareness of the difficulties involved in preserving the third-largest reef in the world.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.
While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from Dry Tortugas National Park.



It's not Patrick Nichols' 35 years of wilderness experience or his extensive background as an outdoor enthusiast and wilderness educator that distinguish his tours from the ordinary. It is the exquisite attention to detail: from gourmet cuisine to the intricacies of paddling on quiet waters propelled by kayak. He is an ACA instructor, has trained with Red Cross water safety and is a wilderness first responder. His calling is to use the quiet skills of his lifetime to benefit every traveler, to ensure his skills and knowledge are shared by every voyager with an open heart and a curious mind.

Assistant Leader:

Joe Gallelli is a lifelong outdoorsman, active Outings leader, and certified Wilderness First Responder who enjoys sharing has woodcraft skills, native orchid passion, conservation pursuits, wildlife knowledge, and Native American interests with others. He paddles, swims, wades, hikes, backpacks, rambles, and scrambles to be in wildland and wilderness settings. Joe keeps himself fit and is particularly well adapted to camping and paddling in the southeast USA aquatic and marine environments.

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