Straddling land and sea, outlining canals and reaching to create a low-lying canopy to guide your Key West kayaking trip are the Key West mangroves — builders of a unique ecosystem. Most recognizable by their hodgepodge of aboveground roots, Key West mangroves are a calling card of the island’s natural beauty and distinct botany. Be sure to include them in your Key West paddleboarding trip, as they accent the scenery of the ocean in a way you can’t see anywhere else. By foot, boat, stand-up paddleboard and more, explore the intricate ecosystems of the Key West mangroves today!

Fun Facts About Key West Mangroves

There are three types of mangroves native to Key West: red, white and black. You can tell each apart based on various qualities. For example, red mangrove leaves are pointed at the end instead of rounded. Black mangroves often form salt crystals on the underside of their leaves, and their roots stick up from the ground like straws. Toward the base of the trunk of a white mangrove, one can see a pair of bolts sticking out, similar to the way bolts stick out of Frankenstein’s neck. White mangroves also produce a fruit that looks similar to a prune. 

Next time you are on a Key West kayaking trip, be sure to say a quick thank you to the Key West mangrove. These remarkable plants, aside from providing a home for the island’s fascinating creatures, help prevent the shoreline of the island from eroding with their extensive root systems. In addition, their root systems actually help landmasses form by holding the sediment together, forming the island in the first place. Mangrove forests are also helpful in the fight against climate change, as they can store 10 times more carbon than comparable ecosystems. 

Key West mangroves protect the island against rising sea levels, as their roots hold the shoreline in place and provide a natural barrier. However, the mangrove forests and mangrove tunnels are in danger. On your next Key West paddleboarding excursion, when you are looking up at the stout, one-of-a-kind canopy Key West mangroves create, bear in mind the importance of their conservation. Riding through the Key West backcountry on your stand-up paddleboard would not be the same without those special plants.

The Best Ways to See Key West Mangroves

The magnificent Key West mangrove is a spectacle to be taken in any number of ways. A trip to the Key West Nature Preserve, or the incredible Key West backcountry, provides exceptional hiking trails to explore the mangrove forest on foot. For those interested in the wildlife within the mangroves, a hike through the Key West mangroves provides the best opportunity to spot insects, small reptiles and birds. Similarly, a Key West kayaking excursion through the mangroves capitalizes on the wildlife, especially that looming beneath the surface and hugging the shoreline. It is best to explore the winding waterways outlined by the Key West mangroves without the hum of an engine, keeping the creatures living in this ecosystem in mind, so bring your stand-up paddleboard and embark on your Key West paddleboarding trip through the mangroves today. 

paddle boarding through the mangroves in key west

Outside of the narrow waterways with their low-hanging canopies, boats and Jet Skis can also help you spot some of the incredible wildlife living within the mangroves. Keep your eyes peeled for birds nesting atop the mangroves or large iguanas reminiscent of dinosaurs sunbathing on the branches cast out over the water. Just be sure that you’re not hugging the shore too closely with your boat or Jet Ski, as it could prove harmful to the wildlife. 

Know Before You Go

It is important to know that the Key West mangroves are in danger from an ecological standpoint. Therefore, it’s best to keep in mind the most eco-friendly ways you can visit the mangroves. Key West paddleboarding, Key West kayaking and Key West hiking are the best ways to see these forests, mainly because there are no engines involved. It’s gentler on the plants and animals living within these forests. Also, whatever trash you may make while exploring the Key West mangroves, be sure to discard it properly outside of the forests for the safety of the wildlife.

Speaking of wildlife, there are plenty of critters to encounter on your stand-up paddleboard ride through the Key West mangroves. The reptiles are quick and fascinating. On a sunny day, large iguanas can be seen in the treetops, baking in the sun while perched on a mangrove branch. Smaller lizards scuttle around on the forest floor rummaging for food. Key West mangrove forests are also popular bird-watching destinations, particularly in the migratory wintermonths. Many birds make their nests in the low-lying canopies of the mangrove forests, so be mindful of a protective mother and her nest! The marine life traversing the mangrove waterways, feeding on the shorelines forged by the extravagant roots of the Key West mangroves, is also fascinating. 

The best season for wildlife sightings in Key West depends on the wildlife itself. For birdwatchers, the migratory winter months present the most diverse population of birds in the Key West mangroves, easily spotted on your Key West paddleboarding adventure or your hike. The reptiles are present year-round, yet they are particularly active in the summer months when the air is warmer and the insects are more prevalent. There are downloadable nature guides available online for kids and adults interested in the Key West mangrove forests and their wildlife. On your next Key West kayaking trip, be sure to use one to aid you in your identification of the fascinating animals all around. 

Nature-Focused Attractions Nearby 

Couple on beach with outdoor things to do such as kayakers in the background

Fury Island Adventure Eco Tour

The Fury Island Adventure Eco Tour is educational fun for the whole family. The tour offers a relaxing way to engage with the incredible wildlife Key West has to offer. With a guided Key West kayaking tour, the Island Adventure Eco Tour puts you in the driver’s seat of your most exciting Key West experience yet. Stand-up paddleboards are also made available, as well as complementary meals and beverages to ensure the best day possible. Strap on Fury’s top-of-the-line snorkel gear and get exploring with the Island Adventure Eco Tour.

Couple riding a jet ski in Key West

Fury Jet Ski Tours

Pick up the speed offered by a Key West paddleboarding trip and try Fury’s Jet Ski Tours — an exhilarating experience for all those who choose to embark. With guided tours available, Fury Jet Ski Tours is all about excitement. A scenic 28-mile stretch of Key West waters introduces you to the sites you just won’t get on your Key West kayaking trip. With Fury’s double-rider Jet Skis, take turns steering the water’s most exciting mode of transportation and share an experience you’ll never forget. 

The Key West Nature Preserve

The Key West Nature Preserve is an excellent launching point for your stand-up paddleboard or Key West kayaking adventure. It also provides an exceptional hiking trail teeming with all the kinds of wildlife that make Key West special. Make the trip out in the evening and enjoy one of the best places to see the Key West sunset, unaffected by the actions of humankind. A deceivingly small space, there is an entire world of wildlife and experience tucked away in the humble yet exhilarating Key West Nature Preserve. 

Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory

Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory

Key West understands that butterflies are some of the most beautiful creatures in the natural world. Their wings like paintings that could never truly be duplicated except by each other, the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory is a must see on your next Key West vacation. With wildlife such as birds and insects on display, the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory is the perfect stop after a Key West paddleboarding trip devoid of the wildlife you desired. Here, it is guaranteed. So, the next time you’re unable to spot the bird or butterfly you had your heart set on during your Key West kayaking trip, be sure to get your fill at the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory.


What is the best time of year to visit the Key West mangroves?

Planning your Key West paddleboarding or Key West kayaking trip for a specific time of year depends on your goal for the adventure. If you are a bird-watcher, the migratory wintermonths are the best for you. If you want to see fish and reptiles at their most active, the warmer buggier summer months are ideal. Each season provides a certain appeal.

How can I see the Key West mangroves in an eco-friendly way?

The best way to see the mangrove forests in an eco-friendly way is to go motorless. Something like a kayak or a stand-up paddleboard through the mangrove-lined waterways will be kindest to the forest and the wildlife living within it. 

What are the Key West mangroves?

The Key West mangroves are a series of bushes that are known for their root systems above- and below ground, their proximity to the sea and their role in creating a habitat for many forms of wildlife, such as alligators, birds, crustaceans and small fish. They are extremely helpful to the Key West ecosystem, as well as to humans.

How are the Key West mangroves different from the mangroves in the rest of Florida?

The Key West mangroves’ root systems actually help form the island, as they help the sediment stay together. Island mangroves are known for this function.

Why are mangroves important to the Florida Keys?

Mangroves provide protection for eroding shorelines, soak up flood waters and protect the coast during storms. Key West mangroves provide the island with a natural barrier, a carbon trap, and produce plenty of oxygen, making breathing the island air a special treat.

Last Updated 11/30/2023