Alligator Reef Lighthouse / Indian Key Fill in Florida
This paddle was inspired on one of our drives to the keys when we passed the steel structure off shore and researched it. The Alligator Reef Lighthouse is an active light built in 1873. The light is 4.6 miles from Indian Key Fill (Indian Key is an island 1/4 mile east of the bridge). We knew we had to paddle out to it. We are newer paddlers but we paddle often and our longest paddle has been 11 miles in a day from Flamingo to East Cape Sable.
The day started after a night paddle around the old Flagler Railroad Bridge at Bahia (pronounced bay-ah) Honda State Park. The moon was full and lit up the water for a beautiful paddle. We woke up and broke camp a quick stop for nourishment and a moderate drive (40 miles) to the put in at Indian Key Fill.
We put in at the public boat ramp beach on the southwest corner of the small key. The launch was a bit rocky and busy but it was quick and close. Our adventure started out at 8:24AM as we paddled south to the bridge then east under it. The target is in sight, the Alligator Reef Lighthouse, due east 4-5 knots away. The paddle started with a strong current under the bridge. We paddled through the channel then to the flats for a direct paddle to the light. The first mile was choppy with a slight head wind but the water was clear and shallow. Paddling over the sea grass meadow was nice. A huge sting ray didnt like us paddling over him so he thrashed and took off.
Our next mile or so got us into deeper waters with a bunch of crab traps. The day started to heat up as it did so did the wind. The seas were swelling 1-2ft and with the headwind this was tied with the hardest water weve ever paddled. The paddle was beginning to be not fun. I was getting hungry. The light was getting closer.
The next mile was flat out miserable it was hot, the winds were gusting right in our face and the seas were 2-3 feet. All I wanted to do was to turn around and head back. Carrie said, "We can turn around, if you want to be the lamest people ever" with that, I paddled toward the light both figuratively and literally. The seas were rough and the wind was blowing but the water was beautiful. It was crystal clear and a color blue that only happens in nature.
45 more minutes and we were at the light. The water was so beautiful I tossed an anchor, tied off our boats and jumped in. The dumbest thing I've done in the last 20 years. After a refreshing but exhausting swim, I couldn't get back on the kayak. For 30 minutes I struggled to get back on and at one point I was trapped between the lighthouse and the kayak.
Scratched and bruised, and with Carrie's help. I finally got on the 'yak. Defeated, I suggested we eat our packed lunch and just head back. At this point, the 3 hours of rough seas started getting to us and sea-sickness sat in. We decided not to eat and slowly paddle back. We were feeling miserable. Then just off of the port side we noticed a sea turtle breaching the surface. That was our first sea turtle encounter. He quickly went under but since the water was so clear we were able to photograph him. That invigorated us. We paddled more. We had a good tailwind.
The rough seas finally took their toll and we had to stop paddling for a bit and clean out a kayak. At that point we decided we were going to make it back under out own power and looked to just set short goals.
First a channel marker, then a reef head, then a trap buoy until before we knew it we were back in the flats. Then we had the real fun on the trip. As soon as we entered the flats we saw a 4-6ft black tip shark. A little while later, a spotted ray. We came upon a sand "hole" in the sea grass meadow and inside was a 2-3ft barracuda patrolling his feeding ground. About a mile off to port a pod of dolphin were frolicking about. As we got closer to shore we saw a couple of sea stars. We were at low tide and we tried to stay in deep enough water that we wouldn't have to portage the 'yaks. We both grounded in about 6 inches of water and had to get out and move the kayaks about 3 ft and hop back on. The sea grass did scratch/sting a little bit but we literally took 2 steps and hopped back on. We paddled across the channel about 50 yards and finished our journey.
This was the toughest thing I've ever done in my life. I played sports, wrestled, and went through the police academy. But it is also one of the greatest physical accomplishments of my life.
Not for the faint of heart under these weather conditions.
The views and the sea life were absolutely stunning.
Things I would do differently: check wind and sea reports before going out, if the wind is blowing and seas are up take alternate trip to Historic Indian Key State Park and kayak the "flats".
There are numerous hotels, RV/camping sites, and state parks within 30 miles of the put in.
No permits or fees.
You are not permitted to enter the lighthouse
US1 (Overseas Highway) South to MM 79, Indian Key Fill. The public primitive boat ramp is on the west side.
- Trip Duration: Day Trip
- Sport/Activity: Kayaking
- Skill Level: Advanced
- Water Type: Open Water/Ocean