.All Trips / Florida / North America / Southeastern USA

Driving the Overseas Highway, Florida Keys

00 Overseas Highway, Florida Keys

A highlight of my last visit to Florida was a trip to its Keys.  It’s a road trip I’d wanted to do for some time and wish I’d done sooner.  The drive is a journey to a place that’s unlike any other in America.  Looking at it on a map, it seems like you’d be floating across water, rather than driving a well-engineered roadway.

Map overview of the Overseas Highway

Map overview of the Overseas Highway

A trip down the Overseas Highway (US-1), the only road connecting Miami with the Florida Keys, covers only 113 miles and can be driven in as little as 4 hours.  But the point of the journey is to stop when possible, linger, and enjoy the beautiful scenery and ambience of the Keys.   The drive takes you across numerous islands, including Key Largo, Key West and Islamorada, and across more than three dozen bridges including the famous stretch of Seven Mile Bridge at Marathon.

The Overseas Highway began first as the East Coast (Flagler’s) railway.  Mr Flagler wanted to connect his many Florida hotels, including those on the Keys, so he constructed tracks to service them.  The railway was not fully completed until 1912, but was considered a success.

Old postcard of Flagler's railroad

Old postcard of Flagler’s railroad

When a powerful hurricane in 1935 severely damaged more than 30 miles of track, the railway was forced to cease operation and the building of a highway to improve access to the Keys became necessary.   You can see relics of the abandoned damaged railroad still standing besides the modern roadway during your journey, which I was fascinated to see.  Other sections, like that below, have been salvaged and turned into pedestrian and biking paths.  

Ruined bridge of Flager's Railroad

Ruined bridge, Flagler’s Railroad

Today’s road includes sections rebuilt on some of the original railway spans, construction of new bridges, and stretches of road across the coral bed stone of the Keys.  By 1938, the first series of projects was completed and the roadway opened.  In so doing, an opportunity for new road trip adventures began.  

In 2009, the Overseas Highway was named an All-American Road by the National Scenic Byways program. More than three million visitors travel the highway annually.  Besides the photos in this post, you’ve likely seen the Overseas Highway featured in many adventure movies, ranging from James Bond to Mission Impossible.

(Click on thumbnails to enlarge, right arrow to advance slideshow)


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