Boca Grande Key (Key West)

Boca Grande is a small, uninhabited island in the Florida Keys. 

Boca Grande Key is an extremely popular boating destination for people who live in Key West, and for visitors who visit the island with sandbar tours and captained boat charters.

Note: Boca Grande Key should not be confused with the small residential community of Boca Grande, which is located on Gasparilla Island in southwest Florida’s Gulf coast. It also has a popular sandbar.

Boca Grande Key Overview

The island of Boca Grande covers approximately 180 acres. It is the largest and westernmost island in the Mule Keys. There is a small brackish lagoon in the center of the island. 

The island of Boca Grande Key is an important bird nesting ground and habitat for many forms of wildlife. 

Be sure to check the rules and regulations before visiting Boca Grande Key!

Boca Grande Woman Key NOAA WMA Rules
Source: NOAA

There are special rules in effect at Boca Grande Key and Woman Key Wildlife Management Area. The beach is closed in some areas, including the area above the high-tide line.

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A beach on Woman Key near Key West

Boca Grande Key supports a large population of seabirds and migratory birds, including threatened and endangered species. Loggerhead turtles nest on the islands, including the sandy beach and sand dunes.

The surrounding waterways also provide a fish spawning ground, protection for juvenile fish and many other forms of marine life.

Boca Grande Key Sandbar

There is a large sandbar offshore of Boca Grande Key. It is one of the most popular sandbars near Key West.

The sandbar at Boca Grande Key is located on the west/southwest side of the island. There are also other popular anchorages in the areas around Boca Grande Key.

Many hundreds of boats can gather on the sandbars near Boca Grande Key in the summer, especially on holidays and on busy weekends. 

Note: The area around Boca Grande Key is sometimes closed during busy periods to help prevent environmental destruction, overcrowding and to protect wildlife from disturbance.

Continue Reading:   Neptune Beach

The least-crowded times are generally during the week, especially when the weather is chilly.

There are other restrictions which are in-place year-round. Parts of the beach on Boca Grande Key are closed, and the island is preserved for wildlife conservation. 

Many parts of the beach at Boca Grande Key are covered in mangroves, which extend to the water’s edge in some areas. 

The beaches are nicest and widest at low tide, when more sand is exposed.

Water Depth

The area around Boca Grande Key is very shallow, especially the area to the north, known as the Lakes Passage.

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A nautical chart showing Boca Grande Key and Lakes Pass near Key West. Source: NOAA

Some parts are only a few inches deep at low tide, or may dry out completely. Even the deepest areas are only 6-12 feet deep in most spots, except for deepwater channels and cuts.

The areas to the north, east and northeast of Boca Grande are extremely shallow. Deeper water and channels are found to the south and west. 

The channel to the west of Boca Grande Key ranges from approximately 3-20 feet, depending on the location. There are shoals in the channel which shift frequently. 

A sandbar extends continually from Boca Grande Key to Woman Key. 

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Aerial photograph showing Ballast Key, Woman Key and Boca Grande Key near Key West

The surrounding area to the north is largely shallow zero-depth water, before deepening to approximately 2-5 feet in an area known as the “Lakes Passage”.

There is some deep water access south of Boca Grande, but boaters should use good charts and exercise extreme caution. 

Please be careful not to disturb any wildlife. Do not cause damage to the seafloor, seagrass, or any part of the fragile natural ecosystem!

Location

Boca Grande Key is approximately 12 miles west of Key West. 

Boca Grande Key is one of the westernmost islands in the Key West National Wildlife Refuge, in a collection of islands called the “Mule Keys”. 

Continue Reading:   Cedar Key

It is located just west of Woman Key, and sits just to the east of the Marquesas Keys, which are across the wide Boca Grande Channel.

The body of water to the north and northeast of Boca Grande Key is named “Lakes Passage”. It is filled with shallow water which ranges from 0-6 feet in the deepest areas. 

Parts of the Lakes Passage area are marked on charts as “Prohibited Area” and there are environmental protection regulations in-place, which must be followed.

The Boca Grande Sandbar is located inside the Key West National Wildlife Refuge. Visitors should be sure they know the rules and regulations of the wildlife refuge before visiting.

  • Please avoid disturbing any wildlife if you visit
  • Please avoid damaging the fragile ecosystem
  • Please leave the environment cleaner than you found it!

How to Get to Boca Grande Key

The only way to reach Boca Grande Key is via boat. 

Many people visit via privately-owned watercraft. The island is also accessible via organized boat tours which depart from Key West or Stock Island.

Boca Grande Key is located inside a “Personal Watercraft Closure Zone”. Jet skis or personal watercraft (PWCs) are not allowed in the zone.

Many boaters navigate to Boca Grande Key from Key West via the “Lakes Passage”, or sometimes just called “Lakes”.

The Lakes Passage is filled with shallow water. Extreme caution is required, and local knowledge is advised.

Boca Grande can also be accessed by exiting the Northwest Channel and heading west “on the outside”, and then approaching from the south or southwest.

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A nautical chart showing Boca Grande Key, Woman Key and Ballast Key. Source: NOAA

Protected Wildlife Refuge

Note: There are specific rules and regulations in effect around Boca Grande Key, so be sure that you understand them before going to avoid legal trouble, or disturbing the sensitive Florida Keys ecosystem.

The beach above high mean tide is restricted, and is closed by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Additional information is available from NOAA.

Continue Reading:   Sandbars in Key West

Shipwrecks Near Key West and Boca Grande Key

There are several shipwrecks near Key West and Boca Grande.

Two wrecks are located near Boca Grande Key, approximately one mile north of the island. They are in shallow water and are good places for anchoring and snorkeling.

Another wreck is approximately 4 miles north of Boca Grande Key. 

The wreck is in an advanced state of decay, and is a popular spot for photography and snorkeling. 

The wreck is photogenic because it looks like a ghost ship. Most photos of the ship are from many decades ago, when the hull was more in-tact. 

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A shipwreck near Key West and Boca Grande Key

Today most of the structure has been eroded. In the past the hull had mangrove trees growing through it, before they were destroyed by a hurricane.

The wreck sits in water which is approximately 5-15 feet deep. The wreck is usually a good place to see marine life. There is abundant coral surrounding the shipwreck.

The wreck was allegedly the former private yacht of Henry Ford, named the “Sialia”. It was also later known as the “Patricia Target Ship”, or “Old Patricia Target”.

The sunken ship was used for military target practice in the 1940s. There are many dummy bomb casings surrounding the wreck from when it was used for target practice by airplanes, flying out of NAS Key West. 

History of Boca Grande Key

Boca Grande Key has been a popular boating destination for many decades.

Historical image of boaters on Boca Grande Key near Key West
Boca Grande Key has been a popular boating destination for many decades.

Many people even built stilt houses nearby in the Mule Keys.

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Featured Image: Copyright Maxar. Microsoft Bing Map screen shot reprinted with permission from Microsoft Corporation.