Big Bend Region

Dolphins! Dolphins! & So Many Birds Too! A Tour Around the Islands of The Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge

In the 1800s, massive numbers of birds were killed in the south for their feathers. These feathers were used to adorn hats, and a feathered hat was all the rage in ladies’ fashion. In fact, so many birds were killed off that many species were heading toward extinction. In 1929, The Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge was established to provide a safe haven for these beautiful birds. It was thought that if the birds could be protected during courting and breeding season, that their dwindling numbers might be increased.

What Makes the Tour Interesting

13 islands make up The Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge, and some of these islands have an interesting past.

  • Snake Key was once a quarantine Island where people sick with yellow fever, scarlet fever, mumps, measles, and cholera were sent.
  • Seahorse Key has a prehistoric sand dune, and at the height of 52.3 feet, it is the highest elevation on Florida’s west coast. From 1835-1842, during the 2nd Seminole war, Seahorse Key was used as a detention center for captured Seminole Indians. In 1850, the area became an important port, and Congress appropriated funding for a lighthouse to be built. The Seahorse Key Lighthouse was completed in 1854.
  • Atsena Otie Key was the original site of the town of Cedar Key. The island was booming with business and the site of a profitable pencil and lumber mill. But that was before the industry cut over all the trees and before a devastating hurricane with a 10-foot tidal surge struck. Atsena Otie Key is the only Island that can be explored by foot. Click here to read about our hike to the old cemetery and other ruins on Atsena Otie Key.

What Makes the Tour Breathtakingly Beautiful

No tour can absolutely guarantee dolphin or bird sightings; however, when your tour is off the coast of Cedar Key, it is more than possible; it is likely. There were thousands upon thousands of birds nesting in the trees on Snake Island, and the sound of the young squawking as their parents approached with a meal, was amazing.

Dolphins sightings? I lost count of how many dolphins we saw, and some came right up to the tour boat. They seemed to be playful and were just as curious about us as we were about them. It was hard to tell who was viewing who. Were we watching them? Or were they watching us?

A Video View of our Tour

Tidewater Tours

There are many boat tours to choose from in Cedar Key, and who you choose for your tour can make or break your experience. Of course, safety is always the number one concern when booking a boat tour, but in addition, we wanted a friendly guide that had knowledge of the area, and that ran an organized operation. We found all that and more with Tidewater Tours. From my phone call to book our tour to the very end of our experience, their staff went out of their way to ensure that our adventure was nothing short of awesome. For your convenience, here is a link to Tidewater Tours’ official website.

A little About Cedar Key

Cedar Key is on Florida’s Gulf Coast, about an hour’s drive southwest of Gainesville. If you have never been to Cedar Key and you love the outdoors, then you really need to put this quaint fishing village sort of town on your bucket list. The opportunities for outdoor adventures are endless in Cedar Key; kayaking, fishing, boating, birdwatching, or just plain relaxing are all popular activities in the area.


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