June 14, 2014

Relaxing Key Largo resort set in hardwood forest

Imagine a sleek hotel, with all its creature comforts, nestled inside a hardwood forest.

Imagine a sleek hotel, with all its creature comforts, nestled inside a hardwood forest.

That’s the modern, but far-away feeling you’ll get at the Hilton Key Largo Resort, a relaxing weekend Keys getaway for those not looking for a long drive from South Florida. It’s also a perfect one-night stay-over if you’re heading deeper into the lower Keys, which is what we had in mind on a recent visit.

The hotel structure has rooms that spread out like white wings from a central, glassed-in atrium, lobby and top-floor restaurant, appropriately called Treetops. The rooms are clean and spacious (we got one with a queen bed and pullout sofa at a discounted rate of $265 a night, without taxes). The top floors are pricier, with patios offering water views.

But you might not want to spend a lot of time inside. What makes the resort special is that is surrounded and interwoven with 13 acres of hardwood forest. Called a “tropical hardwood hammock,” it has everything from bamboo to rare and endangered tropical growth.

Just steps from the cool lobby and you’re walking along a Robert Smith-designed nature trail, with winding wood-chip paths that eventually lead to the Gulf of Mexico, where guests are sprawled in chairs along the water’s edge. At spots along the trail, spa tents are set up for those wanting massages.

There is a long dock on site, and all the usual activities are offered, from parasailing to wave runners to diving and snorkeling tours. It’s a great place for families, where kids can walk out into the shallow, turquoise waters and spot needlefish and crabs. Up on the beach is an outdoor bar and pingpong tables and game areas (though they look faded and in need of refurbishing).

The hotel also offers two nice pools, separated by rock waterfalls, one for adults and one for kids, with a shared hot tub.

There is enough to do here (or not to do, which is the point of a relaxing vacation) that we almost wished we didn’t have to continue on our Keys journey. The resort is a destination in itself.

For those who want to explore Key Largo, movie fans might want to take a cruise on the African Queen (Holiday Inn Docks, 305-451-8080, And families shouldn’t miss a few hours wandering around John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, where you can stay on land or go on snorkeling tours around its spectacular coral reefs (102601 Overseas Highway, 305-451-6300,

Don’t miss Snapper’s Waterfront Restaurant, with its giant outdoor dining dock and excellent fresh seafood (139 Seaside Ave., Mile Marker 94.5; 305-852-5956,

•  Hilton Key Largo Resort, 97000 S. Overseas Hwy., Key Largo; 305-852-5553; Rooms from $169.

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