In Southern Florida lies the magnificent Biscayne National Park. The park protects the beautiful Biscayne Bay and the barrier reefs that lie within it. This park is 95 percent water and also extends to the shore and mangrove forest on land. An island is also protected within the park boundaries. Elliott Key is the first of the chain of islands known as the Florida Keys. Wildlife and marine life are abundant in this seemingly untouched area. The park shores are home to endangered sea turtles, and the water is home to species of fish, coral, whales, and many others. Manatees draw huge crowds to see the docile and harmless animals. They can be seen more often during the winter months in the harbour located in front of the visitor centre. The park was created when a flurry of development began along the shores of Florida to protect and mostly undeveloped area and to keep it that way.
Traveling Around Biscayne National Park
Biscayne National Park is mostly accessible by boat. The park is made up of mostly water so boat tours are a big deal and the best way to see the park and get around. You can reach the visitor center by a vehicle at Convoy Point. You can find the park entrance before the entrance to Homestead Bayfront Marina. The visitor center is called the Dante Fascell Visitor Center. Enjoy the museum that has a virtual experience through the park’s ecosystems, watch the short films that are offered about the park, see local artist’s’ works of art that are displayed, and enjoy the bookstore where the perfect souvenirs await you.
Have you ever been camping on an island? This is your opportunity to do so! Elliott Key is the largest island in the park and does have a campground that lies on the bay side of the island. No reservations are required as it is a first come, first served basis. There are barbecue grills, picnic tables, and restrooms with showers available to campers. Enjoy swimming in the Bay, a mile-long loop hike, and a scenic drive through the island where visitors can see the maritime forest and habitats. You can catch fish from the maintenance dock south of the harbor. Make sure to get your fishing license to try your hand and reel at some great fishing opportunities!
More Keys to See
Elliott Key is the largest and most visited, but there are several other keys to see as well. Boca Chita Key is home to a beautiful lighthouse towering 65 feet in the air. There are a hiking trail and a campground and views of the ocean, bay, and skyline is fantastic. Adams Key is near Caesar Creek and was once the location of the Cocolobo Club that attracted high profile people like President Hoover, President Johnson, and President Nixon. It is now used during the day to explore. There is a trail, a picnic area and restrooms available. Watch the magical sunsets or sunrises from Adams Key for a breathtaking experience.
Boating Around Biscayne
Boating around the park is the best way to travel around and the most fun! There are four county marinas to dock at, and there are even free boating education classes that are available to the public. Watch for slow speed zones when boating as some areas have speed limits due to reefs, swimmers, and other factors. Don’t have your boat or are just visiting? Try one of the popular guided boat tours available to visitors of the park. Tours depart Friday, Saturday, and Sundays from the visitor center at specific times. Relax on a boat and cruise around the bay in the warm sunshine and learn about the history, wildlife, and ecosystems in Biscayne National Park. The tours last about three hours and are presented by park staff that is knowledgeable and friendly. Other tours are available from Island Dreamer Sailing who offers full day sailing trips from the visitor center. These tours are approximately six hours long. And attendees might have the chance to paddle board, swim, snorkel, hike, kayak, and sail. Only six passengers are allowed at a time for an incredible experience around the bay.
Canoe and Kayak
Many places in the park are too shallow to a boat, so canoeing and kayaking are a visitor favorite. Instead of hiking trail there are paddling trail guides which lead you in your canoe from point to point like on a hike. Black Point Paddling Trail is 10 miles total; round trip and starts from the visitor center leading along the coastline to Black Point Marina where there is also an ocean grill to stop and enjoy before you return the same way you came. Crocodile Creek Paddle Trail is 7.75 miles roundtrip departing from the visitor center and hitting three different points around the bay. Mowry Canal Paddling Trail paddles along the mangroves and visitors may get the chance to see manatees, ospreys, and pelicans along the route. There are several other paddling trails to try, and this is the best way (besides boating) to get out and experience Biscayne National Park.
Snorkeling the Bay
Snorkeling is the perfect activity to do at Biscayne. Many areas close to the shore are extremely shallow, making them ideal for snorkeling. Further out the water is a bit deeper, but the coral reefs are stunning! Fish, turtles, the occasional shark, manatees, and marine life galore can be seen living and thriving among these reefs. The water is usually clear, making it a prime snorkel location. Taking a boat out to the reefs is the only way to get to them; otherwise, you can just snorkel offshore. There are snorkel tours available to escort you out and take you back for a fun day among the reefs in Biscayne National Park.
Activities for the Kids
Kids can have fun at Biscayne National Park too with some fun things to see and do. Snorkeling is a favorite activity for both children and adults. The visitor center has a “touch table” full of things to handle like shells and other findings in the park. A ranger can explain to the kids what each item is and let them see and touch it. January through the month of May on ever second Sunday, the park hosts Family Fun Fest. The Family Fun Fest is three hours of activities for kids and adults too. Other special events are scheduled throughout the year for families and kids too. Check the park website to see what else is coming up during your visit.