Make Your Own Eco-Adventure With These Miami Outdoor Activites

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Airboat in the Everglades

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Crandon Park Beach

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Crocodile at Biscayne National Park

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By: Jennifer Agress

Calling all nature lovers! Ecotourism may not be the first thing visitors think of when they envision a Miami vacation, but its bevy of outdoor activities, state and national parks, bodies of water, gardens and more actually make Greater Miami and the Beaches a top eco-destination. If you’re planning a vacation to get some fresh air, work up a sweat, connect with nature and disconnect from the technology and stress of everyday life, consider taking a trip to Miami. Remember, before Miami was the ultimate party place, it was a true environmental destination. When you see its blue skies, warm waters and unique ecology, you’ll understand why.

If you don’t know where to start, read below for the essential eco-friendly itinerary in Miami—and get to know our destination’s beautiful backyard.

The Everglades
The Everglades

The Everglades

The Everglades is as unique an ecosystem as you’ll find, with a lush, green landscape that extends as far as the eye can see. Visitors will find a whole range of animals and wildlife, including endangered species like manatees, American crocodiles and Florida panthers. Little known fact… It’s the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles live together! As much as you’d like to see everything it has to offer, considering The Everglades are spread across 1.5 million acres, it’s impossible to cover all of it on one trip. Plan your time accordingly and make sure you see the highlights.

If you’re only there for a day, get a good overview! Take an airboat ride through the “River of Grass,” called such because The Everglades is actually a giant, slow-moving river, where an expert guide who knows the ins and outs of the area can identify every plant and animal you see. Several companies offer airboat rides—like Coopertown Airboat Rides, Miccosukee Indian Village and Air Boat Rides, Everglades Safari Park and more. While all airboats operate the same way, each company offers its own accompanying features, from jungle trails and restaurants serving frog legs and gator bites (that’s typical in the Everglades!) to camping and alligator wrestling. Choose your airboat ride based on the experiences you want to have in The Everglades. You can’t go wrong!

You can enter Everglades National Park from the north or south. Forty-five miles southwest of Downtown Miami, start at the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center for exhibitions, films, books, brochures and tips on the hiking trails. At the Flamingo Visitor Center deep inside the park, you can find boat tours, camping, canoes, kayaks, bikes and backcountry permits. Forty miles west of Downtown Miami, take a tram tour from the Shark Valley Visitor Center.

Bike through the Everglades
Bike through the Everglades

If you’re really active and want to see The Everglades, you’ll want to rent a bicycle and brave the biking trails at Shark Valley. Shark Valley is a loop that starts at the north entrance to the park and runs for 15 miles. Halfway through the loop, you’ll find a beautiful elevated observatory tower where you can see The Everglades for miles.

Biscayne National Park
Biscayne National Park

Biscayne National Park

Biscayne National Park is another one of Miami’s stunningly preserved natural habitats. It isn’t what you might think of as a “typical” park—95% of it is underwater. Biscayne National Park is filled with 172,000 acres of reefs, shipwrecks and wildlife. There are plenty of private companies that offer a variety of tours, so you can experience this one-of-a-kind park by climbing aboard a boat and snorkeling or going fishing, camping, canoeing, kayaking and more. And because of Miami’s warm temperatures, you can take advantage of Biscayne National Park any time of year.

If you don’t know where to start exploring Biscayne National Park, head to the Dante Fascell Visitor Center in Homestead, which is about an hour’s drive from South Beach. After you get back on land, there are plenty of eco-adventures to be had in this part of Florida, like exploring the 500+ varieties of exotic fruits, herbs, spices and nuts at Fruit and Spice Park or seeing the giant creatures at Everglades Alligator Farm. On your way back, stop by Deering Estate, which is home to 450 acres of nature and birding trails, night hikes, kayaking and more.

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

Gardens

Miami has stunning gardens, too! In the South Dade neighborhood of Pinecrest, the 12-acre Pinecrest Gardens is the only natural rainforest on American soil, and it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This extravagant park has one of the most diverse desert gardens in the state of Florida and 1,000+ varieties of rare and exotic tropical plants and palm trees.

Spread across 83 acres in Coral Gables, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden is an exotic garden that has one of the most diverse collections of plant species anywhere in the country. This special garden destination is filled with nature trails, a butterfly garden, rainforest and sunken gardens, sculpture gardens and 3,400+ species. The garden is divided into Uplands and Lowlands ecosystems, and you can see it all on a guided walking tour or a free tram tour. You can even borrow a pair of binoculars to make sure you spot every plant and animal along the way.

Vizcaya Museum and Gardens
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens

Inspired by Italy and Spain, Vizcaya Museum and Gardens is an enchanting European garden and Renaissance-inspired estate in Miami’s hardwood hammock. It was owned by James Deering, a wealthy industrialist with roots in Miami, who used this estate as his winter home from 1916 to 1925. Today, there is a main house filled with imported gilded panels, carved mantels, fresco ceilings from Tuscany and France, sleek marble floors and stained-glass doors, and 10 acres of serene gardens. Spend a morning or afternoon at Vizcaya, and make sure you check out its sprawling formal gardens (they’re laid out like the Palace of Versailles!), which are filled with trimmed shrubs organized into walkways and geometric patterns, lush mazes, topiary-lined corridors and classical statues, all juxtaposed against palms, rare orchids and Cuban limestone to give it a distinct Miami flair. Don’t miss the Fountain Garden or The David A. Klein Orchidarium, the latter of which houses a variety of orchids.

Crandon Park Pelican
Crandon Park Pelican

Where to See Manatees Nearby

Manatees, or “sea cows,” are some of Florida’s most precious creatures—and spotting them in their natural habitat, Florida’s waterways, is a unique experience. Weighing up to 3,500 pounds, these slow-moving creatures are most commonly found in the winter, between November and March. Here in Miami, there are plenty of places where visitors can see manatees. Not far from Biscayne National Park, the warm waters of Biscayne Bay surrounding Black Point Park & Marina are a popular spot for manatees to congregate. Go there and you can see them poking their nose out of the water every two to five minutes, but they can stay underwater for as long as 20 minutes.

If a guided manatee tour is more your style, hop on the Manatee Photo Tour that leaves from the Virginia Key Outdoor Center at Crandon Park. This tour will take you through Virginia Key Cove and Jimbo’s Lagoon, both common areas for manatee and dolphin sightings. Once you’ve spotted them, come back to land and take advantage of the many eco-adventures at Crandon Park, like snorkeling, nature walks, beach activities, guided hammock hikes and more.

Getting Around

As you go on your eco adventures around Miami, make the journey an adventure, too! Miami’s popular Citi Bike program, which has 1,000+ Citi Bikes at 100+ stations around town, makes it easy to rent a bike and see the city whenever and however you want. If your adventure takes you out on the water, go kitesurfing, windsurfing, jet skiing or stand-up paddleboarding, the latter of which is one of South Florida’s most popular water sports. Take your board out to Biscayne Bay, and you’ll get a front-row seat to one of the best sights in town: a Miami sunset.

More About Miami's Parks & Attractions

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