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Take A Walk On The Wild Side: Miamiland's Wonderland

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Greater Miami and Miami Beach may be best known as a sophisticated global, urban playground, but one of its greatest allures is its natural charms. So grand are the outdoor options that the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau created the MIAMILAND campaign dedicated to promoting Miami’s unforgettable outdoor adventures and national, state and county parks including recreational centers, open spaces, and soft adventure. From biking to hiking, boating or kayaking, camping or glamping, Miamiland offers nature splendor for everyone.

How does exploring wild and untamed mangrove forests sound? Greater Miami’s diverse outdoor activities offer deep dives into an ocean adventure, paddle boarding in our calm waterways and peaceful nature walks at our historical sites and heritage neighborhoods. There is adventure to be found everywhere you turn!

Just an hour’s drive from the glittering city, two extraordinary national parks beckon, giving travelers the option to get away from it all. When they’re ready for the sights and sounds of the city, they can be part of it all again in just about an hour.

A peerless and wondrous environment, the Florida Everglades and Biscayne National Parks draw approximately 1.5 million visitors each year to explore Florida's breathtaking wilderness. For travelers who need an even quicker walk on the wild side, there are many natural opportunities even closer to civilization, from canoeing down a quiet waterway and jet skiing on Biscayne Bay to biking along peaceful back roads and hiking to a pond where wading birds gather. Here, cameras click not for movie stars, but for loveable manatees and sea turtles, amazing alligators or the more than 350 species of birds and glorious sunsets over the Everglades, which were nicknamed the “River of Grass” by Marjorie Stoneman Douglas in her famous 1947 book.

For those who prefer a more hands-on or educational interaction with wildlife and nature, Greater Miami offers many opportunities. From eco-adventure tours to special wildlife enrichment programs, Miami offers many ways to immerse yourself in Florida's unparalleled ecosystems.

Everglades National Park

Covering 1.5 million acres, (607,000 hectares) Everglades National Park is the third largest in the lower 48 states of the U.S. National Parks system. Made up of sawgrass prairies, mangrove swamps, subtropical jungle and the warm waters of Florida Bay, this UNESCO World Heritage Site and its seemingly endless grassy waters are home to a rare community of plants and endangered animals. Visitors can see wildlife year-round, with the best viewings taking place January through April and the fall season. Mosquitos come out during the summer evenings, so visitors should consider wearing repellant if they are wandering outdoors at night.

Visitors to the park can enjoy self-guided and ranger-led tours and activities such as walks, and canoe trips from the Main Visitor Center at the Park's southeastern entrance, or journey deeper into the Everglades for a more extensive experience in the Florida wilderness. The town of Flamingo, 38 miles from the park's main entrance, boasts a colorful history as the home to hardy pioneers who spent many years trying to settle the beautifully remote but challenging area. Today, Flamingo is home to manatees, dolphins, sea turtles as well as more than 350 species of birds identified within the park, including pelicans, egrets, cormorants, bald eagles and ospreys. And, the combination of fresh, salt and brackish waters makes Florida Bay the only place on earth where freshwater alligators and rare saltwater American crocodiles co-exist together, occasionally venturing into each other’s territories. Occasionally visitors have been known to catch a rare glimpse of these creatures sunning together on a bank!

World-class fishing is also one of Flamingo's irresistible lures. The park's waters provide thousands of acres for fishing: shallow water flats channels, and mangrove keys are home to snook, redfish, snapper, trout, largemouth bass, and sea catfish. Another way to get out on the water is to take naturalist-led cruises of Florida Bay or the backcountry.

For those who long for more solitude, backcountry camping in the park is an unforgettable experience. Visitors traveling along the 99-mile Wilderness Waterway can paddle all day without seeing another soul and spend the night camping out on remote chickees - raised platform campsites accessible only by water. Permits and reservations are required but permits can be obtained in person the day before or the day visitors’ trips begin.

For those looking for shorter adventures, the park offers miles of shorter canoe trips and hiking trails. Many of the quarter mile (400 meters) boardwalks located just off the main park road are easy to venture, offering beautiful views. Biking is a great way to see the park as well, with the best opportunities taking place along the Snake Bight Trail near Flamingo to the south and the Shark Valley entrance to the north. Shark Valley offers guided tram tours for those who want to sit it out, while a 15-mile bicycle route gives guests a good chance of spotting an alligator or rare bird. A 65-foot observation tower gives you a bird’s eye view of the River of Grass.

Just outside the park’s south and north entrances, a variety of private concessioners offer heart-pounding, airboat rides across the Everglades, offering a once-in-a-lifetime way to see the world-famous River of Grass.

Biscayne National Park

A rarity among national parks, Biscayne National Park is primarily aquatic. Of its 173,000 acres (70011 hectares), 95% are underwater. Teeming with sea life and plants, the park encompasses the turquoise waters of Biscayne Bay, the longest stretch of mangrove forest left on Florida's east coast, living coral reefs and 40 of the northernmost Florida Keys. Getting out on the water is the key to discovering the wonders of Biscayne National Park.

At the Dante Fascell Visitor Center, guests can sign up for free canoe and kayak trips, walking tours, nature talks, snorkeling programs and other activities from late November until late April each year. In shallow waters less than 10 feet (3 meters) deep, the living coral is home to a variety of sea life including tropical fish, sponges and the spiny lobster, making it a paradise for snorkelers. Manatees, dolphins and five species of sea turtles call the waters of Biscayne Bay home, as do moray eels, stingrays, squid, starfish and hundreds of varieties of fish.

The visitor center’s beautiful museum offers a virtual journey through the park's four ecosystems using dioramas, audio and video, while the auditorium features several films about the park. The Dante Fascell Visitor Center Gallery highlights the works of local artists who find inspiration in the park. Eco-adventurers both young and old can get a hands-on experience at the Touch Table, where they can feel bones, feathers, sponges, corals and more.

Biscayne National Park Institute

Biscayne National Park Institute offers a unique way to explore Biscayne National Park with its “Sail and Trail” program. This sailing excursion gives visitors the opportunity to see, experience, and learn about the underwater park. Visitors sail and paddle around Elliott Key, Jones Lagoon, and camp overnight at Adams Key along the historical “trail.” Visitors also learn about the history of the park and its origins, from Native peoples, to famers, to Rum Runners, all while paddling and hiking in the hardwood hammocks of the islands.

Wreck Diving

Closer to what is consistently ranked among America’s top urban beaches, divers can enjoy the bounty of one of the largest artificial-reef programs in the world. With its close proximity to the Bahamas and the Gulf Steam, Miami enjoys beautiful diving conditions year round. Boasting water temperatures from 70 (21º C) to 85 degrees (29º C), visibility often better than 75 feet (23 meters), and one of the largest artificial reef programs in the world, Miami is a road-less-traveled diver’s dream. Miami’s wide variety of wreck diving opportunities close to a major city has earned it the reputation as the unofficial “Wreckreational Capital” of the Americas.

Fish flock to the more than 75 ships, combat tanks, concrete, limestone and other structures have been sunk over the past few decades off Miami's coast, as far south as Florida City and north to Sunny Isles Beach. Most are located just a few miles offshore, in less than 130 feet (40 meters) of water, providing great diving for all levels. One of the most popular routes is the Wreck Trek, located off Miami Beach, just north of the Art Deco District. Here, divers can explore the 85-foot (26 meters) tug Miss Patricia, the 100-foot (30 meters) steel fishing vessel Miss Karlene, a 85-foot (26 meters) barge and Ben’s Antenna Reef, an old radio antenna welded into 19 pyramids. In shallow waters off of Key Biscayne, the Half Moon, a racing sailboat which sank in 1930, offers divers a fabulous underwater archeological preserve to explore.

Natural reefs are also found off Key Biscayne, Miami Beach, Surfside and Sunny Isles Beach. One of the best hidden gem reef sites is Emerald Reef, one of Miami's largest natural reefs which offers many large rocks for interesting critters to hide out, including lobsters early in the season. This shallow-water patch reef, just one mile east of Key Biscayne only about 10-20 feet (3-6 meters) deep, is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful reefs in Miami, rivaling those found further south in the Florida Keys. The clarity and color of the water makes this a spectacular snorkel or dive location, with the chance to see living elkhorn and pillar coral, as well as a variety of sponges, and schools of juvenile tropicals.

Stiltsville

Part of Miami’s rich history included a unique attraction above Biscayne Bay’s seagrass. This historic area dates to the 1930s, when the first shack on stilts was built above the water. Accessible only by water, the area was the place to see and be seen when visiting the winter resorts nearby Miami Beach. At its peak in 1960, there were 27 structures on the flats. Now only 7 buildings are still standing, and they are preserved to help showcase the richness of the park's marine resources. Two to four hour ours are available for those seeking to learn about Miami’s past.

The Redland and Homestead

Just 45 minutes south of the city is the Redland, Miami’s abundant agricultural region. In this agricultural paradise, visitors can spend an entire day sampling fresh-from-the-farm produce and savoring the exotic fruits and vegetables that have become the inspiration for many of Miami’s celebrity chefs.

Exploring the back roads by bicycle, locals and tourists line up at Burr's Berry Farm for delicious strawberry shakes or at quaint Knauss Berry Farm for their sticky-sweet cinnamon rolls. All roads lead to Robert is Here, a popular pit stop for visitors en route to Everglades National Park. For decades, Robert has offered guava, lychee, mamey, mangos and other exotic tropical fruits along with his famous fresh fruit shakes and homemade key lime pies. In season, visitors can harvest their own vegetables, loading up on fresh tomatoes, strawberries, zucchini, cucumbers and other produce at the many U-Pick farms that line Krome Avenue and the surrounding streets.

Open daily, the Fruit and Spice Park, nearly 40 acres (16 hectares) in size, is a one-of-a-kind tropical botanical garden has more than 500 varieties of fruit, nut and spice trees on property. Or, by appointment, one can arrange to visit orchid groves or check out small boutique farms that grow specialties like baby lettuce and exotic fruits like papaya.

Schnebly Redland's Winery & Brewery, the southernmost winery in the Continental U.S., uses local tropical fruits from Redland's orchards to produce an array of wines made from lychee, passion fruit, carambola, guava and mango, just to name a few. Visitors are offered tours and wine tastings around natural coral waterfalls surrounded by lush tropical foliage.

On the way back north, eco-adventurers will want to tour the 450-acre (182 hectares) Deering Estate, located at the edge of Biscayne Bay. A wealth of natural and archaeological resources, thrive at this site, including forests of hardwood hammocks, globally endangered pine rockland, mangroves and salt marshes and rare and native plants like orchids, bromeliads, ferns and more than 40 types of trees. A variety of wildlife such as the gray fox, spotted skunks, squirrels, butterflies and birds can be found here. They recently started offering tours through Biscayne Bay on the Birds of Biscayne Boat Cruise. This guided Boca Chita Key Cruise, Lighthouses of Biscayne Bay Cruise, or Stiltsville Historic Boat Tour depart from Deering Estate giving guests the opportunity to learn and explore Miami’s scenic water ways and history.

Eco Adventures

The Miami-Dade Department of Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces offers a variety of naturalist-led eco-adventures to residents and visitors. Key Biscayne, the tranquil island paradise located just five minutes from downtown Miami, is the setting for a wide range of tours – with hammock walks, kayak, snorkel and canoe trips, and bike trips for all age groups and skill levels. Canoe trips are popular – and there seems to be one for every conceivable interest – along the Coral Gables Waterway, at sunrise, sunset or by moonlight, along the historic Oleta River and through the hidden waterways of Key Biscayne.

Sea turtle release programs take place on coastal beaches from Key Biscayne to Sunny Isles, with educational opportunities focused at Crandon and Haulover Parks during the height of the April through September hatching season. The Key Biscayne Nature Center, housed in a beautiful building at Crandon Park, offers a year-round program of aquatic and land-based adventures. At the tip of Key Biscayne, more snorkeling, fishing and nature walks are on tap at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, frequently listed among the top ten beaches in America.

For those seeking a tamer walk or ride, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden offers 45-minute narrated tram tour which introduces guests to the garden’s history, mission, and world-renowned plant collections. These are offered daily throughout the year, while many themed walking tours are offered seasonally, such as “Discover the Tropics Walking Tours,” “Plants that Attract Birds, Butterflies and Hummingbirds to Your Garden,” and “Early-Bird Walks.” Guests can take part in the year-round “Winged Wonders and the Plants they Love” guided walking tour, where they can search for 45 butterfly species in the garden and identify the larval host plants and nectar plants which draw them. Those visiting during the week can also enjoy the Wings of the Tropics exhibit in The Clinton Family Conservatory, which features hundreds of spectacular butterflies year-round, such as heliconids, morphos and owl butterflies from Central America and South America.

Oleta River State Park

Located in Sunny Isles is Florida’s largest urban park with 1,000 acres of land and truly an oasis away from the city’s hustle and bustle life. Renowned for its 15 miles of mountain biking trails from novice to expert, it’s also a popular spot for kayaking and canoeing where you might spot manatees and other native wildlife. They also have nature trails overlooking the shoreline perfect for an afternoon hike.

Historic Virginia Key Beach Park

Historic VKBP is considered one of the best biking trail options in the destination. Once Miami’s only “Colored Beach” dating back to the 1940’s, this park has a long cultural history. VKBP was the only beach during that time allowing African American, Blacks and dark-skinned Hispanics to recreate and swim. Now a restored gem where everyone is welcomed, the park sits on 82.5 acres of lush land located on the barrier island of Key Biscayne. It is an environmental space with families and cyclists in mind. The mountain trails are situated on the north end of the key and were built to allow all levels of cyclists to enjoy the thrills of mountain biking while being surrounded by nature and water. There are three distinct levels of trails at Virginia Key Beach Park - Novice, Intermediate, and Advanced.

Nature Immersion at Attractions

You don’t need to go into nature to experience its wonders. The Sea Trek Reef Encounter at Miami Seaquarium is a helmet diving experience that allows guests to become one with the park’s reef aquarium, while moving in ethereal slow motion in a near zero gravity diving system, while their Dolphin Encounter lets you swim and play with these delightful creatures.

Zoo Miami, the only zoo in the continental United States located in a subtropical climate, gives visitors the chance to view animals that can’t thrive in colder climates. Housing more than 2,000 animals in environments that mimic their natural habitats, and growing more than 1,200 trees, plants and flowers, Zoo Miami is full of natural wonders. Guests can make a reservation to take a walking tour, as well as fascinating behind-the-scenes tours. Animal encounter opportunities include the Samburu Giraffe Feeding Station, the Kaziranga Camp Rhino Encounter, Humpy’s Camel Rides, Wings Down Under: A Parrot Feeding Adventure and more.

Surrounded by water, blessed with great weather and unparalleled natural beauty, Miami offers the sophisticated traveler the chance to take a quiet moment to recharge, relax and unwind. Just minutes away from the city's pulsating rhythms, a different beat beckons. Why choose? In any given moment, Miami offers the chance to be part of it all or get away from it all. Enjoy all Miami has to offer - expand your horizons with a walk on the wild side.

The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau (GMCVB) is an independent not-for-profit sales and marketing organization whose mission is to attract visitors to Greater Miami and the Beaches for leisure, business and conventions. For a vacation guide, visit our website at www.MiamiAndBeaches.com or call 1-888-76-Miami (US/Canada only) or 305-447-7777. To reach the GMCVB offices dial 305-539-3000.  Meeting Planners may call 1-800-933-8448 (US/Canada only) or 305-539-3071 or visit www.MiamiMeetings.com.