Biscayne National Park

Biscayne National Park

Biscayne National Park

Biscayne National Park Dante Fascell Visitor Center
Biscayne National Park Dante Fascell Visitor Center
Biscayne National Park Dante Fascell Visitor Center Sailboats
Biscayne National Park Dante Fascell Visitor Center Boats
Biscayne National Park Dante Fascell Visitor Center

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Biscayne National Park

By: Mercedes Diaz | Nov 19, 2019

Experience South Florida's Natural Beauty

Beyond its iconic beaches, South Florida is rife with natural beauty and contains a wealth of protected areas showcasing ecosystems not found elsewhere in the United States. Among South Florida’s ecological gems, the aquatic wonderland of Biscayne National Park stands out.

Spanning nearly 173,000 acres, 95% of which are in Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, Biscayne National Park is the largest marine sanctuary in the U.S. National Park system. If you yearn to explore the natural wonders of South Florida’s most ecologically diverse region amidst the aquamarine waters of Biscayne Bay, this is the place.

Turtle by Mat Ratner

Biodiverse Wildlife

Want to see the wild side of South Florida? Biscayne National Park offers plenty of opportunities to marvel at wildlife and native flora. Renowned for its biodiversity, Biscayne National Park is comprised of four converging ecosystems: coastal mangrove hammocks, Biscayne Bay’s shallow lagoon waters, coral limestone keys and the third largest offshore reef in the world. These ecosystems sustain thousands of species, including 20 that are threatened or endangered, such as the manatee, hawksbill sea turtle and American crocodile. As part of the Biscayne Birding Trail, the park also boasts more than 110 species of birds that include the roseate spoonbill, wood stork, and the ultra-rare mangrove cuckoo.

Plan Your Trip

On your way to the park, stop by the Tropical Everglades Visitor Association and get more information about everything you can see and do in the area.

Since the majority of the park is accessible only by boat, a reasonable amount of planning is needed to make the most of your visit. First-timers should stop at the Dante Fascell Visitor’s Center where there’s a vast resource of information about the park as well as a museum, art gallery and the scenic Jetty Trail through the surrounding bayside hardwood hammock. The visitor center's hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

All guided boat, paddle, and snorkel tours within the park depart from the visitors center and are handled by the park’s only authorized onsite outfitter: Biscayne National Park Institute. To ensure your spot, it’s advisable to book your half-day or full-day tours ahead of time on the institute’s website. If it’s more convenient for you to embark on a tour from locations outside the park, such as Miami Beach, Key Biscayne or Downtown, feel free to choose from the park’s list of authorized third-party tour services.

Ready to embark on your adventure? Here are some of the best ways to experience Biscayne National Park - by boat, paddle and snorkel.

Boca Chita Lighthouse

Journey by Boat to the Islands

The park is home to the northernmost islands of the Florida Keys archipelago. Amongst those islands, Boca Chita and Elliott Key are the most visited with guided tours offered daily.

If you aren’t ready to dive into the waters of Biscayne Bay just yet, opt for a powerboat tour to scenic Boca Chita Key, an islet that’s home to nodding coconut palms, a smattering of native flora and historic limestone structures. While you’re there, stroll the short promenade path through a mangrove hammock or climb the island’s landmark lighthouse to take in cinematic vistas of the Atlantic. For the full land and water experience, opt for the sailboat tour to Boca Chita followed by a visit to Elliott Key or Adams Key where you can kayak, paddle or snorkel the translucent bayside waters as well as explore the diverse soft coral habitats.

For those that have a boat, Elliott Key, the largest of the park’s islands, offers more terrain to explore. Once you’ve strolled the 1-mile loop trail, hit the 7-mile road (aka Spite Highway) down the center of the island to view a transitioning maritime forest where mangroves, buttonwood, gumbo-limbo and torchwood, the host tree to the endangered Schaus Swallowtail butterfly, abound.

Kayaking

Paddling Eco-Adventures

Whether it be kayak, canoe or stand-up paddle, the best way to experience the coastal wilderness of Biscayne National Park is on the water. A favorite guided excursion is the paddle-based tour of Jones Lagoon, a secluded mangrove-fringed lagoon located at the southern end of the park. The full day tour involves a boat ride to the clear waters of Jones Lagoon where you’ll be outfitted with a paddle-board to explore the lagoon’s unique habitat. Yellow stingrays, loggerhead turtles, juvenile bona head sharks and an otherworldly meadow of cassiopeia (upside-down jellyfish) are just a few of the wildlife you may encounter. If you’re a birder, keep your eyes peeled for sightings of white crown pigeons and make sure you bring binoculars to observe roseate spoonbills and frigate birds in their rookeries.

Planning to explore on your own? Head over to the National Park Service site for helpful paddling trail guides of Jones Lagoon as well as Elliott Key. Keep in mind, the 7-mile expanse from the mainland to Elliott Key is traversable but best undertaken by experienced kayakers.

Colorful Reefs

Snorkeling Adventures

From colorful living reefs to coastal mangrove habitat and coral-upholstered ships that met their fate on the Florida reef, some of the park’s greatest sights lie beneath the water. And with half-day snorkeling trips departing twice daily, there’s no shortage of snorkeling opportunities.

First time out on the reef? Anemones, green moray eels and schools of technicolor fish, such as rainbow parrot fish and angelfish, are just a sampling of reef dwellers you might uncover. Be aware that ocean conditions shift and you may end up snorkeling the calmer bayside, mangrove fringed waters where a plethora of aquatic wildlife also abounds.

Curious to explore the watery tombs of historic wrecks? During the summer months of May through August, the park’s outfitter offers guided snorkeling tours of the Mandalay or the Aratoon Apcar, the shallowest of the six mapped shipwrecks on the Maritime Heritage Trail. If you’re a certified scuba diver, there are dive charter tours located outside the park that offer diving excursions and private charters to the deeper shipwrecks on the trail as well as the reef.

Planning an Overnight Stay?

Pitch a tent and get lulled to sleep by warm ocean breezes at either Boca Chita Key or Elliott Key. Both islands offer campgrounds that are available for a reasonable tent site and a boat-docking fee of $25. Be prepared to rough it, though. Aside from toilet facilities on both islands, you won’t find any stores or concession stands so be sure to pack water, snacks and supplies. Water and showers are only available at the Elliott Key campsite.

Read More:

Ultimate Eco Itinerary
Miami's Great Kayaking & Canoeing
Explore Nature, Parks & Gardens In Miami
Snorkeling In Miami

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