Biscayne National Park
Biscayne National Park near Miami, Florida is one of Florida's intriguing paradoxes. When you think of a park, you think of trees and trails, hiking, biking, picnics and maybe some swimming or boating.
It's hard to do most of that at Biscayne National Park. Why?
Because 95% of its 181,500 acres is underwater.
Let's take a look at Biscayne National Park, an underwater kingdom, from both above and below the waterline.
An Atlantis of Florida
Biscayne National Park is located in Biscayne Bay, with skyline of Miami to the north and the northernmost of the Florida Keys to the south. Not too terribly far away is another natural wonder, Everglades National Park. And let's not forget another underwater haven to the south, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.
If you get the idea that this is a large chunk of natural Florida, you are right on the money.
True, with roughly 95% of the park being underwater, it doesn't sound like the dry ground is very large! You'd be surprised though -- there are about 9,000 acres of solid ground (well. mostly solid anyway) for you to explore. That's the good news. The bad news is that you need some sort of boat to get to most of it!
The great news, though, is that it is a magical place with lots to see and do, even if you don't own a boat.
Be on the Lookout For...
All kinds of things! If you are snorkeling, brightly colored tropical fish await you at Biscayne National Park. If you are boating, the aqua and turquoise waters are breathtaking in the sunlight. Birds fly by, and sometimes you can see them dive for their dinner in the shallow waters. Mangrove islands, which tend to "walk". Dolphins might come and take a peek at you as well.
Calling all flats fishermen -- this is a slice of heaven!
Things To Do at Biscayne National Park
You may be wondering what you can do at Biscayne National Park, especially if you are boat-less. Here are a few ideas :
Check out the Dante Fascell Visitor Center, open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. The Visitor's Center is located at the Convoy Point entrance.
Fish Under Glass
Especially in the winter, many people don't want to actually get wet in order to see the wonders below the waves. And you don't have to, because glass-bottom boats let you get a look at one of the most fascinating parts of Biscayne National Park!
Imagine seeing all manner of fish swim beneath your feet; perhaps even a sea turtle or a playful dolphin! Then visit an island to see what South Florida used to be like BAC (Before Air Conditioning).
All this and more are available on the daily ranger-led glass-bottom boat tour.
Scuba and Snorkel the Reef
First of all, know that a "diver down" flag is required for all divers and snorkelers, so do bring on with you.
If you are taking a diving tour at Biscayne National Park, the tour fee includes air tanks and weights, but you will need to provide the rest of your gear. Some may be available for rent, but best not to count on it.
If you are taking a snorkel tour, the tour fee includes snorkel, mask, vest, fins and instruction.
There is a living coral reef close by, and the tours take you to this awesome place. If you have never done any diving or snorkeling near a coral reef, you are in for a big treat!
One thing to note -- if the offshore weather is making the waters neer the reef too rough, the snorkel tour will stay inside Biscayne Bay itself. No, it's not quite a coral reef, but you can still enjoy yourself immensely.
Paddle on By
Kayaking and canoeing in Biscayne National Park is marvelous. The waters are shallow for the most part and usually quite clear. Near the mangroves, you are likely to see all kinds of fish and birds. Keep an eye out for ospreys -- they are really neat to watch when they dive for their dinner.
Power boats are permitted in Biscayne Bay, so you're probably best paddling near to the shores. But not to worry -- there is a lot of shoreline available to explore.
Bring your own canoe or kayak if you wish. If you are boat-less, there are some rentals available from the Convoy Point area. However, rentals are only available between 9 AM and 3 PM.
Fishing Biscayne Bay
Biscayne National Park has fantastic shallow-water fishing in the bay! Bonefish are often stalked on the flats, and other fish include snapper and grouper.
Yes, you will need a Florida saltwater fishing license. Click for current rules and regulations for saltwater limits. Trust me, you do not want to break these rules -- being fined isn't the worst of it -- they also take your fish away!
Picnics (What Did You Bring to Eat?)
You need to bring your own food and drink to Biscayne National Park -- there are no food concessions in the park. There are, however, picnic tables and grills at Adams Key, Boca Key, Convoy Point and Elliott Key
Please remember to bring plenty to drink, especially if you are visiting in the hot summer months.
Around the Campfire
Yes, there is tent camping in Biscayne National Park, but you will need a boat to get to the campgrounds on Boca Chita and Elliott Keys. The camping is first-come, first served and you need to register on the islands, in the kiosk near the harbor.
Boca Chita is for you if you like "rougher" camping; no shower or sink facilities are available, and restrooms are saltwater. Elliott Key does have a few more amenities, including shower, sinks and a small grocery facility. Both are small campgrounds and they tend to fill up early. The camping fees are $10 per night, unless you are docking a boat. If you are docking, the overnight fee is $15, which includes a campsite.
There is some hiking trails in Biscayne National Park. For the most part, they are short (under a mile). The exception is the trail on Elliott Key -- it goes the length of the island, roughly seven miles. Of course, you will need a boat to get to that trail.
There are some "Ranger's Choice" walks and talks. They can run anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, and are at the discretion of the park. Meet at the Dante Fascell Visitor Center. You'll need to call ahead to check to see if a Ranger's Choice program will be available when you plan to visit.
A Notice About Water, Weather and Insects
As always when in natural Florida, be aware of the strong sun, plentiful insects and possible rainshowers. Make sure to bring sunblock, sunglasses and at least have some insect repellent available. You may not need the insect repellant, but better to have it and not need it than to have your day ruined.
Personally, I'd also bring a hat of some sort -- for one, it helps keep the sun off your face. Two, it helps to keep your scalp from getting sunburned. I can't count the times I've been burnt along the part in my hair!
Time and Place
Biscayne National Park is open year-round, except for Christmas Day. There are no fees charged to enter the park. However, fees are charged for overnight boat docking, as well as for camping.
The park is located off SW 328th Street (North Canal Drive) in the Homestead area.
To check on any programs that might be available (special activities or tours) when you plan to visit, call the park for an update -- the phone number is (305) 230-7275.
Biscayne National Park is located in Southeast Florida. The closest city is Miami, and the closest airports are Miami and Ft. Lauderdale.
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