Biscayne National Park is a tropical paradise located in South Florida. Just outside of Miami, it is one of unparalleled beauty. Without question, it’s the perfect national park for those seeking fun under the sun.
Biscayne National Park has a considerable amount of outdoor activities for visitors to enjoy. The vast majority of the park is marine-based, and as such, many of its activities are in or around the water.
Scuba trips amongst coral reefs, exploring sunken shipwrecks, kayaking through mangroves, and visiting historical and iconic landmarks are just some of the fun activities you’ll enjoy in this marine wonderland.
In this article, we’ll discuss topics such as
- The 10 Best Things to do inside Biscayne National Park.
- How much time do you need at Biscayne National Park?
- Are pets allowed at Biscayne National Park?
10 Best Things to do inside Biscayne National Park
1. Take a boat tour around the park
There are a variety of boat tours available for visitors coming to Biscayne National Park. These tours vary from half-day excursions to full-day trips. There are even some overnight sailing trips available as well.
Again, since Biscayne National Park is primarily marine-based, taking a boat tour to explore the park is essential. The authentic and famed segment of Biscayne is out in the waters beyond the visitor center.
Boat tours out in the open ocean will take you along the shallow waters of Biscayne Bay. What you see while out on the boat is based on what type of tour you choose to go on. These trips may take you to see sights like historic Stiltsville and Boca Chita Key. Such boat tours may also provide you chances to go snorkeling and scuba diving amongst shipwrecks and coral reefs and/or opportunities to go kayaking or paddleboarding around the park’s various keys.
The Biscayne National Park Institute offers these boat tours, and there really aren’t any bad ones to choose from. All boat tours they provide will allow you to see some of Biscayne’s most beautiful areas. What matters is that you do decide to take one of the boat tours. You won’t find much excitement beyond the visitor center if you don’t do this.
It’s important to check out the Biscayne National Park Institute’s website to check which tours are available and when you need to book them. These tours are popular and sell out well in advance, so make reservations ASAP.
2. Go snorkeling and scuba diving
Snorkeling and scuba diving are one of the most popular and exciting activities inside Biscayne National Park.
There is an enormous variety of marine life found throughout the pristine crystal-clear waters of Biscayne Bay. In fact, Biscayne National Park preserves a segment of one of the largest barrier coral reefs on earth.
The underwater landscape is dotted with bright, colorful corals and other aquatic life. You’ll find a plethora of aquatic species like various crustaceans, rays, sponges, starfish, sea turtles, and 512 species of fish, over 150 of which are tropical species.
The small number of land-based hiking trails is easily made up for by the incredible Maritime Heritage Trail. This astonishing underwater trail is meant to be explored by scuba diving and sometimes snorkeling. The trail leads through multiple historical shipwrecks plus the base of the Fowey Rocks Lighthouse.
Below is a list of shipwrecks to explore along the trail and which are suitable for snorkeling and scuba diving.
- Arratoon Apcar shipwreck, sank in 1878 – good for both snorkeling and scuba diving
- Fowey Rocks Lighthouse, constructed in 1878 – good for both snorkeling and scuba diving
- Erl King shipwreck, sank in 1891 – Really for scuba diving only, not so much snorkeling
- Alicia shipwreck, sank in 1905 – Really for scuba diving only, not so much snorkeling
- Lugano shipwreck, sank in 1913 – Really for scuba diving only, not so much snorkeling
- Mandalay shipwreck, sank in 1966 – good for both snorkeling and scuba diving
- Unnamed 19th-century wooden sailing vessel wreck – good for both snorkeling and scuba diving
Check out the Biscayne National Park Institute’s website to see what snorkeling and scuba diving trips are offered inside the park.
3. Go paddling amongst the mangroves
One awesome way to explore the spectacular mangrove forests of Biscayne National Park is by kayaking, canoeing, or paddle boarding. This is a perfect opportunity to get up close with Biscayne’s wildlife.
Kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding allow you to get better views of animals such as juvenile fish, tree crabs, numerous bird species, plus multiple rare and endangered species of flora and fauna.
If you don’t own your own kayak, canoe, or paddleboard, the Biscayne National Park Institute offers a large variety of paddling trips. You can find out more about these paddling trips on their website.
4. Visit Boca Chita Key
This island, while small, is jam-packed with things to do and see. This is one of the park’s most popular attractions and for good reasons.
The island was at one time under the ownership of Mark C. Honeywell. Honeywell was a wealthy industrialist responsible for building key’s famous lighthouse, which dates back to the 1930s. He was also responsible for building a generator room, picnic pavilion, and chapel on the island.
The land surrounding these historic buildings is now protected as the Boca Chita Key Historic District.
When visiting Boca Chita Key, you can enjoy activities such as walking around and exploring the island, hiking through the mangroves on a half-mile-long trail, and taking in some tremendous views of the iconic Miami Skyline.
When choosing a boat tour of the park, try to choose one that takes you to Boca Chita Key since this is a portion of the park you won’t want to miss.
If you visit the island on one of the Biscayne National Park Institute’s boat tours, your guide may possibly open the lighthouse for you and your tour group. This will allow you access to spectacular panoramic views on its observation deck.
Additional Keys to visit inside Biscayne National Park:
There are two other keys open to the public inside Biscayne National Park in addition to Boca Chita Key. Each of these keys has its own unique traits, history, and activities to participate in.
- Adams Key: This key is situated in the northern section of Cesar Creek. It has a day-use area equipped with a picnic pavilion, toilets, and a short trail. The island was once the site of the Cocolobo Club, which was a hideaway for such famous figures as Carl Fisher and U.S. Presidents Hoover, Johnson, and Nixon.
- Elliot Key: This is the largest island in the park and was at one time home to a thriving group of pineapple farmers, pirates, and pioneers. The island is now the site of a campground, picnic area, hiking trail, and even some areas to swim at.
5. Visit historic Stiltsville
This is one of the most unique areas of Biscayne National Park. Stiltsville is a rather weird collection of buildings set upon stilts that stand over northern Biscayne Bay’s shallow waters.
The fascinating history of Stiltsville dates back to the 1930s. Eddie Walker, nicknamed “Crawfish,” built the region’s first stilted shack. It was initially used as a bait shop/basecamp for fishing trips but soon turned into a spot that sold food plus unlicensed alcohol.
Before long, more of these stilted shacks started to pop up within the surrounding area of the first shack. By the late 1930s, the first Stiltsville social club was created.
Stiltsville soon became the place to be if you were a wealthy politician, lawyer, banker, or celebrity visiting nearby Miami Beach during the wintertime.
Over time though, several police raids occurred at some of the stilted shacks. These were a result of rumors of illegal alcohol and gambling activities.
By the year 1960, there were at least 27 of the stilted shacks at Stiltsville. However, many of these shacks were destroyed in the following decades due to hurricanes. Currently, there are only seven of these structures left in Stiltsville. None of the structures standing today were around when Stiltsville was in its prime in the ’60s.
Public access to walking around the structures is strictly prohibited. Today, the structures are managed by the Stiltsville Trust, a non-profit organization. However, you are permitted to float past the Stiltsville structures on a guided boat tour, which is recommended. Boat tour guides provide you with a more profound background of these unique structures and the people and stories associated with them.
6. Snorkel at the Fowey Rocks Lighthouse
The Fowey Rocks Lighthouse is a famous and historic lighthouse inside Biscayne National Park. This lighthouse is also referred to as the “Eye of Miami.”
The lighthouse was built in 1876 to indicate the spot where the reef was located. In 1878, the lighthouse had a Fresnel lens installed. This Fresnel lens was constructed in Paris and is currently on display at the U.S. Coast Guard’s National Aids to Navigation Training Center in Yorktown, Virginia.
There is now a solar-powered light inside the lighthouse which can be seen from 17 miles away.
This is a fantastic spot for snorkeling. Vast schools of fish are frequently seen gathering around the metal posts of the lighthouse.
7. Visit the Dante Fascell Visitor Center
If possible, when visiting any national park, you should always start at the park’s visitor center.
The Dante Fascell Visitor Center is situated at Convoy Point, about 9 miles east of Homestead. The visitor center is the focal point of the land-based portion of the park.
The Dante Fascell Visitor Center has lots of tips and information on what there is to do and see inside Biscayne National Park. It also has a wonderful museum that brings visitors on a visual tour of each of the park’s four different ecosystems. There are also several video and audio exhibits, plus some spectacular dioramas that display Biscayne’s diverse plant and animal life.
There are also several art exhibits that feature artwork from contemporary artists who draw their inspiration from Biscayne National Park’s unparalleled beauty.
The visitor center is open from 9 AM-5 PM, seven days a week.
8. Go fishing
Humans have been fishing in the pristine waters of Biscayne Bay for thousands of years.
You’re permitted to fish from the Convoy Point Jetty, in most of Biscayne Bay, and near almost all keys. The Convoy Point Jetty, however, is essentially the only area on the mainland where fishing is allowed.
If you plan on fishing at Biscayne National Park during your visit, you should check out the park’s website to see what fishing restrictions and regulations there are.
9. Wildlife viewing
Wildlife viewing at Biscayne National Park is one of the most popular activities in the park. There is a massive variety of wildlife to be seen both above and below the water’s surface.
Biscayne National Park has an incredible diversity of animal life. There are over 600 species of native fish, neo-tropical waterbirds, plus many endangered and threatened species like manatees, sea turtles, and the Schaus’ swallowtail butterfly.
Biscayne National Park protects special aquatic habitats and nursery environments. These environments help support native fishery resources that sustain exceptional fishing for tarpon, bonefish, grouper, and spiny lobster.
Bird watching at Biscayne is also very popular and can be done pretty much anywhere in the park. Check out the park’s website for a list of birds that can be found at Biscayne.
10. Go camping
Surprisingly, there are even some camping opportunities in Biscayne National Park.
There are two campgrounds at the park. One of these campgrounds is located on Boca Chita Key, the park’s most popular island. The second campground is situated on Elliot Key, the largest island in the park.
You must take a boat to reach both campgrounds since they’re on two separate islands. There are no stores or food on the island, so you must bring everything you’ll need during your camping stay. There are, however, some very basic facilities available on the island.
- Boca Chita Key Campground: This location consists of a grassy campground area set by the harbor. Here you’ll find phenomenal waterfront views plus flush toilets, picnic tables, and grills. There are no showers, sinks, or drinking water available on the island. Prices are $25/night for camping only and $35/night for docking and camping.
- Elliot Key Campground: This location has picnic tables, grills, and restrooms with sinks and cold water showers. There is drinking water available here, but it’s recommended that you bring your own ample water supply in case the system goes down. Prices are $25/night for camping only and $35/night for docking and camping.
Make sure to check out the park’s website for details regarding reservations, rates, and other information when camping at Biscayne National Park.
How much time do you need at Biscayne National Park?
Most visitors don’t spend more than one full day at Biscayne National Park. Again, the bulk of the park’s beauty is found beyond the Dante Fascell Visitor Center, so you’ll have to explore the park by boat.
The majority of visitors go for a day trip to see the park by boat. How many of the park’s highlights you see depends on which boat tour you choose to take. If you pick the right boat tour, you should have no problem seeing most of Biscayne’s top activities mentioned in this article in a single day. Needless to say, if you plan on camping in the park, you’ll definitely want to stay more than one day.
When you go to select a boat tour, try to choose one that has most of the highlights mentioned previously in this article.
Are pets allowed in Biscayne National Park?
Certain areas of the Biscayne National Park do allow pets.
You are permitted to walk your pet on the Convoy Point grounds, but you are not allowed to walk your pet inside the Dante Fascell Visitor Center. You are also allowed to walk your pet on Elliot Key. Pets are not permitted on Boca Chita Key, including boats docked in the harbor.
All pets must be kept on a leash that is no longer than 6 feet long and under your control at all times. Any pet waste must be properly and immediately disposed of at the nearest disposal bin.
Never leave your pet inside your vehicle. In the State of Florida, leaving an animal in a parked car is considered animal cruelty under the law.
To sum up, Biscayne National Park is an astonishing National Park full of surprises. There is a substantial amount of outdoor activities for visitors to enjoy.
Some of the best things to do inside the park include boat tours, snorkeling and scuba diving, paddling, Boca Chita Key, historic Stiltsville, Snorkeling at the Fowey Rocks Lighthouse, visiting the Dante Fascell Visitor Center, fishing, wildlife viewing, and camping.
It’s suggested that you spend at least one full day at Biscayne National Park when you visit. Choosing a good boat tour will allow you to see the majority of the top activities mentioned before in one day.
Pets are allowed in specific areas of the park, such as the Convoy Point grounds. Pets, however, must be kept on a leash no longer than 6 feet long and under your control at all times.
Biscayne National Park is undoubtedly one that is not to be missed. It truly does need to be near the top of the list on your series of national parks to visit. So don’t delay! Plan a trip to Biscayne National Park now!
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