Biscayne National Park is a true tropical paradise located only about an hour from the hustle and bustle of downtown Miami. If you’re a fan of misty sea breezes and the wonders of the ocean, you’ll fit right in when visiting Biscayne.
This magnificent national park is actually 95% water and serves to protect a mix of coastal waters, coral reefs, mangrove forests, and small islands.
Since the park is predominantly made up of shallow waters, the majority of the activities within the park are water-based. Popular activities include boating, fishing, swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, and paddle boarding. There is also a small number of land-based activities found at Biscayne as well.
Some highlights include the Convoy Point Jetty Trail, Boca Chita Key, Adams Key, Elliot Key, kayaking in Jones Lagoon, snorkeling the Maritime Heritage Trail (a series of underwater shipwrecks), and snorkeling near the Fowey Rocks Lighthouse, among others.
In this article, we’ll discuss the top 10 things to do. We’ll also get further into topics such as:
- Is Biscayne National Park worth visiting?
- How do you get to Biscayne National Park?
- What is the best way to get around Biscayne National Park?
Is Biscayne National Park worth visiting?
This amazing park is certainly worth visiting. It feels like an isolated tropical paradise despite its close proximity to Miami. The park consists of a unique combination of spectacular turquoise waters, bright green islands, and coral reefs inhabited by a stunning variety of reef fish.
There are several boat tours to take around the various island keys, shipwrecks, and other historical sites. In reality, exploring the park by boat is the only way to truly experience the beauty of Biscayne. Staying near the visitor center on the mainland will not allow you to see the magnificence of this exceptional national park. However, these boat tours sell out, so it’s crucial to reserve these tickets in advance.
How do you get to Biscayne National Park?
Different segments of the park are situated on the coastline of southeast Florida, while other parts are off the shoreline in open water. The park protects and preserves the majority of Biscayne Bay amidst Key Largo and Key Biscayne directly south of Miami and east of Homestead.
The best way to get to the park is to drive there by car. The National Park Service does, however, recommend giving yourself extra time to drive to and from the park. Traffic in South Florida is heavy and can cause delays in your arrival and departure times. This is especially true during weekends, holidays, and rush hours.
The best road to take to the park is the Florida Turnpike to avoid traffic and delays. Taking U.S. Highway 1 is a slow and burdensome way to reach the park.
Below are the various drive times to the Dante Fascell Visitor Center from popular airports and other locations near Biscayne National Park.
Miami: 50 minutes / 41 miles
Miami Beach: 55 minutes / 44 miles
Miami International Airport (MIA): 40 minutes / 36 miles
Fort Lauderdale: 1 hour 10 minutes / 64 miles
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL): 1 hour 5 minutes / 61 miles
Homestead: 20 minutes / 10 miles
Key Largo: 40 minutes / 39 miles
Everglades National Park (Royal Palm Visitor Center): 40 minutes / 23 miles
Everglades National Park (Shark Valley Visitor Center): 1 hour 5 minutes / 48 miles
Everglades National Park (Flamingo Visitor Center) 1 hour 15 minutes / 57 miles
You also have the option to take public transportation to reach the park. The Homestead National Parks Trolley goes from downtown Homestead to the Dante Fascell Visitor Center. Homestead is also known as the “Gateway to Everglades and Biscayne National Parks.”
What is the best way to get around Biscayne National Park?
Getting around by boat is really the best and only way to explore the park. Again, this park is mainly marine-based and consists of over 250 square miles of water.
Biscayne is quite different from other National Parks in the country as it doesn’t have a system of roads. The only roadway system in the park is a short one-mile stretch that leads to the Dante Fascell Visitor Center. There’s also a wooden boardwalk at Convy Point located just near the visitor center.
If you’re the owner of a personal boat, it’s possible to enter Biscayne through one of the park’s four different marinas. Miami-Dade County operates these four marinas.
The Black Point Marina and the Homestead Bayfront Marina are inside the boundaries of the park. While outside the park’s borders, the Crandon Marina and the Matheson Hammock Marina still offer easy access to Biscayne.
You can find more information about private boats in the park here.
It goes without saying that most visitors don’t have their own private boat. Thankfully, there are numerous guided boat tours offered to explore the park in its entirety. These vary from general boat tours, kayaking and paddle boarding outings, scuba and snorkeling cruises, and sailing tours that last a few days.
The Biscayne National Park Institute offers the best guided tours in the park. They have a substantial collection of guided tours available for visitors to choose from. You can learn more about the tours they offer on their website here.
What is the entrance fee for Biscayne National Park?
The park is 100% free to visit and does not charge an entrance fee.
What is the best time to visit Biscayne National Park?
Winter (Dry Season)
The best time to visit is during the winter months. This is the dry season in the park. As such, the weather is typically milder and more favorable. The park’s dry season lasts from November through April. Plan to hit the park between that time frame if you’re looking to visit when weather conditions here are more pleasant.
Heavy thunderstorms and rain are rare during the dry season at Biscayne. Infrequent storms may bring some rain and strong winds, which can diminish visibility underwater when snorkeling or scuba diving. However, an upside to these fronts is that they’ll blow away pesky mosquitos.
Biscayne’s lovely winter weather, typical of South Florida, is a welcome escape from the cold and wet winters much of the rest of the U.S. experiences. For example, during the months of December, January, and February, the high temperatures average only in the mid to high 70’s. Rainfall during these months is also low, with only around 2 inches on average.
Summer (Wet Season)
Summer is Biscayne’s wet season and lasts from May through October. This time of the year brings heavy and regular rainfall, high humidity, hot temperatures, and swarms of mosquitos.
High concentrations of mosquitos are especially prevalent amongst the coastal mangroves.
However, this time of year in the park isn’t all bad. Summertime is excellent for snorkeling and scuba diving in the park’s waters. As long as there are no heavy storms, underwater visibility is usually outstanding during the summer.
You should also be mindful of Florida’s infamous hurricane season, which lasts from June through November. Be sure to keep an eye out for possible hurricane forecasts during those months before you visit.
Average high temperatures here during the months of June, July, and August are in the high 80’s to low 90’s. The average rainfall during these months is 10.6 inches in June, 7.4 inches in July, and 9.6 in August.
How much time do you need at Biscayne National Park?
Most visitors don’t spend more than one full day here. 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 further on in this article.
What should you bring on a trip to Biscayne National Park?
There aren’t any beaches to visit or swim in at. However, you should plan on bringing the same supplies as you would on an actual trip to the beach—items such as hats, sunglasses, sunscreen, water, and snacks.
If you’re planning on taking a snorkeling or scuba diving trip, you’ll want to plan on bringing a bathing suit, an underwater camera, and some towels. You should also bring a bag to hold important valuables like phones, wallets, and keys to help keep them dry.
List of what you should bring:
- Reef-safe sunscreen (this is a sunscreen that lacks certain chemicals that are harmful to coral reefs)
- Bathing Suit
- A regular camera and an underwater camera
- A dry bag for important valuables
- Plenty of snacks and water (bring a refillable water bottle)
- Bring a good lunch if you’re taking a full-day boat trip
Are pets allowed in Biscayne National Park?
Certain areas of the 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.
Best Things to Do in Biscayne National Park
Since you now have some general knowledge about the park, let’s discuss the top things to do.
You’ll probably only be visiting the visitor center and taking a boat tour if you’re visiting the park for a day trip. Even so, we’ve included a list of additional activities to see if you’re planning on an extended trip there.
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.
1. Take a Boat Tour around the park
There are a variety of boat tours available for visitors. These tours vary from half-day excursions to full-day trips. There are even some overnight sailing trips available as well.
Again, since the 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 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.
There is an enormous variety of marine life found throughout the pristine crystal-clear waters of Biscayne Bay. In fact, the 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 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 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 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:
In addition to Boca Chita Key, there are two other keys open to the public. 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 the 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 landmark in the 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 here. 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 the 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 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 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.
There is 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.
Park management 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 here.
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 considering camping.
Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park
While visiting, it’s also worth taking a visit to nearby Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park.
The park is a haven for various outdoor activities, such as swimming, hiking, kayaking, canoeing, and bicycling. The park is filled with beautiful nature trails, spectacular beaches, fantastic restaurants, and an old lighthouse dating back to the 19th century.
To recap, Biscayne National Park is a true tropical paradise in South Florida. The park is home to a wide variety of natural and historical wonders.
It hosts a collection of fantastic marine-based activities, including fishing, kayaking, canoeing, paddleboarding, swimming, scuba diving, and snorkeling.
Boat tours throughout Biscayne are popular amongst visitors and are essentially the only way to see the park to its fullest extent. Numerous boat tours are offered that cruise around some of the top locations within the park.
There is an abundant collection of coral reefs and shipwrecks to explore through scuba diving along the Maritime Heritage Trail.
Boca Chita Key is a beautiful island with fantastic camping opportunities. You’ll also want to be sure to visit Stiltsville to see the historic stilted structures that once represented the area’s notorious reputation for illegal gambling and alcohol activities.
Check out the park’s website for more information about Biscayne. This park is a haven for those looking to take a splash and those simply hoping to immerse themselves in some of Florida’s beautiful coastal scenery. So what are you waiting for? Plan your trip today!
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