How to Spend a Weekend at Biscayne National Park

There is so much to do at Biscayne National Park, from boating to snorkeling to kayaking and more. This scenic national park lies in South Florida and encompasses a vast region of protected land and water. If you plan to spend a weekend at Biscayne National Park, the following are the top things to do in the park.

What to Do 

Ranger-led activities-  These include guided canoe and kayak trips, daily ranger talks and walks, and more. Partaking in ranger-led activities help visitors to gain a greater understanding of what they’re experiencing in the park.

Fishing and boating- One of the main ways to get around the park is by boat and there are lots of organized boating tours available. You can also launch your own boat to explore the area. Fishing is permitted within the park with some restrictions.

Canoeing and kayaking- You can rent canoes and kayaks in the park and spend the day exploring this beautiful natural area. Paddling is one of the park’s most popular activities.

Snorkeling and scuba diving- Biscayne National Park is home to a wide variety of unique marine life and coral reefs which can be explored by snorkeling and scuba diving.

Wildlife viewing- There are plenty of opportunities for wildlife viewing within the park, both in and out of the water. There are 20 endangered species in Biscayne National Park and birding is a wildly popular activity here.

Where to Stay

The nearest hotels and overnight lodgings are in Homestead and Florida City, though you may be more comfortable staying in Miami or one of the other Florida Keys and commuting during the day to Biscayne National Park. There are also two campgrounds available inside the park that must be accessed by boat. These are on Boca Chita Key and Elliott Key.

How to Get There

Miami International Airport is the closest airport to Biscayne National Park. The park can be reached by car via the Florida Turnpike or the US-1 highway. Once there, the best way to get around is by boat, so it’s recommended to take a guided boat tour or rent canoes or kayaks.

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Places to Visit After Biscayne National Park

A vast region in South Florida encompassing part of the Florida Keys, a massive coral reef, mangrove shorelines, and more, Biscayne National Park is home to a variety of interesting things to explore. Once you’ve had your fill of gorgeous beaches and fascinating marine life at Biscayne National Park, continue your journey with a visit to any of these nearby attractions!

Miami – Just an hour away from Biscayne National Park lies Miami, a bustling cosmopolitan city. Miami has become a center of Latin American culture and is rife with sandy beaches and high-end nightclubs, restaurants, hotels, and shops.

Everglades National Park – The Everglades neighbor Biscayne National Park, making them the natural next stop on your trip. Just half an hour outside the park, the Everglades are known for their vast wetlands and exotic wildlife, including crocodiles, panthers, pythons, turtles, and more.

Big Cypress National Reserve – Not far from Biscayne National Park lies Big Cypress National Reserve. This national preserve is home to the Big Cypress Swamp which is essential in supporting the neighboring Everglades. Boasting diverse wildlife and plantlife, this area will make for an interesting addition to your trip.

Dry Tortugas National Park – Situated in the Gulf of Mexico, Dry Tortugas National Park is home to a 19th century fort and vast stretches of clear blue water that offer plenty of opportunities for snorkeling and diving. You’ll love exploring the coral reefs and marine life in this unique park.

Marco Island –  A beautiful island off the coast of Florida in the Gulf of Mexico, Marco Island offers everything from beach resorts to fishing villages. A gorgeous and unique place to explore from Biscayne National Park, you’re sure to fall in love with Marco Island.

Staying Safe at Biscayne National Park

General

Biscayne National Park is a vast and serene nature preserve in South Florida. Visitors come to this national park to experience the unique marine life, enjoy the beaches, and take in the gorgeous natural beauty of the area. It’s important to take the relevant safety precautions when visiting Biscayne National Park. 

Weather 

Conditions on and in the water can change rapidly at Biscayne National Park, so you’ll want to be prepared for anything. Make sure to have enough life jackets and emergency supplies with you such as food, water, and a satellite phone in case you encounter a sudden storm or rough weather while you’re out on a boat. Be sure to check the weather forecast before heading out to explore the park. 

Wildlife 

You’re likely to experience a wide variety of wildlife in the park. It’s important to never approach or touch marine life both for their safety and yours. Animals including sharks, fish, sea turtles, manatees and more can be found here, so it’s best to keep a safe distance from any wildlife you encounter. 

Other Concerns

Make sure to follow safe boating procedures while in the park as boating accidents are not uncommon. Be prepared in case of emergency.

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Basic Facts About Biscayne National Park

The largest marine park of the United States National Parks, Biscayne National Park is located in South Florida. The park protects several of the Florida Keys, part of the Biscayne Bay, coral reefs, mangrove shorelines, and more. This beautiful national park offers plenty of water recreation activities and is a wonderful place to simply relax.

History

During the boom of industrialism in the 1950s, many Americans were moving to Florida and vacationing in the Florida Keys. There were plans to turn this serene natural area into the bustling City of Islandia, as well as a seaport and a jetport. In an effort to protect the land and its resources from development, Biscayne Bay became a national monument in 1968, with the intention of preserving as many of the undeveloped Florida Keys as possible. In 1974, more lands were added to the monument and in 1980 Biscayne finally became a recognized national park. Florida congressman Dante Fascell is largely credited with preserving the region, and President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the bill making Biscayne a national park in 1968.

Landscape

Biscayne National Park is composed of several different ecosystems. These include mangrove forests along the shoreline of the mainland, the southern portion of Biscayne Bay, the Florida Keys’ northernmost islands, and part of one of the largest coral reefs in the world. The park is characterized by crystal clear waters, a wealth of marine life, seabirds, and subtropical vegetation. The park’s subtropical climate ensures warm sunny days year round with occasional thunderstorms and hurricanes. There are a variety of trails to explore on the mainland and the islands, and there are plenty of beaches for visitors to enjoy. 

Watching Wildlife in Biscayne National Park

The Biscayne National Park is an American National Park located in South Florida, just south of Miami. The park preserves the Biscayne Bay as well as the offshore barrier reefs. About 95% of the park is water, with the shore of the park boasting an extensive mangrove forest. The park covers 172,971 acres in total, which includes the largest and northernmost island of the true Florida Keys. In the north of the park, visitors can spot transitional islands of coral and sand.

The park protects four distinct ecosystems today: the mangrove swamp, the shallow waters of Biscayne bay, the coral limestone keys, and the offshore Florida Reef. The shoreline swamp region provides a nursery for larval and juvenile fish, molluscs, and crustaceans. The region is also covered with tropical vegetation and cacti, palms, and the ever-endangered sea turtle. The offshore reefs and waters harbor more than 200 species of fish, pelagic birds, whales, and coral reef.

The Biscayne National Park is home to 16 endangered species, including swallowtail butterflies, smalltooth sawfish, manatees, hawksbill sea turtles, and alligators.

Inhabited by the Glades culture more than 10,000 years ago before the rising sea levels filled the bay, native people called the region home before the Spanish took possession of Florida in the 1600s. Upon arriving in the bay, the coral reef in the water claimed hundreds of ships into the 20th century.

Fun fact: the park was originally proposed for inclusion in the Everglades National Park. It was removed from the proposal and remained undeveloped until the 1960s.

Today, the park is home to over 600 native fish, neo-tropical water birds, and migratory habitat.

Biscayne National Park’s Top Animals

  • Sea turtles
    • The loggerhead sea turtle calls the park home, although it is endangered today. The females may lay about 100 eggs per nest, but that doesn’t protect the babies from the hardships and dangers they must survive to reach adulthood. Most eggs are eaten by predators. Once grown the sea turtle has fewer predators, though the Tiger Shark still hunts them.
  • Cotton mouse
    • Named from the cotton that it uses to build its nest, the cotton mouse is known by its dark brown body and white belly and feet. With short lifespans of 4-5 months, these mice provide sustenance for dozens of species in the park.
  • American alligators
  • American crocodiles
  • Swallowtail butterfly
    • Characterized as a large, colorful butterfly endemic to South Florida, the swallowtail butterfly has been listed as endangered since 1975. In recent years, the population has declined so steeply that park service intervention has been taken to ensure the species survives. There are only 75 swallowtail butterflies left in the park today.
  • Arctic tern
    • Boasting the longest migration of any animal, the arctic tern migrates 44,300 miles in one year. Migrating across oceans, around Antarctica and back, these birds feed on smaller marine invertebrates. Nesting only once every three years, the tern can live up to 30 years. Over one million terns can be spotted passing through the park every year.

Viewing Locations

Dante Fascell Visitor Center: Get a good glimpse at local manatees from the main visitor center. Manatees can be seen year round.
Chicken Key Bird Rookery: Located northeast of the Deering Estate in South Miami, Chicken Key is only accessible by canoe. You can book a tour with park naturalists who discuss the history, wildlife, and ecology of the island. It’s a great spot for bird watching.
Elliot Key and Boca Chita Key: Two amazing campsites within the park, both of these locations are great places to sit back and catch some local animal activity. Note that standing bodies of fresh water are not safe to wade into due to the alligator and crocodile population. Follow local camp recommendations for securing food at night.

When Should You Go?

You can visit the Biscayne National Park anytime of the year, though there are more manatees present in the colder winter months. The park has a pretty stable climate with winters still manageable for visitors.

Generally, December to April is considered the dry season and has increased ranger-led program availability. If you want to plan around the natural moistness, the winter is the preferred time to check out the park.

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