Biscayne National Park in Florida was established in 1980 to protect one of the last pristine areas of coral reef and keys in the US from encroaching development. Over 17,000 acres, 95% under water.
Visitor Rating (write your own review below)
|Scenery||Mangrove swamps and coral reefs typical of southern Florida but pristine|
|Uniqueness||Third largest coral reef in the world, one of the few National Parks that’s mostly water|
|Wildlife||Manatees, sharks, rays, tropical fish and water birds|
|Diversity||Not much hiking but a lot to do on or under the water|
In a Word “Delicate”
“You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship You.” -Nehemiah 9:6
Our Visit We visited Biscayne during May as part of a vacation to Southern Florida which included a trip to Everglades NP. We timed our visit around the 10AM – 1PM glass-bottomed boat tour. In addition to the tour, we spent about 1 hour in and around the Dante Fascell visitor’s center.
Our Weather The weather was warm (mid 80s) and sunny with a slight breeze (wind is a significant factor in Biscayne).
Overall Impression Biscayne is a beautiful area which contrasts significantly to the over-developed land around it. The waters are shallow (averaging only 8 feet in the bay), clear and full of life. However, Biscayne is an underwater park, and the way to see it best is underwater via snorkeling or scuba diving. Anything less than this will leave you underwhelmed.
Favorite Spot Passing through Caesar’s Creek
Minimum Time Required About 1 hour. This will allow you to see the Dante Fascell Visitors Center, explore a tiny bit of the Mangrove swamp which surrounds the area and gaze out upon Biscayne Bay. If this is all you do, you may get the stamp in your NP passport, but you will leave disappointed with the park because you’ve really missed it.
Because we took our almost-2-year-old with us, snorkeling was not an option. We opted for the glass-bottomed boat tour instead. This runs about $25 per person and takes you across the bay to an old shipwreck (nothing too exciting, just ballast stones), through the keys via Caesar’s Creek and out to some of the densest coral reef. The boat has the potential to be an exceptional way to see the bay without getting your feet wet, but our experience was a little disappointing because of the wind. Our forecast called for 10-15 mph winds, and this proved to be too much to see well.
A Longer Visit One half day will allow you to take one of the boat tours offered by the park’s concessioner (read “costs money”). The concessioner offers a glass-bottomed boat tour, a snorkeling tour, a scuba tour (for those qualified) and taxi to and from the park’s keys for camping. All of these options will give you a better appreciation for Biscayne NP.
If we go back, we will definitely try the snorkeling trip. Another appealing option if you want something quieter is to rent a canoe or kayak and explore the coastal waters around the visitors center. If you’ve got a lot of time and don’t mind bugs, consider camping on Elliot Key for a night and enjoying some of the park’s only trails.While the water was still clear and a beautiful color, the waves were too pronounced to see directly to the bottom. The boat’s glass bottom was not ideal for viewing either as the viewing area was so divided (see picture) and the wind kept us from sitting still long enough to see anything more than quickly passing reef and fish. By contrast, the tour the day before had glassy water and saw a manatee and several sharks and rays just by looking over the side. The most positive aspect of the boat tour was the Park Ranger. She had a ton of great information and made the ride much more enjoyable by pointing out a lot of history and smaller things.
Suggestions If you’re planning on one of the boat trips, pick a day when the wind is going to be calm. If you go during dry season (December – April), you’ll probably need reservations for the boats–this can be tricky to make reservations far enough out to get seats but close enough to get a good weather forecast.
Weekends on Biscayne Bay will be full of local boaters, so go during the weekday if you want a more secluded experience.
Take bug repellant and sunscreen; after all, this is Florida!
Nearby Towns Homestead, Miami (Florida)
Official NPS Website Biscayne NP
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