Discovering the Treasures of the Biscayne National Park

Biscayne underwater Discovering the Treasures of the Biscayne National Park

The Biscayne National Park - General Summary

The Biscayne National Park is a nautical wonderland situated to the South of Miami in Southern Florida. The park is not only home to some of the most unique ecosystems in the world; it is also 95% water-based. Only 5% of the park is based on land. Additionally, the park has salt-water and fresh-water areas where you can observe different ecosystems.

The park is also home to the Florida Reef which ranks among the largest natural coral reefs found across the world. Spread over 172,971 acres, the Biscayne Park also includes the famed Elliot Key, which is not only the largest island here but is also completely made from fossilized coral reef making it a geological oddity.


Date of Establishment

The Biscayne National Park was established as the Biscayne National Monument on 18th October, 1968. The original monument was much smaller than what it is today but it was eventually expanded in 1980. Today, it receives nearly 3 million visitors on an annual basis. The beauty of the park attracts water sport fans, nature enthusiasts and others who want to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience.


Popular Season

Due to the fact that it is situated in Southern Florida, the Biscayne National Park experiences sub-tropical weather all year round. Nonetheless, the best time to visit would be anywhere from December to April. This is when the area is experiencing a dry season so rainfall would be at a minimum. It’s also when most of the ranger-led activities are happening so you can view this wonderful park in all its glory and splendor.


The Visitor’s Center

In the Biscayne National Park, the Dante Fascell Visitor Center is the only section of the park which is based on the main-land. It is accessible by water and by land as well and is situated on Convoy point.

It is open every day from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. During Holidays, such as Thanksgiving, Christmas or even New Years, the visitor center is closed. Not only is this a popular picnic spot, the center also works like the base point for group who are taking part in the many private or ranger-led activities at the park. It also has various resources, exhibits and even resources.

There is even a dedicated art gallery which was opened in 2002 and features art pieces, photographs and paintings done in oil, water colors, collages, sculpture, and more which have been inspired by the natural beauty of Biscayne National Park.

The Biscayne National Park is a veritable wonderland for you and your loved ones. So, let’s start planning to make your trip memorable over there today!


Introduction

If you love sunny Florida and being in the water, then visiting the Biscayne National Park should be on your bucket list. This park is also hailed as one of the largest marine parks that the National Park System protects. The park is renowned for its scenic views and for the fact that 95% of it consists of water.

The other 5% is made up of undeveloped islands and a mainland area. When it comes to water-based activities, this should be the number 1 spot for you. The park is also within distance of the renowned Everglades National Park of Florida.

If you’re planning a visit to that park, you can’t skip over this one. It has a rich, majestic beauty and charm which makes it equally unique. The wildlife, the exotic locale, and the fact that you have to go everywhere in boats makes this wild interpretation of Venice a must-see spot. The Biscayne National Park also shares historic roots and was home to various native civilizations.

It is believed that descendants from the Glades culture lived in the Biscayne Bay region nearly 10,000 years ago. This was before the sea level rose and filled up the bay. Another tribe which lived here was the Tequesta but that was nearly 4,000 years ago.

Today, the park is open for all and gets 3 million visitors on an annual basis. But before you go, it’s time to learn some more about this park and discover what to expect when you visit it!


The Biscayne National Park

The Biscayne National Park stands out from other national parks as one of the largest water-based park. The park offers scenic views across the water, breathtaking views across the mangroves, and stunning coral reefs. The unique part about this park is that is protects four major ecosystems that are all found within it. These ecosystems are:

  • Mangrove forests – Situated on the mainland shoreline
  • The waters of Biscayne Bay – To the south of Biscayne Key
  • Coral limestone in the Florida Keys – Northernmost Islands
  • The third-largest coral reef – Offshore of the Florida Reef

The waters of the Biscayne Park are also home to a number of different endangered species. The park preserves the following:

  • Coral Reefs
  • Marine Wildlife
  • Endangered Cacti
  • American Crocodiles
  • Sea Turtles and more

The park is spread across a total of 172,971 acres and 95% of it is in water. That’s the largest water to land mass ratio discrepancy in any park. Nonetheless, the park has been steeped in history. During the early 20th Century, the reefs of the park were responsible for causing many shipwrecks. To date, there are 40 shipwrecks which have been documented, on the shores of the park. It is said that in the earlier days, before the park was established, the island of Boca Chita Key was the destination of choice for many of the wealthy and the elite. They would set up guesthouses here to enjoy the area as a private retreat.

The seclusion encouraged activities like gambling and drinking, especially during the Prohibition era. The Cocolobo Cay Club was also a popular club established on the remote islands. Not only was it owned by renowned people such as Carl G. Fisher, Garfield Wood and more, it was also visited by affluent people. 4 US presidents are said to have visited the Cocolobo Cay Club.


The Inception of the Park

Talks of getting the Biscayne Bay area turned into a park started when it was originally supposed to be a part of the Everglades National Park. Unfortunately, this caused difficulties which meant that the area had to be removed from the plan.

It remained as undeveloped land until the 1960s when proposals were made to allow construction, oil refining, and drilling on the shores of Biscayne Bay. Despite the fact that two nuclear power and fossil fuel plants were established here, the public uproar caused soon saw to their shutdown.

Powerful men, including Herbert W. Hoover, Jr., the president and a board chairman member of The Hoover vacuum company, lobbied to protect the area. Hoover, Jr. had always loved Biscayne Bay since childhood and he had many fond memories of it. With his funding, the campaign to create the Biscayne National Monument was successful by 1968.


In 1974, the lands of the Biscayne National Monument were expanded. The boundaries were increased again in 1980 when the areas of Boca Chita Key, the Ragged Keys, Key Biscayne and a substantial part of the central area of the Biscayne Bay were included as part of the monument. With the new expansion, the monument was also large enough to be redesignated as the Biscayne National Park in 1980.


Protected Status – IUCN Category V

Due to the unique ecosystems, endangered species and the historical roots of the place, the Biscayne National Park has a protected status of the IUCN Category V. This status protects the seascape and landscape of the park. With 4 different ecosystems, this park is viewed as essential for the survival of many endangered species of local animals, marine life and even certain species of plants.

As a result, the park is a haven for some of the most unique species of animals, birds, insects, plants, fishes and other marine life. The most interesting part here is that the park is viewed as being in the center of the Nearctic and the Neotropical eco-zones. This means the plant and animal variety found here are truly unmatched by other locales.

Additionally, visitors to the Biscayne National Park will see species, especially birds that they will not see in any other part of North America. Another interesting fact is that the four ecosystems in the park have their own unique flora, fauna and marine life in the Biscayne National Park. You can find the following in the different ecosystems.


Mangrove Forests

The mangroves are situated on the mainland shorelines and it’s populated with black and red mangrove trees in the shallow waters. White mangroves also grow here but they are further away from the edge of the water.

The birds here include loggerhead shrikes, shorebirds, warblers, mangrove cuckoos, yellow crowned night herons and more. The mangrove cuckoos are notoriously difficult to see. The mangrove swamps are also home to the endangered American crocodile which loves the saltwater areas of the park.


The Waters of Biscayne Bay

The open waters of the bay are a huge favorite among birds and the waters are populated with various crustaceans, mollusks and fishes. Birds found here include the cormorants, anhinga, American white pelicans, white loons, Northern gannets and more.

The waters are perfect for manatees and bottle nose dolphins who like the quietness in the water here. The interesting part is that over 75% of the floor of the lagoon here is covered in sea grass. This area is also home to the endangered species of Johnson’s sea grass.


Coral limestone in the Florida Keys - Elliot Keys

While it’s the largest coral limestone island, Elliot Keys is home to some of the most unique birds. It is common to spot migratory Caribbean bird species resting for a bit here. You can find rabbits, raccoons and even rattlesnakes living here.

The sandy beaches are used by loggerhead turtles as nesting grounds. These nests are protected and efforts are being made to help the turtle population here. Among the endangered and rare plant species found here, you can also find the Sargent’s cherry palm and the semaphore prickly-pear cactus.

Surprisingly, the Elliot Keys is also home to two of the most critically endangered butterfly species namely the Schaus' swallowtail and the Miami Blue.


The Florida Coral Reef

The Florida Coral reef is part of the Biscayne National Park and has over 200 different species of fish and 50 exotic species of fish and 4000 different kinds of coral. The water is also home to poisonous fish types such as the lion fish.

Apart from this, the off-shore boundaries of the reef also attract endangered species of whales including the humpback whales, sperm whales, sei whales, fin whales and the right whales. They are not a common sight but can be seen in some seasons.

The park’s ecosystems are already threatened with the climate change, rising sea temperatures, introduction of pollutants and invasive species to the area. That’s why the protected status is in place to protect the integrity of the park and the unique species that call it home.


Things to Consider When Planning a Trip to the Park

Unlike other parks, the Biscayne National Park is relatively close to major cities such as Miami and Southern Florida. This makes getting here easy.

Nonetheless, you should take a few factors into consideration. The following are what you need to consider:


What is the Best Time of Year to Visit the Park?

As mentioned earlier, the Biscayne National Park experiences sub-tropical weather all year round. Nonetheless, you should still choose the time of your visit properly. The best time to go is anywhere between December to April.

This is when the dry season happens and you don’t have to worry about high humidity, unexpected rainfall or visibility issues. During this time, the park rangers also organize the most activities to show visitors the beauty of the park.

However, the activities you want to engage in can also dictate the time of year to visit. For example:

  • If you want to go snorkeling, you can go during the summer. While the heat encourages bugs to be everywhere, the calmer summer days give better clarity and visibility underwater.
  • Similarly, winter is the best time to explore Elliot Key and the mainland islands at Biscayne National Park. Unfortunately, the windy weather will make the reef waters choppy and give poor visibility.

So, pay attention to this factor when you are planning on visiting the Biscayne National Park.


How Do You Get to the Park?

One of the best parts about the Biscayne National Park is that it is possible to enter it by driving to it. There are actually two different routes that you can try:


Entering from the North

You can reach the visitor center at the Convoy Point by entering either through the US-1 or the Florida Turnpike

  • If you’re entering from the Florida Turnpike, then head to the Florida Turnpike South, going to Exit 6 on Speedway Boulevard. Then, take a left and go south to North Canal Drive. Take a left and drive to the end of the route and the entrance will be to your left.
  • If you’re coming in from the US-1, you have to go south towards Homestead before turning left on North Canal Drive. Now, keep driving and the entrance should be at the end.


Entering from the South

You can reach the visitor center at the Convoy Point from the South through the US-1 only. Make sure to get to the North Canal drive and go to the end of the road to find the entrance to the park.


Traveling Within the Park

Your travel needs will not end once you get to the park. You will have to think about this beforehand because the park is 95% water. That means to get to other parts of it like Biscayne Bay, the Florida Reef, or other areas you will need to rent a boat.

Visitors without boats will be unable to get past Convoy Point. There is much to see and do at the visitor center though. You can watch a movie, take part in a ranger program or even go on a trail. If you’re lucky, you can sign up for a boat guided tour.

It is possible to rent a kayak or a canoe but it is best to come with your own boat, especially if you mean to stay for a few days at the park. It is better to call before hand, especially if you are hoping to go on a boat guided tour. There can be limited availability, especially when it comes to on-the spot bookings for boats, canoes and the boat guided tours.


Costs for Visitors to the Park

You will be happy to know that the park has no entrance fees for any visitors. If you have the following America the Beautiful Passes, you can also gain access to the park with ease:

  • 4th Grade Pass
  • Access Pass
  • U.S. Military Pass

However, you will have to pay a fee for the use of camp sites. Staying overnight at the camp sites in Boca Chita or Elliot Key is allowed with a fee of $25 per night. The fee allows 6 people to set up two tents or one tent and one docked boat only. For larger parties, please make sure to ask at the visitor center beforehand.

For boats, docking spaces are available but they are limited. With a strong first come, first serve rule, docking space is not subject to reservations because of the high demand. Docking fees are also $25 per night. All fees due for camping sites must be paid on arrival. Fees should not be submitted later than sunset otherwise they will be carried forward to the next day, with an extra fee added for the overnight stay.


Permits Needed

Due to the fact that park is so unique; it is a haven for most people looking to hold special activities or more. Permits to the Biscayne National Park are needed for the following activities:


Special Park Use

If you want to host memorial services, weddings, athletic events or First Amendment activities at the park, you can do so with the help of a Special Park Use permit. The permit request will be reviewed within a minimum period of 15 days (business) and require a $100 fee that is non-refundable. Requests without the fee will not be entertained.


First Amendment Activities

For any public assemblies or distribution and sale of printed matter within the National Park’s service area, you will need a permit, especially if the group size is 25 people or bigger. The request will get reviewed within 10 days.


Access to Stiltsville

This area consists of 7 unique stilt houses which are found in the Northern part of Biscayne National Park. Generally closed to the public, you can explore this area by applying for a visitation permit to the Stiltsvile Trust. The permit request is reviewed within 15 days (business) and requires a $100 fee. This fee is non-refundable and requests will not be entertained if the fee is not paid.


Filming and Photography – Commercial

All commercial photography and filming in the Biscayne National Park need a permit. Private photography by visitors is permitted. However, any footage for documentaries, feature films, television use or advertisement is classified as commercial photography.

The permit request will be reviewed and can be denied or accepted within 15 days (business). Permits must also have a $100 fee. This fee is non-refundable and requests will not be entertained if the fee is not paid. Commercial shooting can also incur location fee charges as mentioned in the table below:

Motion Pictures/Videos – Group SizeCost Per DayStill Photography – Group SizeStill Photography – Group Size1 – 2 people, camera and tripod only$0/day1 – 2 people, camera and tripod only$0/day1 - 10 people$150/day1 - 10 people$50/day11 - 30 people$250/day11 - 30 people$150/day31 - 49 people$500/dayOver 30 people$250/dayOver 50 people$750/day

Note: The park authorities have the right to reject any permit where the activities might lead to the derogation of the park, cause harm to the resources, the plants and wildlife or disrupt normal public use.


Insurance and Penalties

For commercial use projects within the park, authorities might require proof of insurance for general liability. The insurance must also name the National Park Service and the US Government in its coverage.

The insurance amount should be a minimum of $100,000,000. However, this amount may be higher for high-risk projects within the park. Additionally, park authorities might be appointed to serve as on-site monitors for various projects.


Fines

Due to the protected status of the park and the fact that it is home to many endangered and threatened species, individuals can be fined for harming the flora or fauna of the park. All of these are protected by the Endangered Species Act 

The state or federal agencies are well within their rights to:

  • Impose civil fines - $25,000
  • Criminal penalties - $50,000 or
  • 1 year of jail time

Actions that can incur these fines include but are not limited to the following actions done against threatened or endangered species:

  • Damaging the sea grass or coral
  • Harassing
  • Harming
  • Hunting
  • Shooting
  • Killing
  • Trapping or capturing
  • Collecting


Bringing Your Pets

Visitors are allowed to bring their pets to the Biscayne National Park but they must be kept on a leash, even at the Visitor Center. Even then, only service animals are allowed to go to the islands of the park. All pets are strongly prohibited from other areas of the park.

When bringing pets, visitors are responsible for providing for their water and food needs. Loose pets are not allowed in the park as they pose a danger to the wildlife in the park. Any pets lost at the park can perish due to starvation or dehydration.

Finding the Perfect Lodgings

You can find a place to stay inside the park and outside it as well. Due to the close proximity to Miami and Florida, you can find lodgings with ease. The nearest hotels to the park are situated in Homestead and Florida City.

Within the park, lodging is available in two campsites in the Elliot Key and Boca Chita Key.

  • Boca Chita Key is extremely popular and the camp site here has cooking grills, picnic tables and even toilets. However, there is no source for drinking water, showers or even sinks.
  • Elliot Key is the largest island in the park and is also a popular site. It has restrooms that have showers and sinks, grills and picnic tables. Luckily, drinking water is found here but bring your own as a precaution.

Make sure to book the campsites in advance because they become occupied pretty easily.


Top Attractions in the Biscayne National Park

The Biscayne National Park offers a number of unique attractions which make it a must-visit. However, make sure that you plan out your trip properly. With so much to see and do, it is very easy to end up not doing everything you have on your list.

Additionally some activities and attractions are subject to availability and the weather. If you go in the wrong season, you might not be able to indulge in a few activities. Similarly, if there are too many visitors, it could take you a few days to find a booking for a guided tour.

If you are visiting the park, the following are the biggest attractions that you should try out:


Fishing in Biscayne National Park

When it comes to fishing, you’ll be surprised to know that Biscayne National Park encourages the fishing of various species. You can fish for the following:

- Spiny lobster
- Snapper
- Grouper
- Bonefish 
- Tarpon

The fishing is done in an ethical manner to sustain healthy fisheries. Please remember to fish with the appropriate permission from the park. Fishing or hunting for lobsters illegally in the park grounds can result in a heavy fine as well as jail time. State law governs all fishing activities in the park.


Kayaking and Canoeing in the Park

Want to get a closer look at the park from the water? Then rent a canoe or a kayak and head out into the marshy mangroves and other shallow water bodies near the islands. Most of these areas are too shallow to be accessible by motor boats which make them perfect for canoes and kayaks.

Experienced kayakers will really appreciate the watery grounds of Biscayne Bay, Boca Chita Key and Elliot Key. For beginners, the shallow waters of the Jones Lagoon are going to be a great place to observe schools of fish and wading birds. Remember to always maintain a distance of 300 feet between you and any wildlife.

If you want to try out the paddling trails in Biscayne National Park, you can go on the following trails:

- Black Point paddle trail
- Crocodile Creek paddle trail
- Deering paddle trail
- Elliott Key paddle trail
- Jones Lagoon paddle trail
- Mowry Canal paddle trail 


Diving and Snorkeling in the Maritime Heritage Trail

If you want a unique diving experience then sign up for the Maritime Heritage Trail held at the Biscayne National Park. This gives seasoned and new divers a chance to explore many of the shipwrecks that happened on the reefs of Biscayne Bay.

With this program, you can explore 6 different wrecks which have been properly moored, mapped properly. Additionally, your proficiency as a diver will limit access to the sites. Sites like Alicia, Erl King and Lugano are suited for Scuba divers only. Other sites like Mandalay can be accessible via snorkeling.


Boating in Biscayne National Park

For sailing and boating aficionados, the Biscayne National Park is going to be the perfect playground. You can explore the whole park by boat. However, boating can be tricky here so be mindful of others and the surroundings. You must also use mooring buoys and also comply with the speed zones.

Personal leisure watercrafts such as wave runners and jet skis are strictly prohibited for use here. To make boating fun, make sure to buy some nautical charts which will give you a better understanding of the lay of the land. When its night time, you can dock your boat but availability of docks can be limited. Additionally, there is an overnight fee for boats so pay attention to this factor.


Wildlife Watching on the Water

If you’re interested in the wildlife of Biscayne National Park, you are in for a treat. The park is home to over 500 unique species of reef fish, around 20 species that are either threatened or endangered. Additionally, it is very rare to find many of the birds that you can find within the park.

If you like bird watching, this park is going to offer you a lot of opportunities to view your favorite birds in their natural habitat. For the best views, make sure to sign up for guided tours. These save you a lot of the time. You won’t have to be responsible for finding the birds and they also help you view them while maintaining a safe distance.


Guided Tours in Biscayne National Park

Guided tours or ranger-led tours are some of the most popular attractions in Biscayne National Park. These tours include the following programs:

- Maritime Heritage Trails – snorkeling and diving tours
- Cruises to Boca Chita Key – Guided tours to the lighthouse and other areas
- Sailing on Biscayne Bay – Guided tours to the waters of Biscayne Bay 
- Exploring the Jones Lagoon – Taking a look at this seldom visited area

The park authorities also work with other organizations to offer guided tours which can differ based on the season. Additionally, guided tours are extremely popular and you should always book them in advance. It can be difficult to find on-the-spot places and they are usually sold out.

To make a booking for a guided tour, you can call on 786-335-3644 to reserve your spot.


Safety Tips and Precautions

When exploring Biscayne National Park, it is necessary to follow certain safety tips and precautions. The park might be near the city of Miami and Homestead, Florida but any accidents can still mean that medical attention is a bit far away.

The Visitor Center does have medical equipment but it is not meant for life-threatening injuries. This why, you should exercise the following safety tips and precautions when you are in the park.


Pay Attention to the Tide

Always pay attention to the tides that affect the Biscayne National Park. Certain areas of the park are only accessible by boat when the tide is high. When the tide is low, your boat could become trapped and the area can become impassible.

Additionally, certain islands are only accessible when the tide is low. Once the tide is high, much of the island could become covered in water. This could also trap you in that area. If you are exploring any areas such as the mangroves, reefs and more, don’t go if the tide is going to change pretty soon. You can be trapped with no way to call for safety.


Have Sun Screen

The due to subtropical climate of Florida, the sun is always shining in Biscayne National Park. The heat can also be pretty intense, especially during the summers. If you are going to be out all day, make sure that you have sunscreen with you.

Make sure to also wear protective clothing such as long sleeved shirts, wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses. It is possible to get a nasty sun burn when you’re out in the waters of Biscayne Bay. Carry a tube of sunscreen with you to reapply as needed, especially after a dive.


Use Insect Repellent

Biscayne National Park has a lot of bugs, particularly mosquitoes that love the tropical weather. During the summers, the number of bugs you can experience is pretty high. Even if you are out on the water, you can be annoyed with the amount of bugs there are.

Make sure to bring some insect repellent with you to avoid the bugs. It is also a good idea to have an insect net with you, if you are staying overnight. These can keep the bugs away and let you sleep peacefully.


Do Not Go Snorkeling Alone

Make sure you have a partner with you when you go snorkeling or diving in the shipwrecks of Biscayne National Park. While care has been taken to make these dive sites completely safe, water based accidents can happen at any time.

With a partner, you can make sure that there is someone available to help you. For newcomers and seasoned professionals, it is recommended that they try the ranger-guided tours first before they choose to go on their own. First time visitors are also not recommended to go diving on their own.


Do Not Feed the Animals

Biscayne National Park has a lot of wild species and birds. It might be tempting to feed them something but do not do that. These are not animals you see in the zoo or tamed in manner. They are completely wild and feeding them is harmful for their health.

You should also not teach them to associate people with a food source because it can increase aggression towards people. Additionally, deliberately making an animal come near you by bribing it with food is an act which can be subject to a fine. Guidelines recommend that you keep a distance of 300 feet from all animals.


Carry Food and Water with You

Always make sure to have the appropriate amount of food and water with you. You have to pay attention to this whether you are camping in the park or going on a tour. The park doesn’t have drinkable fresh water sources so you need to bring your own supply.

When you’re out on the water, always make sure to carry 3 liters or more. The sub-tropical climate can make one become dehydrated as quickly. Exposure to the elements can cause sunstroke as well so make sure that you have enough water. If you plan to stay overnight, make sure you have at least 10 liters or more per person.

With the help of these, you can enjoy your stay at the Biscayne National Park and have fun at the park with ease.


Remember to Have Fun!

Visiting the Biscayne National Park should be on the bucket list of any outdoor activity enthusiast. With activities like scuba diving, snorkeling, canoeing and boating, there is something for everyone.

Just remember to be respectful of the environment, the surroundings and be mindful of the protected status of the threatened and endangered flora and fauna here.

Luckily, with the help of this guidebook, you can enjoy your time at the Biscayne National Park without any worries.

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Discovering the Treasures of the Biscayne National Park

Book AuthorGoglides
PublisherGoglides Publication
LanguageEnglish
Pages
Published Date2020-03-25T18:15:00Z
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Discovering the Treasures of the Biscayne National Park

The Biscayne National Park - General Summary

The Biscayne National Park is a nautical wonderland situated to the South of Miami in Southern Florida. The park is not only home to some of the most unique ecosystems in the world; it is also 95% water-based. Only 5% of the park is based on land. Additionally, the park has salt-water and fresh-water areas where you can observe different ecosystems.

The park is also home to the Florida Reef which ranks among the largest natural coral reefs found across the world. Spread over 172,971 acres, the Biscayne Park also includes the famed Elliot Key, which is not only the largest island here but is also completely made from fossilized coral reef making it a geological oddity.


Date of Establishment

The Biscayne National Park was established as the Biscayne National Monument on 18th October, 1968. The original monument was much smaller than what it is today but it was eventually expanded in 1980. Today, it receives nearly 3 million visitors on an annual basis. The beauty of the park attracts water sport fans, nature enthusiasts and others who want to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience.


Popular Season

Due to the fact that it is situated in Southern Florida, the Biscayne National Park experiences sub-tropical weather all year round. Nonetheless, the best time to visit would be anywhere from December to April. This is when the area is experiencing a dry season so rainfall would be at a minimum. It’s also when most of the ranger-led activities are happening so you can view this wonderful park in all its glory and splendor.


The Visitor’s Center

In the Biscayne National Park, the Dante Fascell Visitor Center is the only section of the park which is based on the main-land. It is accessible by water and by land as well and is situated on Convoy point.

It is open every day from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. During Holidays, such as Thanksgiving, Christmas or even New Years, the visitor center is closed. Not only is this a popular picnic spot, the center also works like the base point for group who are taking part in the many private or ranger-led activities at the park. It also has various resources, exhibits and even resources.

There is even a dedicated art gallery which was opened in 2002 and features art pieces, photographs and paintings done in oil, water colors, collages, sculpture, and more which have been inspired by the natural beauty of Biscayne National Park.

The Biscayne National Park is a veritable wonderland for you and your loved ones. So, let’s start planning to make your trip memorable over there today!


Introduction

If you love sunny Florida and being in the water, then visiting the Biscayne National Park should be on your bucket list. This park is also hailed as one of the largest marine parks that the National Park System protects. The park is renowned for its scenic views and for the fact that 95% of it consists of water.

The other 5% is made up of undeveloped islands and a mainland area. When it comes to water-based activities, this should be the number 1 spot for you. The park is also within distance of the renowned Everglades National Park of Florida.

If you’re planning a visit to that park, you can’t skip over this one. It has a rich, majestic beauty and charm which makes it equally unique. The wildlife, the exotic locale, and the fact that you have to go everywhere in boats makes this wild interpretation of Venice a must-see spot. The Biscayne National Park also shares historic roots and was home to various native civilizations.

It is believed that descendants from the Glades culture lived in the Biscayne Bay region nearly 10,000 years ago. This was before the sea level rose and filled up the bay. Another tribe which lived here was the Tequesta but that was nearly 4,000 years ago.

Today, the park is open for all and gets 3 million visitors on an annual basis. But before you go, it’s time to learn some more about this park and discover what to expect when you visit it!


The Biscayne National Park

The Biscayne National Park stands out from other national parks as one of the largest water-based park. The park offers scenic views across the water, breathtaking views across the mangroves, and stunning coral reefs. The unique part about this park is that is protects four major ecosystems that are all found within it. These ecosystems are:

  • Mangrove forests – Situated on the mainland shoreline
  • The waters of Biscayne Bay – To the south of Biscayne Key
  • Coral limestone in the Florida Keys – Northernmost Islands
  • The third-largest coral reef – Offshore of the Florida Reef

The waters of the Biscayne Park are also home to a number of different endangered species. The park preserves the following:

  • Coral Reefs
  • Marine Wildlife
  • Endangered Cacti
  • American Crocodiles
  • Sea Turtles and more

The park is spread across a total of 172,971 acres and 95% of it is in water. That’s the largest water to land mass ratio discrepancy in any park. Nonetheless, the park has been steeped in history. During the early 20th Century, the reefs of the park were responsible for causing many shipwrecks. To date, there are 40 shipwrecks which have been documented, on the shores of the park. It is said that in the earlier days, before the park was established, the island of Boca Chita Key was the destination of choice for many of the wealthy and the elite. They would set up guesthouses here to enjoy the area as a private retreat.

The seclusion encouraged activities like gambling and drinking, especially during the Prohibition era. The Cocolobo Cay Club was also a popular club established on the remote islands. Not only was it owned by renowned people such as Carl G. Fisher, Garfield Wood and more, it was also visited by affluent people. 4 US presidents are said to have visited the Cocolobo Cay Club.


The Inception of the Park

Talks of getting the Biscayne Bay area turned into a park started when it was originally supposed to be a part of the Everglades National Park. Unfortunately, this caused difficulties which meant that the area had to be removed from the plan.

It remained as undeveloped land until the 1960s when proposals were made to allow construction, oil refining, and drilling on the shores of Biscayne Bay. Despite the fact that two nuclear power and fossil fuel plants were established here, the public uproar caused soon saw to their shutdown.

Powerful men, including Herbert W. Hoover, Jr., the president and a board chairman member of The Hoover vacuum company, lobbied to protect the area. Hoover, Jr. had always loved Biscayne Bay since childhood and he had many fond memories of it. With his funding, the campaign to create the Biscayne National Monument was successful by 1968.


In 1974, the lands of the Biscayne National Monument were expanded. The boundaries were increased again in 1980 when the areas of Boca Chita Key, the Ragged Keys, Key Biscayne and a substantial part of the central area of the Biscayne Bay were included as part of the monument. With the new expansion, the monument was also large enough to be redesignated as the Biscayne National Park in 1980.


Protected Status – IUCN Category V

Due to the unique ecosystems, endangered species and the historical roots of the place, the Biscayne National Park has a protected status of the IUCN Category V. This status protects the seascape and landscape of the park. With 4 different ecosystems, this park is viewed as essential for the survival of many endangered species of local animals, marine life and even certain species of plants.

As a result, the park is a haven for some of the most unique species of animals, birds, insects, plants, fishes and other marine life. The most interesting part here is that the park is viewed as being in the center of the Nearctic and the Neotropical eco-zones. This means the plant and animal variety found here are truly unmatched by other locales.

Additionally, visitors to the Biscayne National Park will see species, especially birds that they will not see in any other part of North America. Another interesting fact is that the four ecosystems in the park have their own unique flora, fauna and marine life in the Biscayne National Park. You can find the following in the different ecosystems.


Mangrove Forests

The mangroves are situated on the mainland shorelines and it’s populated with black and red mangrove trees in the shallow waters. White mangroves also grow here but they are further away from the edge of the water.

The birds here include loggerhead shrikes, shorebirds, warblers, mangrove cuckoos, yellow crowned night herons and more. The mangrove cuckoos are notoriously difficult to see. The mangrove swamps are also home to the endangered American crocodile which loves the saltwater areas of the park.


The Waters of Biscayne Bay

The open waters of the bay are a huge favorite among birds and the waters are populated with various crustaceans, mollusks and fishes. Birds found here include the cormorants, anhinga, American white pelicans, white loons, Northern gannets and more.

The waters are perfect for manatees and bottle nose dolphins who like the quietness in the water here. The interesting part is that over 75% of the floor of the lagoon here is covered in sea grass. This area is also home to the endangered species of Johnson’s sea grass.


Coral limestone in the Florida Keys - Elliot Keys

While it’s the largest coral limestone island, Elliot Keys is home to some of the most unique birds. It is common to spot migratory Caribbean bird species resting for a bit here. You can find rabbits, raccoons and even rattlesnakes living here.

The sandy beaches are used by loggerhead turtles as nesting grounds. These nests are protected and efforts are being made to help the turtle population here. Among the endangered and rare plant species found here, you can also find the Sargent’s cherry palm and the semaphore prickly-pear cactus.

Surprisingly, the Elliot Keys is also home to two of the most critically endangered butterfly species namely the Schaus' swallowtail and the Miami Blue.


The Florida Coral Reef

The Florida Coral reef is part of the Biscayne National Park and has over 200 different species of fish and 50 exotic species of fish and 4000 different kinds of coral. The water is also home to poisonous fish types such as the lion fish.

Apart from this, the off-shore boundaries of the reef also attract endangered species of whales including the humpback whales, sperm whales, sei whales, fin whales and the right whales. They are not a common sight but can be seen in some seasons.

The park’s ecosystems are already threatened with the climate change, rising sea temperatures, introduction of pollutants and invasive species to the area. That’s why the protected status is in place to protect the integrity of the park and the unique species that call it home.


Things to Consider When Planning a Trip to the Park

Unlike other parks, the Biscayne National Park is relatively close to major cities such as Miami and Southern Florida. This makes getting here easy.

Nonetheless, you should take a few factors into consideration. The following are what you need to consider:


What is the Best Time of Year to Visit the Park?

As mentioned earlier, the Biscayne National Park experiences sub-tropical weather all year round. Nonetheless, you should still choose the time of your visit properly. The best time to go is anywhere between December to April.

This is when the dry season happens and you don’t have to worry about high humidity, unexpected rainfall or visibility issues. During this time, the park rangers also organize the most activities to show visitors the beauty of the park.

However, the activities you want to engage in can also dictate the time of year to visit. For example:

  • If you want to go snorkeling, you can go during the summer. While the heat encourages bugs to be everywhere, the calmer summer days give better clarity and visibility underwater.
  • Similarly, winter is the best time to explore Elliot Key and the mainland islands at Biscayne National Park. Unfortunately, the windy weather will make the reef waters choppy and give poor visibility.

So, pay attention to this factor when you are planning on visiting the Biscayne National Park.


How Do You Get to the Park?

One of the best parts about the Biscayne National Park is that it is possible to enter it by driving to it. There are actually two different routes that you can try:


Entering from the North

You can reach the visitor center at the Convoy Point by entering either through the US-1 or the Florida Turnpike

  • If you’re entering from the Florida Turnpike, then head to the Florida Turnpike South, going to Exit 6 on Speedway Boulevard. Then, take a left and go south to North Canal Drive. Take a left and drive to the end of the route and the entrance will be to your left.
  • If you’re coming in from the US-1, you have to go south towards Homestead before turning left on North Canal Drive. Now, keep driving and the entrance should be at the end.


Entering from the South

You can reach the visitor center at the Convoy Point from the South through the US-1 only. Make sure to get to the North Canal drive and go to the end of the road to find the entrance to the park.


Traveling Within the Park

Your travel needs will not end once you get to the park. You will have to think about this beforehand because the park is 95% water. That means to get to other parts of it like Biscayne Bay, the Florida Reef, or other areas you will need to rent a boat.

Visitors without boats will be unable to get past Convoy Point. There is much to see and do at the visitor center though. You can watch a movie, take part in a ranger program or even go on a trail. If you’re lucky, you can sign up for a boat guided tour.

It is possible to rent a kayak or a canoe but it is best to come with your own boat, especially if you mean to stay for a few days at the park. It is better to call before hand, especially if you are hoping to go on a boat guided tour. There can be limited availability, especially when it comes to on-the spot bookings for boats, canoes and the boat guided tours.


Costs for Visitors to the Park

You will be happy to know that the park has no entrance fees for any visitors. If you have the following America the Beautiful Passes, you can also gain access to the park with ease:

  • 4th Grade Pass
  • Access Pass
  • U.S. Military Pass

However, you will have to pay a fee for the use of camp sites. Staying overnight at the camp sites in Boca Chita or Elliot Key is allowed with a fee of $25 per night. The fee allows 6 people to set up two tents or one tent and one docked boat only. For larger parties, please make sure to ask at the visitor center beforehand.

For boats, docking spaces are available but they are limited. With a strong first come, first serve rule, docking space is not subject to reservations because of the high demand. Docking fees are also $25 per night. All fees due for camping sites must be paid on arrival. Fees should not be submitted later than sunset otherwise they will be carried forward to the next day, with an extra fee added for the overnight stay.


Permits Needed

Due to the fact that park is so unique; it is a haven for most people looking to hold special activities or more. Permits to the Biscayne National Park are needed for the following activities:


Special Park Use

If you want to host memorial services, weddings, athletic events or First Amendment activities at the park, you can do so with the help of a Special Park Use permit. The permit request will be reviewed within a minimum period of 15 days (business) and require a $100 fee that is non-refundable. Requests without the fee will not be entertained.


First Amendment Activities

For any public assemblies or distribution and sale of printed matter within the National Park’s service area, you will need a permit, especially if the group size is 25 people or bigger. The request will get reviewed within 10 days.


Access to Stiltsville

This area consists of 7 unique stilt houses which are found in the Northern part of Biscayne National Park. Generally closed to the public, you can explore this area by applying for a visitation permit to the Stiltsvile Trust. The permit request is reviewed within 15 days (business) and requires a $100 fee. This fee is non-refundable and requests will not be entertained if the fee is not paid.


Filming and Photography – Commercial

All commercial photography and filming in the Biscayne National Park need a permit. Private photography by visitors is permitted. However, any footage for documentaries, feature films, television use or advertisement is classified as commercial photography.

The permit request will be reviewed and can be denied or accepted within 15 days (business). Permits must also have a $100 fee. This fee is non-refundable and requests will not be entertained if the fee is not paid. Commercial shooting can also incur location fee charges as mentioned in the table below:

Motion Pictures/Videos – Group SizeCost Per DayStill Photography – Group SizeStill Photography – Group Size1 – 2 people, camera and tripod only$0/day1 – 2 people, camera and tripod only$0/day1 - 10 people$150/day1 - 10 people$50/day11 - 30 people$250/day11 - 30 people$150/day31 - 49 people$500/dayOver 30 people$250/dayOver 50 people$750/day

Note: The park authorities have the right to reject any permit where the activities might lead to the derogation of the park, cause harm to the resources, the plants and wildlife or disrupt normal public use.


Insurance and Penalties

For commercial use projects within the park, authorities might require proof of insurance for general liability. The insurance must also name the National Park Service and the US Government in its coverage.

The insurance amount should be a minimum of $100,000,000. However, this amount may be higher for high-risk projects within the park. Additionally, park authorities might be appointed to serve as on-site monitors for various projects.


Fines

Due to the protected status of the park and the fact that it is home to many endangered and threatened species, individuals can be fined for harming the flora or fauna of the park. All of these are protected by the Endangered Species Act 

The state or federal agencies are well within their rights to:

  • Impose civil fines - $25,000
  • Criminal penalties - $50,000 or
  • 1 year of jail time

Actions that can incur these fines include but are not limited to the following actions done against threatened or endangered species:

  • Damaging the sea grass or coral
  • Harassing
  • Harming
  • Hunting
  • Shooting
  • Killing
  • Trapping or capturing
  • Collecting


Bringing Your Pets

Visitors are allowed to bring their pets to the Biscayne National Park but they must be kept on a leash, even at the Visitor Center. Even then, only service animals are allowed to go to the islands of the park. All pets are strongly prohibited from other areas of the park.

When bringing pets, visitors are responsible for providing for their water and food needs. Loose pets are not allowed in the park as they pose a danger to the wildlife in the park. Any pets lost at the park can perish due to starvation or dehydration.

Finding the Perfect Lodgings

You can find a place to stay inside the park and outside it as well. Due to the close proximity to Miami and Florida, you can find lodgings with ease. The nearest hotels to the park are situated in Homestead and Florida City.

Within the park, lodging is available in two campsites in the Elliot Key and Boca Chita Key.

  • Boca Chita Key is extremely popular and the camp site here has cooking grills, picnic tables and even toilets. However, there is no source for drinking water, showers or even sinks.
  • Elliot Key is the largest island in the park and is also a popular site. It has restrooms that have showers and sinks, grills and picnic tables. Luckily, drinking water is found here but bring your own as a precaution.

Make sure to book the campsites in advance because they become occupied pretty easily.


Top Attractions in the Biscayne National Park

The Biscayne National Park offers a number of unique attractions which make it a must-visit. However, make sure that you plan out your trip properly. With so much to see and do, it is very easy to end up not doing everything you have on your list.

Additionally some activities and attractions are subject to availability and the weather. If you go in the wrong season, you might not be able to indulge in a few activities. Similarly, if there are too many visitors, it could take you a few days to find a booking for a guided tour.

If you are visiting the park, the following are the biggest attractions that you should try out:


Fishing in Biscayne National Park

When it comes to fishing, you’ll be surprised to know that Biscayne National Park encourages the fishing of various species. You can fish for the following:

- Spiny lobster
- Snapper
- Grouper
- Bonefish 
- Tarpon

The fishing is done in an ethical manner to sustain healthy fisheries. Please remember to fish with the appropriate permission from the park. Fishing or hunting for lobsters illegally in the park grounds can result in a heavy fine as well as jail time. State law governs all fishing activities in the park.


Kayaking and Canoeing in the Park

Want to get a closer look at the park from the water? Then rent a canoe or a kayak and head out into the marshy mangroves and other shallow water bodies near the islands. Most of these areas are too shallow to be accessible by motor boats which make them perfect for canoes and kayaks.

Experienced kayakers will really appreciate the watery grounds of Biscayne Bay, Boca Chita Key and Elliot Key. For beginners, the shallow waters of the Jones Lagoon are going to be a great place to observe schools of fish and wading birds. Remember to always maintain a distance of 300 feet between you and any wildlife.

If you want to try out the paddling trails in Biscayne National Park, you can go on the following trails:

- Black Point paddle trail
- Crocodile Creek paddle trail
- Deering paddle trail
- Elliott Key paddle trail
- Jones Lagoon paddle trail
- Mowry Canal paddle trail 


Diving and Snorkeling in the Maritime Heritage Trail

If you want a unique diving experience then sign up for the Maritime Heritage Trail held at the Biscayne National Park. This gives seasoned and new divers a chance to explore many of the shipwrecks that happened on the reefs of Biscayne Bay.

With this program, you can explore 6 different wrecks which have been properly moored, mapped properly. Additionally, your proficiency as a diver will limit access to the sites. Sites like Alicia, Erl King and Lugano are suited for Scuba divers only. Other sites like Mandalay can be accessible via snorkeling.


Boating in Biscayne National Park

For sailing and boating aficionados, the Biscayne National Park is going to be the perfect playground. You can explore the whole park by boat. However, boating can be tricky here so be mindful of others and the surroundings. You must also use mooring buoys and also comply with the speed zones.

Personal leisure watercrafts such as wave runners and jet skis are strictly prohibited for use here. To make boating fun, make sure to buy some nautical charts which will give you a better understanding of the lay of the land. When its night time, you can dock your boat but availability of docks can be limited. Additionally, there is an overnight fee for boats so pay attention to this factor.


Wildlife Watching on the Water

If you’re interested in the wildlife of Biscayne National Park, you are in for a treat. The park is home to over 500 unique species of reef fish, around 20 species that are either threatened or endangered. Additionally, it is very rare to find many of the birds that you can find within the park.

If you like bird watching, this park is going to offer you a lot of opportunities to view your favorite birds in their natural habitat. For the best views, make sure to sign up for guided tours. These save you a lot of the time. You won’t have to be responsible for finding the birds and they also help you view them while maintaining a safe distance.


Guided Tours in Biscayne National Park

Guided tours or ranger-led tours are some of the most popular attractions in Biscayne National Park. These tours include the following programs:

- Maritime Heritage Trails – snorkeling and diving tours
- Cruises to Boca Chita Key – Guided tours to the lighthouse and other areas
- Sailing on Biscayne Bay – Guided tours to the waters of Biscayne Bay 
- Exploring the Jones Lagoon – Taking a look at this seldom visited area

The park authorities also work with other organizations to offer guided tours which can differ based on the season. Additionally, guided tours are extremely popular and you should always book them in advance. It can be difficult to find on-the-spot places and they are usually sold out.

To make a booking for a guided tour, you can call on 786-335-3644 to reserve your spot.


Safety Tips and Precautions

When exploring Biscayne National Park, it is necessary to follow certain safety tips and precautions. The park might be near the city of Miami and Homestead, Florida but any accidents can still mean that medical attention is a bit far away.

The Visitor Center does have medical equipment but it is not meant for life-threatening injuries. This why, you should exercise the following safety tips and precautions when you are in the park.


Pay Attention to the Tide

Always pay attention to the tides that affect the Biscayne National Park. Certain areas of the park are only accessible by boat when the tide is high. When the tide is low, your boat could become trapped and the area can become impassible.

Additionally, certain islands are only accessible when the tide is low. Once the tide is high, much of the island could become covered in water. This could also trap you in that area. If you are exploring any areas such as the mangroves, reefs and more, don’t go if the tide is going to change pretty soon. You can be trapped with no way to call for safety.


Have Sun Screen

The due to subtropical climate of Florida, the sun is always shining in Biscayne National Park. The heat can also be pretty intense, especially during the summers. If you are going to be out all day, make sure that you have sunscreen with you.

Make sure to also wear protective clothing such as long sleeved shirts, wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses. It is possible to get a nasty sun burn when you’re out in the waters of Biscayne Bay. Carry a tube of sunscreen with you to reapply as needed, especially after a dive.


Use Insect Repellent

Biscayne National Park has a lot of bugs, particularly mosquitoes that love the tropical weather. During the summers, the number of bugs you can experience is pretty high. Even if you are out on the water, you can be annoyed with the amount of bugs there are.

Make sure to bring some insect repellent with you to avoid the bugs. It is also a good idea to have an insect net with you, if you are staying overnight. These can keep the bugs away and let you sleep peacefully.


Do Not Go Snorkeling Alone

Make sure you have a partner with you when you go snorkeling or diving in the shipwrecks of Biscayne National Park. While care has been taken to make these dive sites completely safe, water based accidents can happen at any time.

With a partner, you can make sure that there is someone available to help you. For newcomers and seasoned professionals, it is recommended that they try the ranger-guided tours first before they choose to go on their own. First time visitors are also not recommended to go diving on their own.


Do Not Feed the Animals

Biscayne National Park has a lot of wild species and birds. It might be tempting to feed them something but do not do that. These are not animals you see in the zoo or tamed in manner. They are completely wild and feeding them is harmful for their health.

You should also not teach them to associate people with a food source because it can increase aggression towards people. Additionally, deliberately making an animal come near you by bribing it with food is an act which can be subject to a fine. Guidelines recommend that you keep a distance of 300 feet from all animals.


Carry Food and Water with You

Always make sure to have the appropriate amount of food and water with you. You have to pay attention to this whether you are camping in the park or going on a tour. The park doesn’t have drinkable fresh water sources so you need to bring your own supply.

When you’re out on the water, always make sure to carry 3 liters or more. The sub-tropical climate can make one become dehydrated as quickly. Exposure to the elements can cause sunstroke as well so make sure that you have enough water. If you plan to stay overnight, make sure you have at least 10 liters or more per person.

With the help of these, you can enjoy your stay at the Biscayne National Park and have fun at the park with ease.


Remember to Have Fun!

Visiting the Biscayne National Park should be on the bucket list of any outdoor activity enthusiast. With activities like scuba diving, snorkeling, canoeing and boating, there is something for everyone.

Just remember to be respectful of the environment, the surroundings and be mindful of the protected status of the threatened and endangered flora and fauna here.

Luckily, with the help of this guidebook, you can enjoy your time at the Biscayne National Park without any worries.