Biscayne National Park is mostly an underwater wilderness filled with a wide variety of sea life. Below the surface, colorful coral reefs, exotic fish, manatees and turtles will dazzle you! Unlike land-based parks, 95% of the park is underwater! Most of the park that does contain terra firma is found approximately 6-10 miles off the mainland in Biscayne Bay. Elliott Key, the park’s largest island, is considered to be the first in a long chain of the lorida Keys. These islands are what remain of ancient coral reefs, which formed when ocean waters were much higher than they are today.
This park was created to protect one of the world’s most extensive coral reefs along with the longest stretch of mangrove forest on the east coast. The park also protects endangered species such as the Florida manatee, the Loggerhead and Green Sea turtles, the American crocodile and the Schaus swallowtail butterfly.Within sight of downtown Miami, getting to the Visitor Center of Biscayne is easy. Getting into the main sections of this park requires a seagoing vessel!
When to visit: Florida’s dry season and the best time to visit is from mid-December through mid April. Summer months are wrought with mosquitoes and thunderstorms; however, this time of year is ideal for snorkeling and diving.
What to do: This aquatic wonderland is meant for snorkeling, diving, boating, canoeing and kayaking. The park has only two hiking trails – both on Elliott Key. Visitors must take to the water to get a true sense of the park’s charm. For divers, Biscayne’s Maritime Heritage Underwater Trail features the sunken remains of six of the park’s many shipwrecks. Access to this trail is by boat only. The wrecks have been mapped and mooring buoys have been installed. The newest addition to the trail is Fowey Rocks Lighthouse where snorkeling is sensational around its base.
Where to stay: Lodging is available in nearby Homestead and Florida City as the park does not have any lodging within its borders. Camping inside the park requires boat transportation to either the Boca Chita Key or the Elliott Key.
Wildlife: A fascinating critter found floating about Biscayne Bay is the manatee. “Sea Cows” grow up to 12 feet long and weigh as much as 3,500 pounds. These harmless beasts have lungs as long as a basketball player. To submerge their massive bodies down into the water, they pass enormous amounts of gas!Eyes like a puppy, they are known to occasionally roll over and allow you to rub their bellies!