Many people know about The Everglades, but did you know there is another National Park not too far from there? Biscayne National Park in Florida is just south of Miami and has the unique distinction of being 95% water. That means to really experience this national park, you have to get wet!
I highly recommend nature enthusiasts, especially those into marine life, check out this park. There are so many things to do here including snorkeling, paddling, fishing, boating, and even camping. However, there is more planning involved with visiting Biscayne National Park in Florida than in other parks where you simply drive to them. In this blog post, I will explain all the best ways to experience Biscayne National Park
1. Biscayne National Park Things to Do
With 173,000 acres of sea and over 500 species of fish, there is so much to explore here! There is no entry fee and visitors are allowed to launch their own canoes, kayaks, or paddleboard from the park. If you have your own motorized boat, you can launch it from a nearby park.
However, for those without their own watercraft (like us), the Biscayne National Institute offers a variety of tours to experience the water of Biscayne National Park. Here are the best things to do in Biscayne National Park. Make sure to book these experiences far in advance!
Snorkeling in Biscayne National Park
This is one of the best places in Florida to snorkel, so most people opt to go for a snorkel tour. There is a variety of options including snorkeling ship wrecks, snorkel, paddle eco-adventures, and snorkel island trips. You can expect to see coral reefs, shipwrecks, fish, crustaceans, and maybe even dolphins and turtles!
Snorkel tours tend to be six hours in total and prices start at $100 per person. Most include lunch, a shaded boat, and lots of information from the captain. Though it is expensive and takes up a day, it is worth it for such a unique experience. If you are scuba certified, a few scuba tours are offered here as well.
If you don’t feel like getting fully submerged, the island tours are another exciting way to experience this park. There are multiple islands around the park and these tours offer the opportunity to take a boat and explore them or even try Biscayne National Park camping.
Boca Chita Key is the most visited and is where you can find the iconic lighthouse. It only costs $56 per person to take a 3-hour boat tour to the island and see the lighthouse and hike the nature trails.
Other activities stop at Elliot Key or Adams Key which are less developed, and quite secluded. These are ideal for camping and looking for wildlife.
The most popular tours at Biscayne National Park are the paddling tours. This is a great way to see the variety of birds, fish, and sea life that inhabit the park and get a little workout! For just $39 per person, you can do a 1.5-hour mangrove and seagrass meadow tour. Beginners are welcome and guides will help you if needed.
For those with more time, the paddleboard tour of Jones Lagoon is a blast. This is one of the best places to see sea turtles, roseate spoonbills, and even baby sharks! You have to take a power boat to the lagoon, so you get two experiences for $89 with this Biscayne National Park tour.
Paddleboard and kayak rentals are not offered at the Biscayne National Park visitor center. You can find places around the park that offer rentals and bring them to the launch site or launch them around the bay.
Biscayne National Park Boat Tours
Though most of the tours at Biscayne National Park allow you to walk, swim or paddle around, a few are boat only. This includes the Heritage of Biscayne Cruise, the sunset cruise, and the Stiltsville guided tour.
Stiltsville is another icon of Biscayne National Park. These historic houses built on stilts are not accessible to the public, but there are boat cruises that you can see them. A couple of tours offer this, including the Stiltsville Guided Tour from Coconut Grove. For $56 per person, you can take a two-hour cruise and learn all about the history of this park.
We opted for the sunset cruise and I will explain more about it below. It’s one of the cheapest options at only $30 per person and usually the last to sell out. We took a sunset cruise for our Biscayne National Park boat tour in 2021 and I will share our experience below!
2. Our Sunset Cruise Experience at Biscayne National Park in Florida
We really wanted to go snorkeling at Biscayne National Park in Florida, but unfortunately, we were visiting around Christmas, which is one of the busiest times. I had no idea how fast these snorkeling tours fill up and there were none left when we went to book! If you want to snorkel here, learn from our experience and book your tour in advance!
The one tour that was available during our trip was a Sunset Boat Cruise. I am on a mission to visit all the national parks in Florida, so we figured it was worth checking out. The tour started at 5 PM and we got there at 4 PM and looked around the Biscayne National Park visitor center for a bit. There are some neat exhibits, but it is not worth visiting here if you do not have a tour planned or your own watercraft! There is no beach and mainly it is just mangroves and a few boat launches surrounding the Biscayne National Park Visitor Center
The sunset boat tour was a ninety-minute long boat ride and was simply that. We had a super relaxing cruise at sunset with a guide that shared fun facts about the area. The views were amazing and we spent much of the tour taking pictures and looking for dolphins. However, this is definitely on the low adrenaline side of visiting Biscayne National Park. This tour basically consists of going out on a boat for two hours and there is not much to see besides the sunset, birds, and some occasional fish.
We enjoyed the sunset cruise at Biscayne National Park, but definitely want to go back for a snorkeling or paddleboarding experience where we can see more. If you do the sunset cruise, keep your expectations low. Also, you are allowed to bring adult beverages which we did not realize ahead of time. Feel free to bring a cooler, but obviously, this is not a party cruise.
3. Events and More
In addition to all the fun things to do at Biscayne National Park, there are also special events occasionally that offer the opportunity to learn more about the park. The most popular is Park After Dark. This is when the park is open on special nights for either a story slam, live music, or a canoe tour. The rangers also set up telescopes and have a campfire with smores for guests. It is totally free, but reservations are required so keep an eye on the event page!
Other events include the Nature Journal Club, Beach Clean-ups, Park Ranger Walk and Talks, and Paddle Clinics. Events tend to occur more frequently in the winter and spring when the weather is best. There are programs here for nature lovers of all ages!
4. The Unique History
The area where Biscayne National Park resides has a long and fascinating history. It was inhabited by Native Americans as evidenced by artifacts found by the Tequesta people. Many Spanish explorers traveled to the area as well and you can still see some of the shipwrecks they left behind.
The main development at the park occurred in 1916 when Fisher established Cocolobo Key on Adams Key. This recreation club was short-lived after multiple hurricanes hit the island.
Finally, in 1968, Lyndon B. Johnson established Biscayne National Park as the protected area it is today. Proposals for this were started in tangent with the Everglades National Park being established and concerns over the effects of the residential development of the land. With four distinct ecosystems (mangrove swamp, lagoon, island key, and offshore reef), the biodiversity is incredible here and protecting it is extremely important.
5. Where is Biscayne National Park?
Many are confused about where Biscayne National Park actually is. Since the park is mainly water, it is basically extending from the coast of Coconut Grove down to Key Largo. However, both Key Biscayne and Key largo are not a part of this National Park and there is no beach accessible by car. Many assume that Billy Baggs State Park is part of Biscayne National Park, and though it is beautiful, they are not the same park.
This Biscayne National Park Visitor Center is called the Dante Fascell Visitor Center and is located in Homestead. This is in the middle of farmland about an hour south of Downtown Miami. This is where most tours depart from.
However, a few that go to Stiltsville depart from Coconut Grove in Dinner Key Marina. There is no visitor center here, but it is much closer to Miami. If you do not have a rental car, but still want to experience Biscayne National Park, booking a boat tour from here is your best bet.
6. Where to Stay Near Biscayne National Park in Florida
Because of the remote location, there are not a lot of hotels near Biscayne National Park. The absolute closest hotel is the Hampton Inn & Suites Miami-South/Homestead. If you are doing an all-day experience and just need a place to crash when you get back, this or some of the other chain hotels in Homestead should do the trick.
If you prefer to have the full park experience, you could try Biscayne National Park camping. Campsites are available at Boca Chita Key and Elliott Key starting at $25 per night. You will need your own boat and a reservation to use a boat slip. They have basic facilities, but keep in mind, that the islands are quite secluded and do have a lot of bugs.
We were staying at the Hyatt in Coral Gables and found it to be a relatively convenient spot for visiting both nearby National Parks. It was relatively close to the highway and it was a straightforward drive down from there. This also puts you nearby to a lot of other Miami attractions while you are visiting.
Know Before You Go: Florida’s Biscayne National Park
Biscayne National Park in Florida is one of the best places to experience the beauty of the ocean. Our boat tour gave me so much perspective on these vast aquatic environments and offered the opportunity to learn more about the creatures that live here. We also had so much fun getting on the water and seeing the amazing views. I think a Miami day trip from Biscayne National Park is convenient and worthwhile for most travelers. If you want to go to the Biscayne National Park visitor center as we did, keep these tips in mind before you go.
- The best time to visit Biscayne National is anytime besides hurricane season, which is mainly July through October. This is when the storms can cause choppy water and make it difficult to get out on the boats.
- If you visit during the winter, you may need a wetsuit snorkeling and these are available to rent. Conversely in the summer, it can get very hot while paddling.
- The Dante Fascell visitor center is open from 9-5 daily.
- It is free to visit Biscayne National Park and launch your own watercraft. However, I highly recommend taking a paid tour, as there is not much to do on land.
- You should bring ample water, sunscreen, and bug spray to Biscayne National Park in Florida. I also recommend bringing lunch or a snack if you are taking a tour over three hours long.
- Dogs are not allowed at the Biscayne National Park visitors center or on Boca Chita Key or on any tours. However, they are allowed at the campgrounds n Elliott Key if you take your own boat there.
- Boat Tours and Snorkeling at Biscayne National Park can be booked online at this website.
- It takes at least an hour to get to Biscayne National Park from Miami.