Of all the National Parks, Biscayne National Park might be one of the smallest and most unknown parks out of them all. I genuinely had no idea it existed prior to my time in Florida but I’m glad we made an effort to check it out.
Depending on your interests, you could spend TONS of time in this park or get by with just one day! Here are some ways to see the park in just one day.
A Quick Background
The first thing you need to know about Biscayne National Park is that it is 95% underwater! The park was designated a National Park in 1980 as a way to protect the reefs, mangroves, keys and marine life. There also is a long history of humans dating back 10,000 years as well with plenty of shipwrecks to explore.
Visiting Biscayne National Park
Biscayne is located just south of Miami, Florida and easy to get to by car. Once you get there, it is free to enter and park at the Dante Fascell Visitor Center in Homestead. The entrance to the park is only an hour drive from the entrance to Everglades National Park as well so it’s easy to group these two parks together into one trip!
You can also enter the park via boat and tie up at one of the several marinas throughout the park!
When to Visit Biscayne National Park
It goes without saying that it’s good to avoid Florida during the hurricane season (which runs from June through November) but with that aside, the best time to visit the park is definitely winter and spring regardless.
In December, January and February it’ll be less crowded and you’ll have beautiful weather still! We went in January and found that we more or less had the visitors center to ourselves in the morning. I can’t speak to how crowded it was out on the keys since we didn’t make it but it was mild and sunny and a great day to be out on the water.
ProTip: The busiest area we came across was out in our kayaks heading up the waterway. There were SO MANY people fishing and we felt like we were on display!
Spring will be better for warmer weather and doing activities like snorkeling and being out on the boats but you risk it being much busier and therefore harder to book tours and hotels.
If you have to travel during the summer, be aware of the weather schedule. Between possible early season hurricanes and just daily heat storms, you run the risk of hitting some nasty weather while out on a boat or the keys. Also the heat is oppressive in Florida in the summer so make sure to hydrate.
What to Do in Biscayne National Park
If you only have one day in the park, I’d highly recommend booking a tour through the Biscayne National Park Institute to get the best out of the park. We were trying to stay on a budget so we did not while we were there but I would like to go back and do one someday. Tours can be just a few hours, half days or full day adventures ranging in activity levels and interests.
There are a variety of tours offered including boating, snorkeling, kayaking, sailing, and other water sports. If you are a trained diver, you can also book boats that will take you to the best dive spots to see the reefs. The institute also focuses on eco-tours so you know that you are safe and not disrupting the habitat.
If water sports aren’t your thing, you can take a boat ride out to Boca Chita Key where you’ll find the lighthouse or Elliott Key, where there are camping and hiking options.
The park has a long history of humans out on the keys. There were pineapple farmers, sponging, historic Stiltsville homes and ton of shipwrecks in the area that are worth exploring and learning about.
Whether you prefer underwater history or land history, there is plenty to keep you occupied in the park.
Biscayne National Park is obviously not known for their hiking trails but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist! You’ll find several hiking trails out on Elliott Key if you’re able to hop on a boat to get out there. The Elliott Key Loop is an easy scenic trail thats only about a mile long but provides informational signs along the way.
The Spite Highway Trail also located on Elliott Key is a more nature feeling trail on the key. Though listed as easy, it can be up to 7 miles one way so you can make it as long and difficult as you’d like. This trail travels through the forest instead of along the water ways.
If you find yourself over on Boca Chita Key, there is a half mile loop trail that you can take to walk around the entire island. The Boca Chita Key Loop is listed as easy, so people of any ability can do this one.
If you arent able to get out to the keys, you can still get a nice walk in along the Jetty Trail that leaves right from the visitor center. It starts along a boardwalk and then travels out about a half mile on a jetty that has views of the water on both sides. From here you can also get a good view of the Miami Skyline!
ProTip: There are many people who came to this area just for fishing, both along the boardwalk and the jetty.
With a National Park that is 95% water, it is obvious that boating is the best way to experience the park. Whether you take a guided tour as I mentioned before or bring your own, it’s a much better way to see more of the park.
There are a variety of kayak and canoe trails that they recommend depending on your ability level. We brought out kayaks and ventured north from the visitors center and along the mangroves to go to a waterway in search of manatees.
ProTip: You can drop the kayaks right from an entry point in the parking lot of the visitor’s center.
It would be a bit long to get all the way out to the keys without a motor boat but if you have one of your own, there are plenty of boat ramps available in the area. If taking your own boat out, you may have opportunities to spot manatees, dolphins, and sea turtles as well!
Bird and Wildlife Watching
Between the larger species like manatees and dolphins, Biscayne National Park also claims home to over 500 species of reef fish, and a variety of tropical water birds.
If you’re into birdwatching, the National Park system website has a whole list of different areas to get views of a variety of species of birds. You can spot them right from the mainland or out on the keys as well.
Biscayne National Park may not be one of the biggest and “instagrammable” parks, but it’s worth the visit if you’re in the southern Florida area. Take advantage of the tours offered to really get out and see the park from up close. I’ll be looking forward to going back someday and seeing even more!
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