Biscayne National Park Overview

Biscayne National Park has the simple beauty of a child's drawing. Clear blue water. Bright yellow sun. Big sky. Dark green woodlands. And here and there a boat, a bird. It is a subtropical place where a mainland mangrove shoreline, a warm shallow bay, many small islands or keys, and living coral reefs intermingle. Together they comprise a vast, almost pristine wilderness and recreation area along the southeast edge of the Florida peninsula.

It's a park dominated by water, not land—a watery paradise for birds, marine life, fishermen, snorkelers, and divers alike. However, the land there is fascinating, filled to overflowing with an unusual collection of trees, ferns, vines, flowers, and shrubs. The forests are lush and house many birds, butterflies, and other animals.

There are archaeological remains here representing well over two thousand years of history; some might be as much as ten thousand years old. These finds document not only a crossroads of international maritime trade and exploration since the arrival of the first Europeans, but also the history of the earliest inhabitants of this area.

Located just 21 miles east of Everglades National Park, Biscayne was established as a national monument in 1968. In 1980 it was enlarged to 181,500 acres and designated as a national park to protect a rare combination of terrestrial and undersea life, to preserve a scenic subtropical setting, and to provide an outstanding spot for recreation and relaxation.

Snorkeling and Scuba
Snorkeling and scuba diving are superb in the bay or along the coral reefs offshore. The clear, warm water is home to more than 250 species of colorful tropical fish and many types of coral. The reefs offshore Elliott Key are teeming with all sorts of fish and dense coral. Just south of Lewis Cut on the ocean side is an inner reef known as Bache Shoal. A sharp increase in depth from 20 feet to about 3 feet will bring you to freshwater springs. It's always a fantastic dive when visibility is different at different depths as a result of mixing waters. And for history aficionados, the remains of a 1850s cement barrel wreck can be explored. Residents such as lobster, eel, and tropical fish can be seen around the ship's rotting timbers. Excellent areas for bay snorkeling are south of Billy's Point and east of Long Arsenicker Key. The water is clear and the currents are very manageable.

Wading Birds and Waterfowl
Biscayne National Park is a sanctuary for birds. They are drawn to the bay year-round, as each follows its own instincts for survival. Brown pelicans patrol the surface of the bay, diving to catch their prey. White ibis meander across exposed mudflats, probing for small fish and crustaceans. Large colonies of little blue herons, snowy egrets, and other wading birds nest seasonally in the protected refuge of the Arsenicker Keys. The extremely shallow waters surrounding these mangrove islands in the south bay are especially well suited for foraging. Any place along the mangrove harbors offer excellent bird-watching. You can see numerous species of wading birds, including eight that nest within the park. Many birds winter here, and more than 170 species have been observed within the park.

More on birds in Biscayne National Park

Hike Elliott Key
The park isn't all water. And by exploring Elliott Key from north to south along a self-guided nature trail, you will truly see what fascinating vegetation the park has to offer. The seven-mile trail takes you north and south through a tropical hardwood hammock of rare vines, flowers, and trees. It is the best way to get in the whole area. For a longer hike, take the old road that runs the length of the seven-mile island. If this seems a bit too long for your vacation walking shoes try Convoy Point, which offers a short boardwalk out to the jetty where you can observe seabirds, boats, and occasionally a manatee or dolphin. Adams Key and Boca Chita Key both offer short nature trails as well.

Fishing the Undersea Metropolis
Fishing is exceptional at Biscayne all year. The bay's good health is reflected in the numbers of different kinds of fish—more than 250—that spend part of their lives in it. In the bay, snapper, grouper, and sea trout are plentiful. On the ocean side of the keys, you'll find hogfish and tuna. A fishing license is required, and Florida's regulations on size, number, season, and method of take must be followed.

Cruising the Bay
Boating is the best way to appreciate the beauty of Biscayne because most of the park is accessible only by boat. Protective islands make the park especially good for small craft, and the shallow water is clean and clear—perfect for jumping off and enjoying the waters. Homestead Bayfront Park is where you would go to launch your craft, although boaters can tie up at other marinas within the park. Elliott Key is the perfect spot if you plan on extended boat trips—day and night.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 9 Aug 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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