Add Biscayne National Park to Florida vacation

Pristine marine sanctuary offers great recreation

Biscayne, one of our country’s 62 national parks, may be the least well known. It’s near Miami and Everglades National Park. And it’s a maritime preserve with few areas to explore by foot, unless you’re wearing fins or straddling a paddleboard.

We added Biscayne National Park to a recent trip to Florida and the Keys. We chose this national park for one main reason: snorkeling, one of many oceanic activities that this ecosystem offers its visitors.

biscayne national park mangrove snorkling
It’s a unique experience to snorkel in Biscayne National Park's mangrove forest.
Biscayne National Park Institute
Biscayne National Park Institute guide, Jeremy, took us kayaking and paddle boarding in the mangroves.
Biscayne National Park Snorkeling Jellyfish
We discovered a variety of sea life while snorkeling, including this upside-down jellyfish.

Biscayne National Park Institute

We booked an eco-excursion with the Biscayne National Park Institute, an organization that partners with the park to create recreational access to the surrounding natural resources and to help educate visitors on the importance of this region, its history and the environment.

We signed up for a half-day of snorkeling and half-day of kayaking, led by Captain Jeremy. An excursion leader makes or breaks an outing like this and Jeremy turned a good day into a great adventure. We explored mangrove forests and snorkeled up close to this amazing vegetation that provides critical habitat for sea life as well as protection against major tropical storms. We encountered a lot of interesting marine wildlife including rays, sea turtles, harmless nurse sharks, barracuda, boxfish, spiny lobster and other aquatic species.

The Institute offers a variety of other trips such as boat cruising, sightseeing that includes lighthouses, paddle boarding, sailing and exploring history. While there’s a short walking trail near the visitor center, most of the opportunity to explore this national park is by sea.

Biscayne National Park Lighthouse
Biscayne National Park includes Boca Chita Key Lighthouse.

Incredible ocean views with Miami in the background

We encountered a lot of boats in Biscayne National Park, but it was a beautiful autumn Sunday so you’d expect more activity. Boat access is provided from nearby marinas. The protected waters of Biscayne are beautiful and framed to the north by the Miami skyline.

In addition to boating and fishing, the park offers very good access for canoers and kayakers who can access the mangrove shorelines and shallow creeks where boats can’t maneuver. The two most popular spots are Jones Lagoon and Hurricane Creek. The park’s website posts trail paddling guides. For those interested in camping, the park offers two island locations that are accessible only by boat.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge Kingfisher
We encountered lots of birds, like this kingfisher, exploring Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Florida coast lined with nature preserves

During this recent trip that included Biscayne National Park, we included stops at two other national wildlife refuges on the Atlantic side of Florida: Nathaniel P. Reed Hobe Sound and Merritt Island. In the past, I’ve written about other great preserves along the Florida Gulf side, including J.N. “Ding” Darling and Crystal River national wildlife refuges.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge includes one of the best auto tour routes we’ve driven – Black Point Wildlife Drive. This seven-mile route follows levies meandering through marsh, ponds and other habitats. We arrived in early November and the season rewarded us with a variety of species, including reddish egrets, glossy ibis, osprey, cinnamon teal and other shorebirds, waterfowl and raptors.

When we arrived at Nathaniel P. Reed Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge, the storm clouds opened up, so we did little exploring. The refuge is known for its undisturbed beaches, sea turtle nesting, mangroves and wildlife diversity, especially endangered and threatened species.

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