Julie United States 3 Comments

Biscayne National Park protects one of the largest reef systems in the world. This park is 95% water, so the best way to explore it is by boat, making it very unique from many of the US national parks. If you love snorkeling, scuba diving, swimming, or simply cruising around by boat, you will love this underrated gem of park. In this guide, we cover the best things to do in Biscayne National Park, with lots of tips to help you plan your visit.

 

While in Biscayne National Park, please practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace: plan ahead, stay on the trail, pack out what you bring to the hiking trail, properly dispose of waste, leave areas as you found them, minimize campfire impacts, be considerate of other hikers, and do not approach or feed wildlife.

Interesting Facts about Biscayne National Park

Biscayne National Park is located in southern Florida. It is just 15 miles away from Miami, but it feels like an entirely different world.

This park protects Biscayne Bay, its offshore barrier reefs, and the northernmost section of the Florida Keys. There are over 250 square miles of water and very little land in this park.

What is a “key?” The term “key” comes from the Spanish word “cayo,” which means “small island.” Keys are formed on the surface of a coral reef. The Florida Keys stretch from Biscayne Bay to Dry Tortugas National Park. There are over 800 keys spanning 180 miles.

Four distinct ecosystems can be found in Biscayne National Park: the coral limestone keys, shoreline mangrove swamps, the offshore Florida reef, and the shallow waters of Biscayne Bay.

Manatees, green sea turtles, hawksbill sea turtles, sponges, numerous species of birds and fish, and even American crocodiles can be seen in Biscayne National Park.

The Glades people inhabited this area 10,000 years ago. In the 1500’s, the Spanish arrived and took control of this region. Shipwrecks occurred frequently, as ships hit the coral reefs and shallow waters just off the Florida coast.

In the 1800’s, the first settlements were on Elliott Key. Pineapples and key limes were grown here. During the early 1900’s, Cocolobo Cay Club was built on Adams Key. John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and Lyndon Johnson all visited Adams Key in the mid-1900’s. Elliott Key was even used by the CIA for training after the Cuban Revolution of 1959.

In 1968, this area became a national monument and then officially became a national park on June 28, 1980. In 2020, 400,000 people visited this park, putting it 36th out of 63 parks, in terms of visitation.

Geography and Maps of Biscayne National Park

95% of Biscayne National Park is water. There are a few things you can do right from the Dante Fascell Visitor Center, but to truly explore this park, you are going to need a boat. This gives you access to the offshore reefs (great snorkeling and diving spots), the keys, and the Jones Lagoon mangrove swamp.

Below is a map from the National Park Service.

Biscayne Map

 

Here is our interactive map, highlighting the main things to do in Biscayne National Park.

How to Use This Map: Click the icons on the map to get more information about each point of interest. Click the star next to the title of the map to add this map to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.

Best Things to Do in Biscayne National Park

Below we list 10 things to do in Biscayne National Park. Some of these we loved but several things on this list I think are worth skipping. I am including them, just so you know they exist.

#1 Walk the Convoy Point Jetty Trail

Distance: 0.8 miles | Difficulty: Easy | Time: 30 minutes

This easy walking trail is one of the few things you can do in Biscayne National Park without first hopping into a boat. Starting at the visitor center, you will walk out on a jetty to the Colonial Bird Protection Area.

This trail was closed for repairs during our visit but from what we saw, it looks like a very nice, easy walk through some mangrove trees with nice views of Biscayne Bay.

#2 Visit Boca Chita Key

Boca Chita Key is the most visited key in the park. This is one of our favorite spots in the park and a visit here is one of the best things to do in Biscayne National Park.

The only way to get here is by boat. As you pull into the harbor, you will first be greeted by the iconic lighthouse that was built by Mark Honeywell in the 1930’s. If you visit Boca Chita on a tour, a park ranger will allow you to climb to the top of the lighthouse. Otherwise, it is closed to visitors.

Boca Chita Lighthouse

 

Walk the half-mile trail that loops around the island. It is a very nice walk, with views of nearby Sands Key.

Beach View Biscayne

View of Sands Key from the hiking trail.

 

Boca Chita Hiking Trail

Hiking trail on Boca Chita.

There is also a picnic area and a small, beautiful beach that is worth the visit.

There are restrooms on Boca Chita Key, but no water. Pack out all trash and bring both sunblock and mosquito repellent. Mosquitoes are present all year.

Boca Chita Picnic Area

Boca Chita Picnic area and campsites

 

Tim at Biscayne

Best Things to do in Biscayne

Biscayne National Park

Palm tree on Boca Chita

#3 Visit Adams Key

Adams Key was a getaway for Presidents Nixon, Johnson, and Hoover, who were guests at the Cocolobo Club. Now, this very small key is day use area for visitors to the park.

Adams Key

 

There is a 1-mile hiking trail that loops around this key that we attempted to hike. We don’t recommend it. When we did this in 2021, most of the trail was overgrown and it dead-ended in a forest. There wasn’t anything fun or scenic about hiking this trail.

Adams Key Hiking Trail

The hiking trail.

Adams Key is worth the visit if you want to see the historic buildings, but otherwise, I’d skip Adams Key and do some of the other things on this list.

#4 Go Kayaking or Stand Up Paddle Boarding in Jones Lagoon

This is one of the best things to do in Biscayne National Park…just make sure you lather on the mosquito repellent!

This lagoon, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is made up of Totten Key and Porgy Key, and the shallow waterways between them. In the 1800’s, the Jones family grew pineapples and key limes here.

The Jones family is long gone but this quiet spot is one of the best places in Biscayne National Park to go kayaking or SUP. Since these waterways are located away from the deeper canals and motorboat traffic, this is a peaceful experience.

To get here, you will cruise through Caesar Creek and then enter the lagoon via Hurricane Creek.

As you paddle through the mangrove swamps, keep a lookout for sharks, sea turtles, and fish.

Mangrove

Mangrove trees

 

Julie Paddle Boarding

Tim Paddle Boarding

Paddling through these tree tunnels is a lot of fun!

We did this with the Biscayne National Park Institute. Our 3.5-hour tour included transportation to and from the Dante Fascell Visitor Center by boat, our paddle boards, and a guide. We were the only ones on this tour, so it was just me, Tim, and our guide, paddling through mangrove swamps.

I loved the experience even though I got torn up by mosquitoes. We did this in December, and I underestimated how many mosquitoes would still be out and about. Unfortunately, I ended up covered in bites…Tim, not so much.

So, pro travel tip, lather on the mosquito repellent before visiting Jones Lagoon, or any of the keys, because we saw (and felt) these little guys everywhere.

Paddle Boards best things to do in Biscayne National Park

Paddle boards on the Biscayne National Institute boat.

#5 The Maritime Heritage Trail

Biscayne National Park, with its shallow waters and reef system, is home to numerous shipwrecks, many of these from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

The Maritime Heritage Trail is a series of six of these shipwrecks that can be explored by snorkeling or scuba diving.

We snorkeled around the Mandalay shipwreck. The schooner Mandalay sank in 1966, so it is one of the newest shipwrecks on the trail. Not only did we see a portion of the sunken hull, but there are tons of fish and lots of coral here.

Snorkeling Biscayne best things to do in Biscayne National Park

For more information about the Maritime Heritage Trail, visit the National Park Service website. 

#6 Snorkel at Fowey Rocks Lighthouse

Fowey Rocks Lighthouse, also called the “Eye of Miami,” is a historic lighthouse located in Biscayne National Park.

Fowey Rocks Lighthouse

Fowey Rocks

It was constructed in 1876 to mark the reef. A Fresnel lens was built in Paris and installed in this lighthouse in 1878. The original Fresnel lens is now on display at the US Coast Guard’s National Aids to Navigation Training Center in Yorktown, Virginia. Currently, a solar-powered light is installed in the lighthouse and can be seen up to 17 miles away.

Not only is this a historic spot to visit but the snorkeling is awesome. We saw an incredible number of fish here, clustered around the metal pilings. Fowey Rocks Lighthouse is one of our favorite places in Biscayne National Park.

Fowey Rocks Snorkeling best things to do in Biscayne National Park

#7 Snorkel or Scuba Dive on the Off-Shore Reefs

The coral reefs that sit to the east of Boca Chita, Elliott, and Adams Keys are an excellent spot to go snorkeling or diving. Numerous shipwrecks, which I mentioned earlier as part of the Maritime Heritage Trail, can also be found along this reef.

In Florida, we have snorkeled at Biscayne National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park, and the John Pennecamp Coral Reef State Park. Biscayne is our favorite of these three locations.

In the park, there are a lot of spots to choose from. We snorkeled at Mandalay shipwreck, Fowey Rocks Lighthouse, and, on the reef, at Bache Shoal. Anniversary Reef also came highly recommended by the park rangers at the visitor center.

Mandalay Snorkeling best things to do in Biscayne National Park

Bache Shoal

To go snorkeling, you can join one of many tours offered by the Biscayne National Park Institute. There is also a private charter that can take you around the park as well. If you have your own boat, you can use the mooring buoys located at the reefs. For a full list of snorkeling spots and mooring buoys (with GPS coordinates), visit the National Park Service website.

For more information about hiring a charter or joining a tour, skip ahead to the How to Get Around section of this guide.

#8 Cruise through Stiltsville

In the 1930’s, when alcohol and gambling were illegal, small buildings were constructed offshore of Miami. These structures were home to clubs, bars, and gambling halls, forming an offshore getaway and party spot. At its height, there were a total of 27 buildings in Stiltsville.

Now, only a few remain. Hurricane Andrew left only seven buildings intact, and just recently, one caught fire and not much remains of it.

Stiltsville

Stiltsville 2021

 

You can only visit the buildings if you have a permit. Otherwise, it’s a nice place to cruise through on a boat. From here, you have wide open views of Biscayne National Park, and not too far off in the distance is Miami. You can also see Biscayne Key, pictured in the photo below. Biscayne Key is located right outside of the national park boundary. 

Key Biscayne best things to do in Biscayne National Park

#9 Go Fishing

Fishing is one of the best things to do in Biscayne National Park. Our guide, who took us out to Jones Lagoon, said that one of the main reasons this park was created was to protect the fishing sites.

In order to fish in Biscayne National Park, you must have a Florida fishing license. There are a lot of rules and regulations about where and what you can fish for. Visit the National Park Service website for full details.

#10 Visit Elliott Key

Elliott Key is the largest island in the park and the northernmost true key in the Florida Keys. This island was once home to a community of pineapple farmers.

In the 1960’s, there were two groups of people, with very different views of what this area should become. A small group of people envisioned a park that protected the reefs and keys and would be a haven for those needing an escape from city life. The second group wanted to build hotels and clubs in this area and would be called the City of Islandia.

Support for the national monument grew. In an attempt to spoil the park, those who wanted to build Islandia brought in bulldozers and carved out a wide, seven-mile-long road down the length of Elliott Key. This road is called Spite Highway.

The conservationists won and on October 18, 1968, President Johnson signed the bill creating Biscayne National Monument.

Now, Elliott Key is home to campgrounds, a short hiking trail, picnic tables, and places to go fishing. The scar of Spite Highway still remains, but it has mostly been filled in by trees since the 1960’s.

Elliott Key

We hiked the one-mile loop trail through Elliott Key. For most of the time, you are in a forest without much of a view of anything. It was muddy, covered with spiderwebs, and despite lots of insect repellent (I learned my lesson in Jones Lagoon) we still got a few mosquito bites. For part of the trail, you get to walk a part of what remains of Spite Highway, and you also get to walk out to the beach on the opposite side of Elliott Key.

You can also hike the entire length of Spite Highway, but I think it would be one of the most boring hikes in the national park system. 

We love hiking, but these are not hikes that I would recommend. Skip Elliott Key and put your time into the water activities…this is where the true beauty lies in Biscayne National Park.

Elliott Key Hiking Trail best things to do in Biscayne National Park

Elliott Key Hiking Trail

 

Spite Highway

Spite Highway

How to Get to Biscayne National Park

Biscayne National Park is in southern Florida. It sits just to the south of Miami and just to the north of Key Largo.

The best way to get here is by car. If you do not have a car, you can take the Homestead National Parks Trolley from Homestead. This trolley runs from late November through April.

Here are driving distances and times from nearby destinations:

  • Miami: 40 miles, 50 minutes
  • Miami International Airport: 34 miles, 45 minutes
  • Ft.-Lauderdale International Airport: 63 miles, 1.25 hours
  • Homestead: 10 miles, 20 minutes
  • Everglades National Park: 20 miles, 30 minutes
  • Key Largo: 40 minutes, 1 hour
  • Key West: 136 miles, 3 hours

How to Get Around Biscayne National Park

One of the biggest questions we had while planning our trip is “how do you get around Biscayne National Park?” This park is not like Arches or Acadia, where you can just show up in your car and drive to everything. To get around a park with 250 square miles of water, you need a boat.

If you have your own boat, you can access the park from one of several marinas. There are a lot of regulations and things to know before you go, so visit the National Park Service website for more information.

Here is a list of the marinas:

  • Homestead Bayfront: This marina is located just to the south of the Dante Fascell Visitor Center.
  • Black Point: This marina is located on the mainland on the central portion of the park.
  • Matheson Hammock: This marina is located at the northern end of the park.
  • Crandon: This marina is located on Key Biscayne near Stiltsville.

Tour Operators and Authorized Companies

If you don’t have a boat, you will have to join a tour of some sort. You can choose between group tours and private charters.

Biscayne National Park Institute

Biscayne National Park Institute is the main authorized tour company for Biscayne National Park. They run a wide variety of tours, from snorkeling and scuba diving tours, kayaking or SUP tours to Jones Lagoon, and visits to Boca Chita, Adams and/or Elliott Keys.

We took the Jones Lagoon Eco-Adventure-Paddle Tour and had a great experience. Prices for this start at $89 per person.

Click here to visit their website.

Biscayne Institute Boat best things to do in Biscayne National Park

Biscayne National Park Institute boat (at Boca Chita).

Other Authorized Companies

In order to keep boat traffic low and the park pristine, the National Park Service limits the number of companies that can lead tours in the park.

For the most up-to-date list of authorized companies, click here.

On this list, we used Explore Miami Boat Rental. We wanted to take a private tour with a custom itinerary, so we could visit lots of different places in this park (and write this guide). Hiring a private charter is expensive, but if you want a custom itinerary, it’s your best option, if you don’t have your own boat. Prices have already gone up since we did this. Currently, prices start at $700 for a 4 hour tour of Biscayne National Park (click the link above for updated pricing). We spent 6 hours touring Biscayne National Park (other than the Jones Lagoon tour with Biscayne National Park Institute). 

IMPORTANT: Jet skis are not allowed in Biscayne National Park.

What We Did:

Day 1: Arrive in Miami, afternoon Jones Lagoon Eco Tour with Biscayne National Park Institute. Sleep in Homestead.

Day 2: Full day in Biscayne National Park with Explore Miami Boat Rental. Sleep in Homestead.

Day 3: Florida Keys road trip to Key West.

US National Parks Guide

How Many Days Do You Need in Biscayne National Park?

Here is a list of our favorite experiences in Biscayne National Park:

  • Boca Chita Key
  • Fowey Rocks Lighthouse
  • Snorkeling the offshore reefs
  • Snorkeling the Mandalay shipwreck
  • Fowey Rocks Lighthouse
  • Jones Lagoon
  • Stiltsville

If you have your own boat or a private charter, it is possible to do all of these in one day.

One Day in Biscayne National Park

From the Homestead Bayfront Marina, which is located near the Dante Fascell Visitor Center, you can do a loop by boat around the park. Start at Jones Lagoon (go kayaking or SUP here), then snorkel at a few offshore spots (Mandalay shipwreck and Bache Shoal were the two we visited), followed by a visit to Boca Chita Key, then Fowey Rocks Lighthouse. Cruise through Stiltsville and then head back to the marina.

This loop covers the highlights of the park and would be an awesome day in Biscayne National Park.

Two or More Days in Biscayne National Park

If you have more time, you can camp on one of the islands and split these activities into two days. More time is well worth it if you really like to snorkel or scuba dive.

Boca Chita Key best things to do in Biscayne National Park

Boca Chita

Best Time to Visit Biscayne National Park

Biscayne National Park can be visited all year.

November through April is the dry season. Temperatures are cooler than the summer months, but it never really gets cold here. Even in January, the average high temperature is 74 degrees Fahrenheit (23°C). It’s a bit chilly to get out on the water and go snorkeling, but if you live someplace with cold winters, 74 degrees in January feels quite balmy.

During the winter months, the seas can get rougher, making it temporarily difficult or impossible to visit the offshore reefs and shipwrecks.

We visited Biscayne National Park in early December. Mosquitoes were a major issue on Elliott Key, in Jones Lagoon, and on the short hike around Boca Chita Key. I also got stung by a jellyfish while snorkeling at the Mandalay shipwreck.

If you want to visit the park when mosquitoes are the lowest, plan your visit for February.

May through October is the wet season. High temperatures typically approach 90°F, rain is common, and mosquito levels are high. The hurricane season runs from July through November, so it is possible travel plans could be disrupted during this time.

Planning a road trip through the Florida Keys? Learn how to plan your road trip in our Florida Keys Road Trip Itinerary. Visit Miami, Biscayne and Everglades National Parks, road trip through Florida Keys to Key West, and visit Dry Tortugas National Park.

Where to Stay & Eat

There are two campgrounds inside the park: on Elliott Key and on Boca Chita Key. These are first come first serve and no reservations are necessary. The cost is $25 per night. Visit the National Park Service website for more information.

Boca Chita Campsite

Campsite on Boca Chita. Pretty sweet, right?!

Outside of the park, Homestead is the most convenient place to stay. This also makes a great home base for exploring Everglades National Park, which is very close to Biscayne National Park.

In Homestead, we have stayed at both the TownePlace Suites by Marriott Miami Homestead and the Courtyard by Marriott Miami Homestead, and both are great. The Speedway Blvd Townhouse is a two-bedroom townhouse that can accommodate up to six people and gets excellent reviews.

There are no restaurants in the park. The closest place to grab a bite to eat is in Homestead.

We ate at the Mamma Mia Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria (good Italian food) and Bangkok Cuisine (good Thai and Southeast Asian food). Schnebly Redland’s Winery & Brewery was highly recommended but they were closed during our visit. This winery is located to the west of Homestead so you will do some extra driving to get here but it really looks great.

Plan Your Visit

Entrance Fee: There is no fee to enter Biscayne National Park.

Hours of Operation: The park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days per year.

Pets: Pets are only allowed at Convoy Point and Elliott Key. Pets are not allowed in the Dante Fascell Visitor Center or at Boca Chita (even in a boat docked in the harbor). For more information, click here. 


If you have any questions about how to visit Biscayne National Park or the best things to do in Biscayne National Park, let us know in the comment section below.

Where are You Going Next?

Here is more information for your trip to Florida.

EVERGLADES: One Perfect Day in Everglades National Park
FLORIDA KEYS: Florida Keys Road Trip: 25 Awesome Things to Do between Key Largo and Key West
FLORIDA KEYS ITINERARY: 7 – 10 Day Florida Keys Itinerary: Miami, Key West & the National Parks
KEY WEST: 14 Best Things to Do in Key West
KEY WEST: Best Restaurants in Key West: 20 Places to Eat & Drink
DRY TORTUGAS: Best Things to Do in Dry Tortugas National Park

Read all of our articles about the United States in our United States Travel Guide.

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Biscayne National Park Complete Travel Guide

 

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Comments 3

  1. Hello. We are planning our 2,5 week trip to Florida in March 2022 from Estonia. Can you give a hint how much cost this full day boat tour and how much hours?
    By the way, nice follow your blogs, get good planning tips and we will try to stay in your heels.

    1. Post
      Author

      Good question! I just updated the post with pricing for both the Jones Lagoon tour we took ($89 per person) and the charter. Even though we just did this two weeks ago, prices have already gone up, quite a bit too. Now, prices start at $700 for four hours in Biscayne National Park. You can save money by booking one to two tours through Biscayne National Park Institute and still get to most of what we have listed in this post. Within the next 2 weeks I plan to write a road trip itinerary through the Florida Keys, so keep a look out for that if it is something you would like to do. Cheers, Julie

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