Biscayne National Park

Sunrise from Adams Key, Biscayne National Park

Biscayne National Park is a United States National Park located in South Florida. It is the largest marine park in the National Park System, protecting the southern section of Biscayne Bay, including the northernmost several Florida Keys, mangrove shorelines, a shallow bay, and living coral reefs. The land portion consists of a mainland area and several undeveloped islands. Biscayne National Park is a great place for outdoor and water-based recreation—or just relaxing.

Understand

History

In the expansion years of the 1950s some had a vision of development of bridges, roads and buildings for the keys. Later came a plan to dredge up 8,000 acres of bay bottom to create a jetport. In 1961, 13 area landowners voted unanimously to create the City of Islandia. Plans for Seadade, a major industrial seaport, were announced in 1962. The proposal called for the dredging of a 40-foot deep channel through the Bay's clear, shallow waters.

Facing a ground swell of public opposition, landowners in the city of Islandia brought in bulldozers in an attempt to despoil the area. Dubbed "Spite Highway," the swath was six lanes wide and seven miles long, right down the middle of Elliott Key. Park proponents were not deterred. Congress, led by longtime Representative Dante Fascell, created Biscayne National Monument to protect "a rare combination of terrestrial, marine and amphibious life in a tropical setting of great natural beauty." President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the bill on October 18, 1968.

Landscape

Biscayne National Park consists of four primary ecosystems:

Flora and fauna

Semaphore prickly-pear cactus
Least tern

Biscayne National Park is home to the longest stretch of mangrove forest on Florida's East Coast. In 2001, the rare semaphore prickly-pear cactus, which grows only in South Florida, was discovered here. The cactus is a candidate for the federal endangered species list. The endangered Sargent’s Palm also exists in the park. It is considered to be the rarest palm native to Florida. It was initially found on Elliott Key and Sands Key, but collectors in the late 1800s began to harvest them for ornamental use. In 1991 only 50 palms were found on Elliott Key. Many were also damaged in Hurricane Andrew. Today there are about 16 plants on Elliott and 123 on Long Key thanks to efforts undertaken to reintroduce palms on three of the original islands.

Seagrass beds are an important ecological component. They are highly productive, provide nursery habitat for rearing and sheltering small fishes and invertebrates, and provide food for a wide variety of animals and create habitat and substrate diversity.

In addition, several types of wildflowers, succulents, wildflowers and ferns compliment a variety of trees and shrubs.

The park is home to many threatened and endangered species including the West Indian manatee, eastern indigo snake, piping plover, American crocodile, peregrine falcon, Schaus' swallowtail butterfly, least tern, and 5 different species of sea turtle.

The Schaus’ swallowtail is a large, colorful butterfly that is endemic to southern Florida and has been listed by the State of Florida as an endangered species since 1975. It was listed federally in 1984 when estimates showed only 70 or fewer adults remaining. Today the butterfly is only found on northern Key Largo and several small Keys in Biscayne National Park.

The least tern has been listed by the State of Florida as a threatened species since 1975. Much of the cause of their population decline is due to habitat destruction and encroachment. The birds nest along coastal or island beaches covered with coarse substrates of sand, shells, or small stones. In 1995, two least tern nests were observed on Soldier Key in Biscayne National Park each containing two eggs.

Sea turtle populations continue to decline throughout the world and within the United States due to loss of nesting beaches, feeding habitat, mortality through by-catch of the longline and shrimping industries, hunting for meat and poaching of eggs. Loggerhead and occasionally hawksbill sea turtles use the few sandy beaches that exist at Biscayne National Park as sites to lay their eggs. An average of 13.3 nests is laid each year with an average clutch size of 50 eggs. Biscayne National Park's sea turtle nesting program monitors 10 beaches for activity throughout the nesting season. Depending on the location, protective screens are placed on the nests to protect the eggs from predation by raccoons.

There are 512 species of fish in Biscayne National Park, ranging from less than an inch to over 10 feet in length. The fish fauna are predominately temperate and continental in the winter and tropical to subtropical in the summer. Some of the species may be euryhaline (able to withstand a wide range of salinities).

A surprising range of mammals has been documented in the park, three types of whales, Atlantic bottlenose dolphins and manatees, but also bobcat, deer, otter, Brazilian free-tailed bat, squirrels, rabbits and opossum among them.

Lobsters and crabs, including the giant land crab (which can grow to a 12in clawtip to clawtip measurement) are found in the park.

Climate

Biscayne National Park has a subtropical climate, which ensures sunshine year-round. Winters here are normally dry and mild, with occasional fronts bringing wind and little rain. Summertime brings hot and humid weather with scattered thunderstorms in the afternoons. The average temperature in January is 68°F (20°C) and 82°F (28°C) in July. The average rainfall for the area is 2.17in (5.51 cm) in January and 3.95in (10.03 cm) in July. Perhaps the best-known area weather events are hurricanes, which usually occur from June to November.

Get in

Biscayne National Park location

Convoy Point can be reached from either the Florida Turnpike or from US-1. From the Florida Turnpike: Take the Florida Turnpike south, to Exit 6 (Speedway Blvd.). Turn left from exit ramp and continue south to S.W. 328th Street (North Canal Drive). Turn left and continue to the end of the road (approximately five miles). The entrance is on the left.

From US-1: Drive south to Homestead. Turn left on SW 328th Street (North Canal Drive), and continue to the end of the road (approximately nine miles). The entrance is on the left.

Traveling on US-1 (Overseas Highway), drive north to Homestead. Turn right on SW 328th Street (North Canal Drive — first light after Florida Turnpike entrance), and continue to the end of the road. The entrance is approximately nine miles on the left.

Fees/Permits

There are no entrance fees. See the Camping section for fees for sites. For any boats docked after 6PM, a $15 overnight docking fee is charged at Boca Chita and Elliott Key harbors.

Get around

Detailed map of the park

More than 95% of the park is covered by water. Visitors without a boat of their own can explore the Dante Fascell Visitor Center, watch a film or attend a ranger program, walk the Jetty Trail (approximately 1/4 mile long), or have a picnic. To get beyond Convoy Point will require going out on a guided boat tour or renting a canoe or kayak. There are no bridges or ferries to the islands, and only one mile of road in the entire park. There are no facilities for RV camping, and tent camping will require a boat to get to the park's islands.

Visitors with boats can launch their own boats from county-operated marinas adjacent to the park. Homestead Bayfront Park, 9698 SW 328th St, Homestead, +1 305 230-3034.

A full .pdf chart of the park, too big to display on this page, is available on the NPS site.

Accessibility

Since most of the park is covered by water, access to anything beyond the mainland shoreline requires a boat. The park's concessioner offers boat trips to the parks reefs and islands, and also offers canoe and kayak rentals.

The Dante Fascell Visitor Center and Park Headquarters are located at Convoy Point on the mainland, and ramps, elevators and boardwalks make these areas fully accessible to those with mobility challenges.

On the Islands of Boca Chita Key, Elliott Key and Adams Key, restrooms are accessible, but some of the buildings are not. There are no sidewalks on Elliott Key or Adams Key, but Boca Chita Key does have sidewalks around the harbor and to the restrooms, but the remainder of the island is lawn and rocky ground.

Concessioner-operated boat trips offer limited accessibility with assistance, but arrangements should be made ahead of time by calling 305-230-1100.

See

Convoy Point

Dante Fascell Visitor Center

Boca Chita Key

The park's most popular island provides visitors with a variety of facilities. There is a campground with picnic tables and barbecue grills. Additional picnic tables and barbecue grills are located on the south side of the harbor near the open-air pavilion. Saltwater toilets are available, but since there is no freshwater or electricity on the island, there are no sinks or showers. A half-mile hiking trail starts just east of the restrooms. The trail continues to the south end of the island curving back north and emerging near the pavilion and picnic area. The island's crowning glory, and Biscayne National Park's de facto symbol, is the 65-foot ornamental lighthouse built by Mark Honeywell, one of the island's former owners, in the 1930s. The lightouse is open intermittently whenever park staff or volunteers are on the island. The observation deck provides a panoramic view of the islands, bay, ocean, and the Miami, Key Biscayne, and the Miami Beach skyline.

Boca Chita Key harbor

Elliott Key

The park's largest island was once a thriving community of pioneers engaged in pineapple farming, sponging, wrecking and other pursuits. Today the island offers camping, picnicking, swimming, wildlife watching and the park's only hiking trail. Picnic tables and barbecue grills are located throughout the campgrounds and around the harbor.Restrooms with cold water showers are available. Fresh drinking water is located outside of the restroom building. It is recommended that you bring your own fresh water, just in case the generator should go down.

Adams Key

On the north side of swift-moving Caesar Creek. This dawn-to-dusk day use area was once home to the famed Cocolobo Club, a retreat for people like Carl Fisher, Gar Wood, and Presidents Harding, Hoover, Johnson and Nixon. A short trail leads through the hardwood hammock, and a picnic pavilion and toilets are also available. Two park ranger families live on the island.

Maritime Heritage Trail

Coral reef

Biscayne National Park's Maritime Heritage Trail offers an exciting opportunity to explore the remains of some of the park's many shipwrecks. Five wrecks, spanning nearly a century and a wide variety of sizes and vessel types, have been prepared for public viewing, with a sixth site coming soon (2007). These preparations include mapping, the installation of mooring buoys, and production of individual, waterproof site cards for each of the wrecks.

Access to the wrecks is by boat only, and all but the Mandalay are best suited to scuba divers. The Mandalay offers an unparalleled opportunity for snorkelers to experience a wreck. The park's concessioner will occasionally provide access to the sites of the Maritime Heritage Trail. Call 305-230-1100.

Do

Looking under water together with a park ranger

Buy

Eat

There are no restaurants in the park, but the park's gift shop offers a variety of pre-packaged sandwiches, chips, ice cream and sodas. There are a variety of full-service restaurants in nearby cities and towns.

Sleep

Green sea turtle

Lodging

The nearest motel/hotel lodging is in Homestead and Florida City.

Camping

There are two campgrounds in Biscayne National Park. Both are located on islands, and the only access to these islands is by boat. Private boats can access the campgrounds year round. During the winter and spring, the park's concessioner provides access to the islands for a fee. To arrange for transportation to the island with the park's concessioner, call 305-230-1100.

There is no RV camping in Biscayne National Park.

Fees:

Fees are the responsibility of the camper, and should be paid upon arrival. Any vessel in the harbor after 6PM is considered an overnight stay, and fees must be paid in cash (bills or coins, $20 or under only) at the kiosk near the harbor.

Boca Chita Key is the park's most popular island, and features an open, waterside, grassy camping area with picnic tables and grills. Toilets are available on the island, but there are no sinks, showers or drinking water.

Elliott Key features both waterside and forested camping areas. The campground is on the bay side of the island between the hammock edge and to within 25 feet of the harbor. Camping is first come, first served – reservations are not accepted for individual campsites. A group campsite with barbecue grills and picnic tables is located on the east side (ocean side) of the island, approximately a 1/3 mile (.5 km) walk from the harbor, and may be reserved by calling 305-230-1144 ext. 3071. A fire ring on the east side of the island next to the group campsite is the only location in the park where an open ground fire is permitted. Picnic tables and grills are available. Restrooms with sinks and cold water showers are available. Drinking water is available on the island, but bring some of your own as a precaution should the system go down. Two trails tunnel through the island's tropical hardwood hammock. One trail runs the entire 7 miles (11.26 km) of the island (14 miles (22.5 km) roundtrip), and another loops for approximately one mile near the harbor.

Backcountry

There is no backcountry camping in the park – camp in designated areas only.

Stay safe

there is back country camping on Elliot Key. you must get a permit from the headquarters in order to camp in the back country. see www.biscayne.national-park.com/camping.htm

Go next

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