Corbitt's National Parks
               National Park


1968: National Monument

1980: National Park

Size: 172,971 acres

2008 visitors: 686,062

Stamp: Yes

Rating (1-5):

About the Site

In most National Parks, land is the dominant feature. Not so in Biscayne, where water and the ocean make up 95% of the 173,000 acres of this beautiful south Florida Park. It was first established as a National Monument in 1968, and then quickly expanded to National Park status in 1980. The Park preserves a subtropical paradise where mainland mangrove trees, a shallow bay, small islands (keys), and a living coral reef all mingle together to make up a pristine ecosystem and recreation area. This is a refuge for marine life, water birds, and people who enjoy snorkling, boating, angling and diving. The water is pristine and clear, and only Nature working together between the mainland, Biscayne Bay, the keys, reefs, and the Florida Straits keep it that way.

The land enjoys year-round warmth, lots of sunshine and abundant rainfall, leading to a thriving tropical growth of an unusual collection of trees, ferns, vines, flowers and shrubs. The forests are dark and humid, and provide a home for many birds and butterflies and, need I say, mosquitos.

It's the water, however, where Biscayne truly shines. The shallow Bay floor is home to brilliantly colored tropical fish and other creatures that populate the healthy reef. Some include the stoplight parrotfish, the finger garlic sponge, the princess fenus, and the peppermint goby. Seagrass decorates the bottom where the coral doesn't, reminding visitors that this is a place where life abounds.

What You're Going to See

It's a water wonderland, all right. About 5% of the Park acreage is land; the rest is underwater, making it a very different experience from most National Park adventures. There are plenty of ways to see the underwater life, however. A private company offers glass-bottom tours of the Bay, during calm weather; the same boat will take visitors to explore Boca Chica Key when winds have churned up the Bay bottom and ruined visibility. Visitors can also snorkle and scuba-dive, and if you'd rather keep your feet dry, canoes and kayaks are available for rent as well.

The weather is consistent in Biscayne bay, all year round. You can expect winter temperatures averaging between mid-70's to low 80's, with summer temperatures from the high 80's to low 90's. Sunshine and high humidity welcomes guests year-round. This part of Florida averages about 85 inches of rainfall a year, most of it in afternoon summer thunderstorms that don't last too long. Tropical storm and hurricane season starts in summer and goes through the fall. There are no campsites on the mainland, but Elliot Key and Boca Chita Key offer overnight camping. Other Keys are available for nighttime anchorage and daytime use. Only Elliot Key has drinking water and a Ranger Station (intermittently staffed). The Dante Fascell Visitor Center is small but offers the basics: a full-time Ranger, a theater, exhibits, a bookstore, and a schedule of activities. The Visitors Center is at Convoy Point, which is only about 20 miles from south Miami and a full range of amenities. No entrance fee is charged.

Personal Observations

I had time for a glass-bottom boat tour; unfortunately, I visited on a breezy day and the water was too murky. So the boat took us intead to Boca Chita Key, a 45-minute trip. As we puttered out of the harbor at Convoy Point, I saw plenty of red mangroves that guard the shoreline. There were plenty of men and boys fishing from the extended breakwater, and anhingas perched atop buoys, drying their feathers. The boat left at 10:00 and returned around 1:00. Lucky for fair-skinned me, there was shade on the boat, so the sun wasn't a problem. They charged about $27 for a three-hour tour. Yes, a three-hour tour.
The weather started getting rough ...

I was warned about mosquitos before I arrived, so I brought along some 27% Off. I had no problem at the Visitor Center, but as soon as we stepped foot on Boca Chita Key we were attacked! I killed five on my legs before I was able to get the Off! out and spray my skin and shirt. Luckily, it works great, and I wasn't bothered by mosquitos again.

Boca Chita Key is very small, with a harbor for maybe 8 to 10 boats (depending on size). There is a picnic table or two, barbeque grills, and camping on a first-come, first-serve basis. Apart from that, and a short nature trail, the main attraction is an ornamental lighthouse that offers a spectacular view of the Bay and nearby Keys.

Getting There

From Miami, go south on Highway 821/Florida's Turnpike until you get to exit 6 (Speedway Blvd). Take exit 6 off and go south for about five miles. Turn left (east) onto S.W. 328th (N. Canal Dr) and go for about five miles; the Visitor Center is at the end of the road.

Nearby Attractions

Everglades National Park is about 30 miles directly west. Big Cypress National Preserve is about 70 miles to the northwest.

Visited July, 2006

Additional Photos