Just south of Miami, Florida lies Biscayne National Park. Consisting of almost 50 keys (coral reef islands), the park was originally created to protect the area from imminent development in the 1960s. Today, it harbors unique marine life, scenic waterways, and even a few shipwrecks.
The park is known as a water wonderland with evidence of 10,000 years of human history from prehistoric tribes to pineapple farmers. Visitors can expect to enjoy activities like boating and fishing as well as relaxing with a warm breeze surrounded by stunning scenery.
Why Visit Biscayne National Park in an RV?
Biscayne National Park is 95% water, so the use of your motorhome or travel trailer is limited to driving to the Dante Fascell Visitors Center on the mainland. From there, exploration of the park is done by boat, and what a fascinating journey it is. Visitors can take sailboat tours or launch their own canoes and kayaks from the center, and Miami Dade County has boat services from several docks in the area.
When to Visit Biscayne National Park
The park is open year-round and sees most of its traffic during the winter and spring months. The Dante Fascell Visitor Center is open seven days a week from 9AM-5PM. The weather, while full of sunshine throughout the year, does see a shift from season to season, which affects the volume of visitors as a result.
Biscayne National Park in the Spring
Spring temperatures range from the mid-60s to the mid-80s throughout the season. March through May does bring several cloudy days, but few rain showers. Still, it’s wise to pack a poncho or raincoat just in case.
Biscayne National Park in the Summer
The summer months are typically hot and humid with scattered thunderstorms in the afternoons. Temperatures can top out around 90-degrees. Warning: the insects like to crash the party in summertime, so have plenty of bug spray on stand-by.
Biscayne National Park in the Fall
Temperatures drop into the mid-60s during fall, which makes for a pleasant visiting experience. While rainfall is still possible, it’s not as common as it is during the summer months.
Biscayne National Park in the Winter
The winter season is short, but arguably the most comfortable time to visit. Most tourists flock to the park during this time of year to take advantage of the many activities while the weather plays nice.
Where to Stay
There are only two campgrounds within the boundaries of Biscayne National Park, and both are only accessible by boat. However, RVers will find a plethora of campgrounds and resorts on the mainland within the Homestead and Miami city limits. Here are just a few:
- Miami Everglades RV Resort is not far from the Dante Fascell Visitors Center and offers all the amenities one would expect from a resort, including a clubhouse and pool with hot tub, pickleball and volleyball courts, and a dog park and laundry facilities on 34 acres.
- Boardwalk RV Resort offers a gated facility with excellent proximity to the park, as well as nearby shopping and restaurants. The park boasts a heated pool, weekly planned activities, and much more.
- Keys Palms RV Resort is a little further south in Key Largo, but it’s a great location to explore Biscayne to the north and the rest of the Keys to the south. The resort offers a waterfront location with a private marina and full hookup sites for your getaway.
How to Get Around
Getting to Biscayne National Park is easy. Getting around the park can be easy, too, if you have access to a boat. To drive to the Dante Fascell Visitors Center, take Highway 1 to Homestead, Florida. Then turn left onto Speedway Boulevard and continue south for five miles, turning left on North Canal Drive. From there drive four miles to the end of the road and the entrance is on the left.
Once at the Visitors Center, you can park your RV and take a boat tour or launch your own water vessel (no personal motorized vehicles are allowed). There are boat launches at the Center, as well as at various Miami-Dade locations along the bay.
Places to Go
There are plenty of unique places to go. Here’s a look at some of the best places you should check out while visiting Biscayne National Park.
Dante Fascell Visitor Center
Located on the only mainland section of the park, the center houses exhibits on the natural history of the area, along with an information desk and park videos. An on-site gallery for contemporary art displays Biscayne National Park through paintings, photographs, sculptures, and collages. Ranger-led programs start directly from the center, and a picnic area and restrooms are also available.
Boca Chita Key
You’ll need to boat over to Boca Chita Key, the most visited key in the park, and hike up its ornamental lighthouse–built by Mark Honeywell in the 1930s–for expansive views of the area. You won’t regret the walk up to enjoy the views from the observation deck of this 65-foot tall lighthouse.
The largest key in Biscayne National Park was once a thriving pineapple farm. Take a picnic lunch and a good pair of hiking shoes with you to Elliott Key, as the only hiking trail, “Spite Highway,” lies within the park boundaries and showcases a hardwood tropical forest. You can also enjoy tent camping with a permit.
Once home to the famous Cocolobo Club, visited by presidents and wealthy financiers for years, Adams Key has a picnic pavilion for an afternoon outing. There’s also a short nature trail leading through a beautiful hardwood hammock.
Maritime Heritage Trail
The Maritime Heritage Trail offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to view six different shipwrecks and an offshore lighthouse by snorkeling or scuba diving. A brochure documenting the location of each is available and mooring buoys are installed at each site.
Remnants of several buildings built on wooden stilts in the bay during the 1920s and 1930s have been renovated for public use. Visitors can only access historic Stiltsville by boat and permits are required.
The Jones Family Historic District and Lagoon
This is one of the best places to paddle in the park and there’s plenty of history here at the former homestead of Israel Lafayette Jones–one of the park’s first settlers–as well. The Jones Family Historic District and Lagoon is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Things to Do
The activities at Biscayne National Park attract Florida residents as well as visitors from all over the world.
Regulated by the state of Florida, saltwater fishing is the most popular activity in the park. Go after tarpon, bonefish, grouper, and even spiny lobster. You will need a permit, and it is suggested that you’re familiar with the Florida State Fishing Regulations.
With miles and miles of water, there’s no limit to exploration around the park. Discover living coral reefs, mangrove forests, and calm waterways. Mooring buoys are scattered throughout the park to make your adventure easier and the park’s website provides additional resources for safe and fun boating in the park.
Snorkeling and Scuba Diving
Biscayne Bay is shallow and clear, a perfect location for snorkelers and divers to enjoy the varied sea life. You may view rays, manatees, crabs, anemones, and even upside-down jellyfish while underwater.
Spite Highway on Elliott Key is the only hiking trail in the park, but it offers a unique view of many indigenous animal habitats. Expect a 14-mile trek if hiking the entire trail. There are also a series of short walks in various locations throughout the park that make up the Biscayne Birding Trail, which provides excellent opportunities to see a variety of migratory and native species.
There are two campgrounds within the park. The one on Boca Chita Key has a grassy camping area with picnic tables and grills, but no water. Toilets are available there and no pets are allowed. On Elliott Key, there are restrooms with cold showers, drinking water, picnic tables, and grills. Dogs are allowed on leash. Both campgrounds are accessible by boat only, and the low tide runs between two and one-half feet to four feet.
There are several swimming beaches and lagoons on many of the keys within the park.
Canoeing and Kayaking
Because many of the lagoons, creeks, and channels within the park are extremely shallow, kayaking and canoeing are great ways to explore the bay. It’s also a good way to view many species of fish and birds that call this area home. Biscayne National Park has produced six different paddling guides for the following trails:
If the weather doesn’t cooperate during your visit to Biscayne National Park, there are fortunately plenty of indoor activities to enjoy. From the museum to the art gallery, there are films for adults and plenty of fun for the kids too.
What to Bring
While the park is beautiful and full of breathtaking views, there are a few things to note before visiting. Since 95% of the park is covered by water, there are no restaurants at Biscayne National Park. It’s wise to pack a picnic lunch and snacks to enjoy during your visit. The closest restaurants and markets are located approximately seven miles away in the town of Homestead.
Items to bring along include:
- Hiking shoes or boots
- Bathing suit
- Insect repellant
- Refillable water bottle
- Snacks and a picnic lunch
- Backpack to corral it all
Brief History of Biscayne National Park
Native Americans inhabited the park site about 10,000 years ago, but as the water rose, traces of their existence were submerged. Ponce de Leon discovered The Keys in 1513, and many Spanish treasure fleets sailed the area, getting caught in hurricanes and sinking. In fact, there are 44 documented shipwrecks that occurred here between the 16th and 20th centuries. It wasn’t until 1897 that the region was settled.
One of the area’s original settlers, Israel Lafayette Jones, was a black farm laborer and stevedore in Wilmington, North Carolina before he found his way to South Florida and became a caretaker for a white landowner.
Within a few years, Jones had accumulated enough experience farming pineapples and enough money to purchase Porgy Key for $300. He established his own farm, growing not only pineapples but key limes, and at the same time growing his family to include a wife and two sons.
A year after his purchase of Porgy Key, Mr. Jones bought Rhodes and Totten Keys and continued to expand his ownership throughout Biscayne Bay. His sons continued his legacy, clearing land, working the farm, and guiding visitors, including several US presidents, on fishing trips throughout the region, while their father grew in stature and engaged in more community involvement.
Israel Jones had a hand in establishing a Negro industrial school in Jacksonville, as well as overseeing the support and growth of Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Miami. After his death, his sons became the only year-round residents from North Key Largo to Soldier Key. They eventually sold their land to the National Park Service when the area was named Biscayne National Monument, knowing that the land and its bounty would be protected.
As you can see, Biscayne National Park has a fascinating history and offers a wide variety of activities and experiences for the whole family to enjoy. Don’t overlook this little-known gem in the national park system.
Shelley Dennis is a travel photographer and writer who threw caution to the wind and gave up most of her belongings to travel the country in an RV. Her trusty sidekick for this lifetime adventure is her Golden Retriever, Sully. You can find them both at www.PhotoTrippingAmerica.com