Biscayne National Park

So far, everywhere we’ve gone we have heavily researched what national parks are within reach of us. In Florida, there are three total, including Biscayne National Park, located just south of Miami at the start of the Florida Keys. It is about a 2.5-hour drive from Naples. Our original plan was to attempt staying over on one of the keys Saturday night by kayaking out there, but we quickly learned that it is near impossible. So, we switched it up and decided on just doing a full day trip.

One of the three FL National Parks!

Biscayne National Park

They say this park is something like 95% water, so right away it’s a pretty unique park. In fact, most of what is truly being protected is underwater. This would be the coral reefs and the related marine life that calls the reefs home. There is only a small portion of land that houses the park’s visitor center, along with just a few keys that are roughly seven miles off shore. Due to that distance, it makes an open water kayak trip out to the island campgrounds very difficult, especially if there is any kind of wind. Basically, all the park rangers told us not to do it. Since we were not staying the night, we crammed our Saturday with as many activities as possible!

The Biscayne Visitor Center on the 5% of land.

The harbor just outside of the visitor center.

The Biscayne Visitor Center on the 5% of land.

The harbor just outside of the visitor center.

Jones Lagoon Paddle Board Tour

Our day started at 9:00 a.m., getting onto a speed boat with two tour guides and six other people, along with a stack of stand-up paddleboards. This morning tour takes you across the bay in a jiffy, anchoring in a quiet place called Jones Lagoon, just south of Adams Key. One of the two tour guides told us this was his favorite place in the whole park, and after reminiscing on it, we’d be hard pressed to not agree with him. Since it is a protected lagoon, the water is very calm and very shallow which makes it a perfect place to observe all the underwater wildlife through crystal clear blue water. As we paddled through this amazing oasis, the experienced guides were fantastic at pointing out and finding even the smallest of creatures. You seriously get to see so much- from sea turtles and starfish to jellyfish and stingrays- with even a chance to catch a glimpse of barracuda and baby sharks along the way. And if you’re not too keen on the SUP idea, trust us- the boards they have are so stable and the water is so calm that almost anyone can do it. There was a 75-year-old man in our group standing on his board the whole time (well, almost) and he was having a blast. You can even choose to sit down or kneel on the board to switch it up. After about 2.5 hours of paddling, you scramble back onto the boat and return to the mainland by 1:00 p.m.

The boat for our Jones Lagoon tour!

One of our very knowledgeable tour guides!

The start of the mangroves!

We hopped on our paddle boards at the south end of Adams Key!

We saw lots of cool stuff, including this sting ray! (look closely)

And these natural sponges that clean this water to make it crystal clear!

And lots of jelly fish!

And starfish!

Hanging out in Jones Lagoon!

Paddling back to our anchored boat from Jones Lagoon.

The boat for our Jones Lagoon tour!

One of our very knowledgeable tour guides!

The start of the mangroves!

We hopped on our paddle boards at the south end of Adams Key!

We saw lots of cool stuff, including this sting ray! (look closely)

And these natural sponges that clean this water to make it crystal clear!

And lots of jelly fish!

And starfish!

Hanging out in Jones Lagoon!

Paddling back to our anchored boat from Jones Lagoon.

Afternoon Snorkel Tour

While quickly plowing down a sandwich and apple, we next got ready for an afternoon coral reef snorkel adventure! And we were literally eating while they fit us with proper masks and flippers because this tour leaves at 1:25 PM. We got a quick lesson from one of the rangers before we launched. There were many more people on this speed boat, maybe about 24 people, so you feel pretty crammed. This tour brought us out past the park’s keys into the open Atlantic, so it took a little longer ride to reach our destination. The coral reef within the park is the 3rd largest reef in the world, so there are actually tons of options to buoy up and explore. They dropped us off at the Amelia reef and Anniversary reef, spending roughly 30 minutes at each site. It was pretty fun to look down and see a whole new world underneath as we were surrounded by tiny little jellies that bounced off us. The Anniversary reef is most definitely the better of these two, with more life and color to stare at. Be warned- this snorkeling is very bumpy and if you have any kind of motion sickness, either do not go or take an antiemetic. Also, our boat driver had no chill either- keeping up her top speed even if we were hitting bigger waves to grab some air. This also churns your stomach and jars your back after you’ve been getting whipped around when snorkeling already. In total, this adventure takes three hours, so we got back to the park visitor center around 4:30 PM.

An education session with a ranger before our snorkel adventure!

Ready to snorkel the Atlantic!

Bobbing in some choppy waters!

Snorkeling the 3rd largest coral reef in the world!

An education session with a ranger before our snorkel adventure!

Ready to snorkel the Atlantic!

Bobbing in some choppy waters!

Snorkeling the 3rd largest coral reef in the world!

Evening Bay Cruise

On this particular Saturday, we got lucky and the park was offering a sunset cruise on the bay in their large ferry boat. They do not offer this every weekend, so we said why not and continued our day on the water at 5:30 p.m. This boat holds 40-50 people and has much less horsepower, so it was a lot more relaxing compared to our first two endeavors of the day. Like the other two tours, the captain of this boat led us through some of the history of the area and how the park came to be. As we made it to the middle of the bay, he started making large, slow circles so that each side of the boat could snap a picture of the sunset around 6:15 p.m. To be honest, it was one of the best sunsets we’ve seen in a while. The picture I took is still the background of my phone’s home screen.

View from our sunset cruise!

Park After Dark Event

As we got off one last boat for the day, we were greeted by a ranger encouraging us to stay for their after-hours event at 7:00 p.m. called “Story Slam”, where ordinary people would come up onto their outdoor stage and deliver a unique story to listen to and judge who won. The topic for this night was “adventure.” The ranger also mentioned there would be s’mores to make over an open fire, so we decided to stay for a little bit. Each of their Park After Dark events have different themes, so simply research it on their website calendar to see which one might intrigue you. Just an FYI- if you do stay, bring some bug spray because those buggers are ferocious once the sun goes down.

Park After Dark!

“Story Slam” with the topic of adventure!

Park After Dark

“Story Slam” with the topic of adventure!

La Playa Grill

We realized after all this fun that we were starving and couldn’t possibly drive back home until food got in our bellies. The best part- right next to Biscayne Park sits a beachside bar and grill called La Playa. It only takes three minutes to drive on over there. From the visitor center all you do is head back to the main road and instead of turning right at the entrance signage to exit the whole park, turn left and follow the only path there is to a large parking lot with a two-level building near the end of it. The second level of the building is the restaurant and it has some solid seafood and rice options. After filling up on some shrimp and scallops, we were satisfied, and started our drive back west.

LaPlaya Grill

The Jones Lagoon morning tour is definitely the top option here and we would highly recommend it, but the other options are cool too. The one adventure we couldn’t do that we would go back for is their snorkeling shipwreck tour, but this one is spotty because the weather must be perfect. Either way, with this unique national park you must get out on the water to really appreciate its wonders. You can see all you want to book here: https://www.biscaynenationalparkinstitute.org

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Marilyn

    Love love love living these adventures with you!

  2. Kris Peterson

    2.5 hours of paddling! You’ve got to be in pretty good shape.

  3. Abby Wilson

    Wow!! You are making me want to book a trip to Florida! I would have been nervous to hold a jellyfish ????

    1. Megan McCarthy

      If you book fast, you can come to Dry Tortugas National Park with us next weekend 🙂 And yeah, I asked the guide if the jellyfish would sting me and he said if it did my hand would just feel funny for a little bit…ha

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