Florida is known as a land of fun in the sun, and it's no surprise that it draws visitors of all kinds looking to escape to a sunny paradise.
Its abundance of warm weather and bright, clear skies make it the ideal destination, and there are plenty of beautiful beaches and seemingly endless activities for water lovers of all kinds to enjoy.
Florida is home to three official national parks and many other national preserves, monuments, and memorials where visitors can experience very different aspects of this “watery wonderland,” as the National Park Service calls it.
But this almost wasn’t the case, especially for the area now known as Biscayne National Park.
What’s now a 173,000-acre preserve containing the world’s third-largest barrier reef faced an uncertain future in the 1950s, when it was almost lost to commercial development.
“Developers envisioned hotels and highways and proposed dredging 8,000 acres and a 40-foot-deep channel through the bay,” Centennial Travel explains in its 2021 Special Issue on America’s National Parks.
The preserve, which stretches from Key Biscayne to Key Largo, is part of one of the most important marine protected areas in the world, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. It would have been a huge loss to the area’s biodiversity had it been developed—not to mention the enjoyment of the roughly half a million people who visit the park annually.
Biscayne National Park Institute says the park “protects the northernmost group of living coral reefs in the United States and its ecosystem,” and “consists of a rare combination of aquamarine waters home to vibrant fish, sea turtles, dolphins, and manatees, beautiful islands with mangrove trees, and unique coral reefs.”
The NPS reports that four diverse ecosystems are located here, which support wildlife found nowhere else in the U.S. And this opportunity to explore nature and encounter the incredible wildlife found here is a big part of what draws so many locals and visitors to the park.
Visitors can begin their exploration at the Dante Fascell Visitor Center in Homestead, but to really experience the best of this blue oasis, you’ll need to get out on it by boat—or better yet, in it!
The park offers many activities like kayaking, canoeing, fishing, boating, sailing, wildlife viewing, and more. But the most popular of all is snorkeling or diving along the Maritime Heritage Trail, where a total of six shipwrecks have been mapped spanning all the way back to 1878.
Guided tours offered by the Biscayne National Park Institute and departing from the visitor center are another great way to learn more about the history and ecology of the area, and to get to key attractions nearby such as Stiltsville, a grouping of overwater houses with a colorful history, as well as Fowey Rocks Lighthouse.
To see a list of companies with a commercial use authorization permit to operate within the park, click here.