Biscayne National Park: Water Playground

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Biscayne Bay

“I can’t believe the water is this clear”, I shout with excitement as Adventure, the 44-foot sailboat, pulls away from the dock and slowly motor down the channel marked by red and green pylons. We are heading for Adams Key for our daylong adventure in Biscayne National Park.

Biscayne National Park: Fun in the Sun

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Bird Sunning Himself at Biscayne National Park

The sky is blue, with a few puffy clouds on the horizon this February day in South Florida. The temperature is a comfortable 70 degrees with a slight breeze. All of our fears about seasickness dissolved as we sail across Biscayne Bay in Biscayne National Park because the sea is calm with barely a wave. We go past many varieties of birds resting on the rocky shoals by the channel, with their wings open to catch the warm rays of the morning sun.

The captain turns off the motor and said “It’s time to put up the sails” as we pulled the ropes to raise the green and white sails high into the air. The gentle breeze catches the sails, making them taunt. We are under wind power! The only sound I hear is the lapping of the water against the hull of the boat as we navigate towards Adams Key.

The bay is only ten feet deep. I am mesmerized as I watch the sandy bottom of the bay go by. The sun lights up the bottom of the bay with the occasional rock interrupting the light brown sandy color. What a delight to see such pristine water.

Friendly Conversations

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Sail

There are only 8 of us on board the Adventure. The captain was in the catering business in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He had a restaurant and catered extensively to events and cafeterias of University of Alabama, from sororities to football games, feeding hundreds and sometimes thousands at a time. “The reason banquet food taste terrible”, he said, “is they prepare the plates, chill it, and then put it into massive ovens to heat them to 165 degrees for 5 minutes. You can’t cook food like that and have it turn out right,” he said. He does them the “right way”, “by cooking them right before they are served, but that requires a lot of equipment and manpower”. He was tired of the grind and decided to come to south Florida for the sun and the relaxed pace.

There is a couple from New York, who plan to go to Yellowstone this summer. They just reserved one of the last spots at a hotel inside the park. I told them about our quest to visit all 59 National Parks and they immediately suggested Glacier National Park to be high on our list. The captain chimed in with the grandeur of Denali mountain as a must see park. He visited Alaska in February when the average temperature was 5 below, and drove the icy road from Anchorage to Fairbanks in the dark as 18-wheelers whizzed by. He said it was the best time to see Denali in the clear. That may be true, but go to an Alaskan national park in February? Not I! I value my warmth.

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Sailing at Biscayne Bay

There is an older couple from Alabama who are friends of the captain, and a man on vacation who kept to himself during the trip. The small group, the lack of engine noise, and the slow pace makes it super friendly and relaxing as I enjoy the blue-green water of Biscayne National Park.

Island Retreat for Presidents (and Mosquitos)

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Adams Key

Seven miles later, we dock at Adams Key, a small island with a ranger station, bathroom, picnic shelter, dock, and plenty of mosquitos.   Do Zeka infected mosquitos make it this far out?  We eat our Subway sandwich at the picnic shelter as quickly as we could, while swatting mosquitos buzzing around our legs.  I can’t imagine this island in hot and humid July!  This small isolated island was a retreat for Presidents Harding, Hoover, Johnson, and Nixon.  Primitive by today’s standards, it provided a nice get away from the hustle and bustle of Washington for the Presidents.

The mangroves dominate the shoreline with its branches sticking into the water. Since the weather is a little on the cool side for snorkeling, we decide to go kayaking while the young couple and the vacation man go paddle boarding. Despite her fear of water, my beautiful wife Loretta gets into the red kayak as we paddle around Adams Key and across the channel to the southern end of Elliott Key a few hundred yards away. The bottom near the keys is no longer sandy, but covered with vegetation that looks like an underwater forest. As we paddle our way into the inlets and very shallow channels of only a foot deep, motorboats are off limits. We have the place all to ourselves. We go around a corner and a large white crane flaps her wings for a dramatic takeoff right in front of us.

Kayaking got us real close to the water, the mangroves, and the birds for a real close up view of nature. I can’t believe how relaxing it feels, how time passes quickly, yet seems to stand still.

Lucky to Live in the Home of the Free

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Cuban Boat

There are two 12-foot boats on the shore of Adams Key that looks home made. The origin of the boats reminds me of how lucky I am to live in the USA. These home made boats are built for one journey only – from Cuba to the shores of the USA. In these boats, there is a small car engine to propel it the 90 miles from oppression to freedom and from desperation to hope. This is especially poignant with the recent Trump executive order to bar entry of refugees from some countries.

Family Outing

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Couple Enjoying Waterfront Park

Back at the Convoy Point of Biscayne Bay National Park on the mainland, a birthday party is winding down after a piñata is broken into pieces. People of all ages are fishing by shore, catching fish and shrimp big and small. Couples walk dogs or just sit on the bench enjoying the waterfront. The park is crowded and everyone is having a great time enjoying the blue-green water scenery and bright late afternoon sun.

Thought for Biscayne:

The slower, more natural path often leads to unexpected discoveries. Just like a quiet, wind powered trip across Biscayne Bay allows close view of the crystal clear water and the time to completely unwind and relax while the troubles of the world move away.

Impressions of Biscayne:

The shallow crystal clear water, the marine life, the birds, and the mangroves are the calling cards of Biscayne National Park. The only way to enjoy it is with a boat. If you are lucky enough to have a boat of your own, or can afford to charter one, this is picture perfect paradise you see on vacation brochures. Paddle boarding, kayaking, snorkeling, and fishing, are all great activities to enjoy. The small group sailing day trip is a good way to enjoy the park. It allows you to slow down and truly appreciate the natural beauty of Biscayne Bay and the keys. This is a National Park for fun in the sun and on (and under) the water.

Biscayne Rating:

(Note: Ratings are on a bell curve, which means there are as many 5 star ratings as 1 star ratings.  All National Parks are wonderful, which makes this a very strict rating scale)

Element Rating (out of 5 Stars)
Scenery ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Variety ⭐️
Accessibility ⭐️
Touring ⭐️⭐️
Hiking ⭐️
Wildlife ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Overall ⭐️⭐️

Practical Info for Visiting Biscayne:

  • This park is basically Biscayne Bay and almost all water.
  • Get on a boat!  This is the only way you can enjoy the park.  If you don’t get on a boat, you should just go a nice county park.
  • Several tours are available from the park.  Full day and half day sailing trips, or half day power boat trips.  Some go to the keys 7 miles from mainland.
  • Charter a boat if you can from a variety of outfitters in the Miami area.
  • Don’t go in the summer unless you plan to spend most of your time in the water.  It’s hot, humid, and mosquito infested on the keys during the summer, making it unpleasant to hike or camp if you hate bugs, like me.
  • Homestead and Florida City are the gateway towns about 10 miles from Convoy Point, the main visitor center and launch point of boat tours.  Plenty of services available.

Biscayne Facts:

  • Size: 172,924 acres, ranked 34th
  • Visitors: 514,309 in 2016, ranked 38th.  Healthy increase from 2015 and just shy of record year of 2014.
  • Peak Month in 2016: 70,830 in July
  • Low Month in 2016: 24,114 in October
  • Entrance Fee: Free.  Boat tours can be expensive.

Date Visited: February 4, 2017

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Biscayne Stamp
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