Biscayne National Park: Camping, Tours, And Everything Else You Need To Know

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On our South Florida road trip, we knew we would be spending most of our time in the Everglades and Big Cypress, but we also wanted to stop at Biscayne National Park.  We weren’t doing any boat tours but still wanted to see what the park was like.  I knew it would be a quick visit, but was still pretty excited.

I had no idea what to expect in the park near the visitor center.  I was expecting a beach and stellar snorkeling from the shore, but we didn’t find either of those things.  It was actually a pretty rocky shore and the snorkeling opportunities are best further out.  You can still swim and go in the water from here, but it’s no sprawling white sand beach.

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We wandered over the boardwalk and through the mangroves, checked out the fish sacks and fishing spots, then headed back to the visitor center to find the Geocache in the park.  I knew I had to find this one since it’s not every day you get to find one in a national park since they’re not officially allowed in them without permission of some sort.  It was a nice, easy find before heading back over to the Everglades for the afternoon.

So, what little I saw of Biscayne National Park I enjoyed, but next time I want to take a boat tour and maybe even camp in the park.  With 95% of the park underwater, you miss quite a bit if you don’t get out to either of the islands or do a tour.  But, if you’re short on time and still kind of want to see what it’s about, it’s worth stopping in for a visit if you’re in the area.

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What to bring to Biscayne National Park

  • Sunscreen – a reef-safe sunscreen will be the best option, especially if you plan on swimming at all here (or elsewhere in Florida)
  • Water – gotta stay hydrated!  You know Hydro Flasks are my favorite with how long they keep water icy cold.
  • Fishing supplies – only necessary if you want to fish from the trail area.
  • Towel – only necessary if you plan on swimming at all.
  • Snacks – these would be a good idea if you plan on doing a tour in Biscayne.
  • Backpack – you have to keep everything somewhere.
  • Bug spray – Because this is Florida.

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Where is Biscayne National Park?

Biscayne National Park is about 45 miles south of Miami Beach.  It takes about an hour to drive there.  I’ve also included maps from Homestead and Key Largo, which are two other popular places to stay if you’re visiting the national parks in South Florida.  You can find Miami hotels here.

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Biscayne National Park is about 10 miles from Homestead and it’s a straight shot over.  It’s about a 20 minute drive with good traffic.  If you’re also visiting Everglades National Park, this is a great base.  You can find hotels here.

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It’s about a 50 minute drive from Key Largo to Biscayne National Park and 40ish miles. If you want to do more beachy things, I’d stay in the keys.  You can find hotels here.

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Camping at Biscayne National Park

Camping at Biscayne National Park is a great way to spend time in the park and see a lot more of it.  There are two camping areas and both are only accessible by boat.  Boca Chita Key is the park’s most popular island and Elliot Key is the biggest.

  • There are no services on the islands.
  • There is no trash service, so pack it all out.
  • Any vessel in the harbor after 5 PM is considered an overnight stay.
  • There are no camping or docking fees from May 1 to September 30.
  • There are no reservations available, it is all first come, first serve.
  • Both campsites are open year-round.
  • Store food on your boat or in animal-proof containers so wildlife can’t get into it.
  • Fires are only allowed at the group campsite and wood can only be collected within the campground.

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Camping on Boca Chita Key

Boca Chita Key doesn’t have designated camp sites, but an open area to find a space.  I don’t know how many tents they allow, but it is first come first serve, so I would get there earlier, especially during the busy winter months (January and February, for sure.)  There is no freshwater, so bring enough, but there are salwater toilets, picnic tables, and grills.  There is a half-mile trail starting near the bathrooms that takes you to the south end of the island near the pavilion.

  • $25 per night for camping and boat docking.
  • $15 per night just for camping for up to six people and two tents.
  • Demand is high and it usually fills up on weekends and holidays in winter.
  • Pets are not allowed.

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Camping on Elliot Key

Elliot Key is the biggest island in the park and has 40 campsites available.  There are picnic tables, grills, and bathrooms with cold water showere available.  Drinking water is also available, but bring some extra just in case.  There are also two trails on the island, one is 7 miles from end to end of the island (14 miles round-trip) and the other is about a mile loop near the harbor.

  • $25 per night for camping and boat docking.
  • $15 per night just for camping for up to six people and two tents.
  • Demand is high and it can fill up on weekends and holidays in winter, but not always.  It’s not as busy as Boca Chita.
  • Pets are allowed on leashes in developed areas, but not in buildings or the swim area.

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How much is Biscayne National Park?

Free!  There is no entrance fee for Biscayne National Park, so it’s popular for locals to visit for fishing and swimming.  If you want to camp or do a boat tour, there are fees for those.

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What to do at Biscayne National Park

While Biscayne might not be full of hiking opportunities, there are tons of things to do on the water from snorkeling to boating and fishing to kayaking.  Visit on your own or go as part of a tour.  Either way, it’s a must-see park.

Walk the Mangrove Trail

If you’re just stopping by for a quick visit, this is the bsest (and really only) thing to do.  From the visitor center you’ll see the trail.  Follow the trail to a boardwalk then into the mangroves.  You can fish from the trail and swim, but it’s not super beachy.

Try Geocaching

There are actually a few Geocaches in the park, but there are a few right on the park boundary as well.  If you’re going out to the islands, there is one on each.  Here is a map of the area.  This is a fun way to spend an afternoon if you’re in the Biscayne/Everglades area.

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Go Canoeing/kayaking/paddleboarding

There are a few kayaking trails along the mangrove shore.  This is a great way to see the park from different perspective.  The shallow bays and along the shore area great places for less-experienced paddlers.  For more experienced paddlers, you can kayak the seven miles out to Elliot or Boca Chita Key.  Kayak, canoe, and paddle board rentals are available at the visitor center.  If you have your own vessel, you can launch for free.  If you are paddling, check the weather before you go and don’t try to paddle to the islands if you aren’t experienced enough.

Go Fishing

Fishing is allowed in the park and it offers a wide variety of fishing from sea grass to ship wrecks and reefs to sand flats.  You may not take lobsters or ornamental aquarium species.  If you don’t know anythign about fishing, take a fishing class at the park.  Just make sure you get a fishing liscence.

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Biscayne National Park boat tours

There are tons of boat tours in Biscayne to choose from to see the area.  You can find one that’s just right for you either from the Biscayne National Park Institute or one of the other authorized tour companies.

What you can see on which tour varies, but some of the things you can do re snorkel, SCUBA dive, sail, see Stiltsville, sightsee and fish.  Tour times also vary.  You can even snorkel on the Maritime Heritage Shipwreck Trail.  There are so many boat tours in Biscayne, but they can fill up, so I would book ahead.  You can try booking one at the park store when you get there.

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Other important things to know

  • There are no restaurants in the park so you need to bring any food you want/need during your visit.  There were some beverages and snacks in the gift shop, but not much.
  • If you only want to see the water part of the park, a quick visit might not b best for you.  Wait until you can plan a better water-based trip.
  • Overnight parking is allowed if you’re camping on one of the islands, just stop in the visitor center for a free parking permit.
  • The best time to visit Biscayne National Park is going to be in the winter months, especially January and February.

Have you been to Biscayne National Park?  Do you want to go?  What is your favorite thing to do there?

3 thoughts on “Biscayne National Park: Camping, Tours, And Everything Else You Need To Know

  1. I have to say I was a little underwhelmed by this park. I want to visit again when I can take a boat tour and maybe spend more time. I like Dry Tortugas and Everglades much better. Very informative post though.

    1. I totally get that! If you’re just on the mainland part, there really isn’t much to do. I would love to go back and take a boat trip, too. I can’t wait to go to Dry Tortugas!

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