One Of Florida's Best Snorkeling Spots Is A National Park Full Of Vibrant Coral Reefs

Here's something you might not be aware of: There is a national park that is only a short drive away from Miami. We're talking about Biscayne Bay National Park, located in Homestead, Florida. This is different from your average destination. Officially established as a national park in 1980, it consists of over 172,000 acres. However, 95% is water. As a result, Biscayne Bay National Park has burgeoning and colorful coral reefs. In fact, The Alliance for Florida's National Parks states that there are over 600 species of fish alone, among other aquatic life. This is partly thanks to polyps, creatures that create coral reefs. 


This breathtaking underwater scenery and its shallow waters have made it one of the most stunning snorkeling spots in the U.S. That said, the best way for visitors to experience the astonishing ecosystem found at Biscayne Bay National Park is through a guided excursion with the Biscayne National Park Institute. Endorsed by the National Parks Service, the organization has a three-and-a-half-hour Snorkel Experience


We had a perfect day in Biscayne National Park with Captain Marco!! 95% of this park is underwater and 100% of it is amazing 🐠 • • • #biscaynenationalpark #nationalparks #snorkeling #snorkel #fish #shipwreck #wreckdiving #ocean #coral #coralreef #florida #floridasnorkeling #nationalparkservice #nps @National Park Service


♬ Sunroof – Nicky Youre & dazy

Guests will explore the iridescent reefs and interact with the flourishing wildlife surrounding Biscayne Bay National Park. The Snorkel Experience is $115 per person at the time of this writing. But there is a caveat: The tour will take guests to only one of the three spots decided on by the boat's captain (based on weather and sea conditions). This includes the famed reefs in the open ocean, the park's luscious mangrove forest, or its shipwrecks.

Discover Biscayne Bay National Park's shipwrecks

Biscayne Bay National Park is a thrilling destination for history buffs, with more than 40 shipwrecks. This might even contribute to the blossoming coral reefs, as research indicates (via Smithsonian Ocean) that shipwrecks are known to aid in creating ecosystems. Why are there so many shipwrecks here? As previously mentioned, the waters at Biscayne Bay National Park are shallow. This, in turn, causes ships to run aground. 


The Maritime Heritage Trail allows visitors to traverse the remnants of six notable shipwrecks. These ill-fated vessels, from oldest to newest, include Arratoon Apcar, Erl King, Alicia, Lugano, and Mandalay. For reference, Arratoon Apcar sank in 1878 and Mandalay in 1966. These two are especially ideal for snorkelers, while Erl King, Alicia, and Lugano are best for scuba divers. As previously mentioned, visitors can opt for the Snorkel Experience from the Biscayne National Park Institute to get a chance to explore the shipwrecks. 

The institute also offers a six-person Scuba Eco-Adventure. Of course, this activity is more in-depth (pun intended) than snorkeling. As such, scuba certification is required. While not guaranteed, the six-hour excursion includes the option to take divers on the Maritime Heritage Trail. Like the Snorkel Experience, your guide will ultimately decide if this is doable on the day of the excursion. If not, diving will occur at the park's coral reefs or mangrove forest. At the time of this writing, the price is $298 per person.


What else is there to do at Biscayne Bay National Park?

Biscayne Bay National Park may primarily be water, but it's still a hidden gem for outdoor adventures. The park has several islands, including Elliot Key and Boca Chita Key (pictured). Visitors are welcome to hike or camp on either island. However, they will have to bring their boats, as a ferry is not available. Alternatively, guests could book the Elliot Key Eco-Adventure or the Boca Chita Key Heritage Cruise with the Biscayne National Park Institute. The former includes kayaking, picnicking on Elliot Key, and more. The price is $209 per person at the time of this writing. On the other hand, the Boca Chita Key Heritage Cruise is centered on history and a famed lighthouse. Prices are $49 and $83 for children and adults, respectively.


Moreover, Biscayne Bay National Park is home to the Dante Fascell Visitor Center, which includes a museum and art gallery. It's open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Note that unless otherwise specified, most tours provided by the Biscayne National Park Institute depart from the Dante Fascell Visitor Center. 

There are no fees to visit Biscayne Bay National Park. However, if you plan on bringing your boat to Elliot Key or Boca Chita Key, there is a $25 docking fee. Likewise, camping is an additional $35 a night.