A Boat Ride in Biscayne National Park
by The Perkins
Outside the park
Established in 1968, Biscayne National Park, south of Miami on Florida's southern tip, is a very beautiful and unique addition to our National Parks. One of the things that makes this park so interesting is that most of it is underwater!
Biscayne NP is home to the world's third largest coral reef. There are four different ecosystems in the park, including the vast coral reefs, the northernmost islands of the Florida Keys, the shallow Biscayne Bay, and the Mangrove trees with their roots resting in the water.
In addition to the natural wonders of the park, Biscayne National Park has a vast human history as well. There is a little town in the water completely on stilts (we didn't get a chance to see it), an island a rich millionaire built a lighthouse on (we got to see that!) and shipwrecked boats with treasure lying underwater. Plus, real live pirates used to live here!
Biscayne was our final of the three South Florida National Parks that we went to so the kids could earn their Junior Ranger patch. Each of the parks, Big Cypress National Preserve, Everglades National Park, and Biscayne National Park had a pin-back badge available, but if they met the requirements for all three parks, they earned a special patch that I can sew onto their backpacks.
We got their early in the morning to attend the concessionaire glass bottom boat tour. It was about $100 for the four of us, (if you have AAA, ask for a discount!) and was a park sponsored 3 hour tour. (Sing it with me now, “A three-hour tour!”)
The website said to make reservations, so I called the day before. We did not have to put down a credit card deposit, just gave them our names. The website also said that with groups of 8 or more, a Park Ranger would attend the trip with us.
It was the first Monday in October that we went, and totally off-season. We were the only four people on the tour. Imagine our happy surprise that a Park Ranger came with us! The kids were hyper and ecstatic.
Waiting for the boat on the dock, the kids saw all kinds of small fish in the water, a crab who had climbed up a pole and onto the dock, and could hear birds and the American Flag flapping against a pole.
On the first part of our trip, our Ranger spoke of the four different ecosystems in the park, and named the various birds we saw on buoys that we were passing. The kids asked lots of “kid questions” like “why is that bird on that pole?” and “how long do dolphins hold their breath under water?”
Once the boat hit open water and picked up speed, the captain allowed both William and Sara the opportunity to steer the boat! That was the highlight of both of their day! And he really let them do it too.
Sara did really good. The Captain told her to keep a feature of an island in her sight, and she was plowing straight towards it. William, on the other hand, practically had us turned around at one point, where the Captain effortlessly corrected the path.
They were thrilled!
We didn't see too much in the glass bottom of the boat, except various sponges. The Ranger had brought along a backpack full of different samples, so the kids got to hold some coral and sponges. Their favorite was the brain coral. It really resembles a brain! And the one we held was the same size as the real brain we held at the Bodies Exhibit, so we thought the name was perfect.
We landed on Boca Chita Key and got to walk around the island. I don't think the kids really grasped that we were on an island accessible only by boat (or a really good swim!) This little island was once the privately owned island of a millionaire who decided to build a lighthouse.
The stone lighthouse was really cool, and since the Ranger was with us, she unlocked it and we were able to climb the two story stone lighthouse and look out over the horizon. The lighthouse was not a functional lighthouse, as if the owner had actually lit it, it would have confused boats and they may have crashed.
Walking around the small island, we saw a bunch of coral in the water, and lots of hermit crabs. The only problem was the mosquitoes! I am one of those lucky people that usually doesn't have trouble with the biting monsters. I don't wear bug spray and I am normally fine (the family jokes that my blood isn't sweet enough for them). But let me tell you, these mosquitoes were thick! It felt like we were in a swarm of them!
We had planned to eat our picnic lunch on the island, but after just 10 minutes on Boca Chita Key, our limbs were covered with squished bugs, and the kids had caught onto the idea of hitting each other in the back to slap the blood suckers.
So, after touring the lighthouse, we got back on the boat and ate our sandwiches there. The ride back to the visitors center was just as fun, as the kids once again got to steer the boat. One of the benefits of a private tour!
We could see Miami in the distance on the boat, but even though we were so close to such a large bustling city, Biscayne National Park really gave us the feeling that we were out in the middle of nowhere. We were not lucky enough to see any dolphins or sting rays on the trip, but we still got a very unique tour and had a blast.
After arriving back on shore, we went to the visitor's center and watched a movie. Then we played with all the items on the touch tables and finished the Junior Ranger workbooks.
William took a little longer than Sara to finish his worksheets (she had done a page in the truck) so Sara and I went out to the porch overlooking the water to sit in the rocking chairs and look and listen. A seagull decided to befriend Sara, and literally chased her around the deck. It even followed her down the stairs!
Both kids were sworn in as Junior Rangers, like they were at the other parks that we visited. The really cool part about this ceremony was that the Park Ranger put a little “extra” into their coronation. She had them both promise to keep their rooms clean in addition to keeping the waters of South Florida clean! They didn't even notice.
In addition to the pin back Junior Ranger badge, they got their tear drop shaped patch, which will make a lovely addition to their backpacks.
Don't miss Biscayne National Park on your trip to South Florida. It's worth the drive! And since the park is mostly water, a boat tour is worth the price. We had a blast, and would recommend it to all ages.