Exploring Florida’s National Parks

It is quite easy to visit Florida’s three wonderful National Parks, during a long weekend! Florida is a large state, but all of the National Parks are pretty isolated in the southern part of the state; however, they aren’t the easiest of the National Parks to get to!

Florida’s Three National Parks

Florida has three National Parks, including: Everglades National Park, the easiest of the three to get to; Biscayne National Park, not to be confused with Key Biscayne; and my favorite and hardest to get to, Dry Tortuga National Park.

Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park is the “largest subtropical wilderness in the United States” (National Park Service). There are numerous ways to explore this National Park.

A few years ago, I rented a bike at Shark Valley and rode the paved pathway down Shark Valley. Although we didn’t see any sharks, we saw plenty of alligators on this 15 mile round trip bicycle ride. There is no shade, and on a hot sunny day, you won’t see many gators because they are likely in the water, cooling off. Visit the National Park Service website to download a map of Shark Valley (https://www.nps.gov/ever/planyourvisit/biking.htm).

There are plenty of hiking trails as well. The mosquitos are absolutely terrible, no matter the time of year you plan your visit. Bug spray did not work. I suggest long sleeves and pants!

There are also options to canoe and kayak in the Everglades. One day, I would love to canoe the 99-mile Wilderness Waterway.

The sunsets are stunning in the Everglades.

Dry Tortuga National Park

Dry Tortuga National Park is located 70 miles west of Key West and is only accessible by ferry or sea plane. So, yes, you have to get to Key West First! I took a wonderful ferry ride, which included lunch and a non-alcoholic beverage (https://www.drytortugas.com/rates-reservations/). I highly recommend this ferry service!

The Dry Tortugas are a group of islands in the Gulf of Mexico; the ferry and sea plane will drop you off on Garden Key, which is home to Fort Jefferson, a 19th century fort. If you bring a kayak, or your own boat, you can explore the other islands of the Dry Tortugas, but I just explored the fort.

Although you can camp at Fort Jefferson, a day trip via the ferry, allows you about 4 hours of exploration.

I found 4 hours to be plenty of time to explore. The crystal clear waters are great for snorkeling, which many people do during their visit.

I of course, spent the 4 hours photographing, instead of snorkeling. Although there are many people who visit Dry Tortuga on a daily basis, seclusion is possible, which is what I always seek.

When the storm rolled in, I was able to go back on the ferry, grab lunch and wait out the rain – another great part of the ferry ride.

Biscayne National Park

Biscayne National Park lies in the northern Florida Keys and is comprised of coral reefs, small islands and mangrove forest shorelines. It is only accessible by boat, and unless you have your own boat, I highly recommend contacting Island Dreamer Sailing for a full day of exploring the area (island-dreamer.com). I was very pleased with our captain, Harold, and the adventure which he took us on!

We started our adventure at the Biscayne National Park visitor center. From there we took the large sail boat to Boca Chita Key, which holds the historic and well known lighthouse, built in the 1930s. Although there are many places to visit throughout the 173,000 acres of aquamarine waters, we spent the majority of our day relaxing, paddle boarding and exploring around Boca Chita Key.

The crystal clear, green and blue waters were simple breathtaking. However, there were quite a bit of mosquitos in August, so don’t forget your bug spray!

Snorkeling wasn’t even necessary in many parts; the water was so clear, you could see the bottom while on the paddle board!

We even came across a man made sail boat that was used by Cuban refugees, fleeing to the United States. It was pretty interesting to see something I’ve only heard about from others, or on television.

I spent a lot of time out on the paddle board… the mosquitos weren’t quite as bad as they were on the island.

I did find quite a few fun places for hammock relaxing… until the mosquitos smelled my presence and continued to suck on my blood, making it a little bit miserable at times!

Of course I found many places for the perfect photograph, as it is one of the main reasons I travel!

Although, it was quite exhausting, I was able to visit all three of Florida’s National Parks in a 4 day visit to Miami. It was quite a bit of driving, but a lot of relaxing on charters to get to the locations. I highly encourage all of you to spend time exploring all the National Parks in Florida, but remember bug spray, sunscreen and of course, that beautiful smile of yours!

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