Florida Keys/Southern Florida Quick Guide


Key West, Florida Keys
Key West, Florida Keys

The Florida Keys and Southern Florida are the tropical paradise of the continental US.  Traveling through this area, you will see exotic plants and animals not found elsewhere in mainland USA.   From this part of the country, you can also access the third largest coral reef in the world, and the largest coral reef in the US, the Florida Reef.  Moreover, this area is home to three National Parks–Dry Tortugas National Park, Biscayne National Park and Everglades National Park.  Lastly, the Overseas Highway that spans the Florida Keys, from Key Largo to Key West, has been rated as one of the most beautiful drives in the US with it’s scenic ocean views.

Biscayne National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park, Everglades National Park
Biscayne National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park, Everglades National Park

We spent 10 days exploring the Florida Keys and Southern Florida area on our babymoon.  During this time, we visited Everglades National Park (see Everglades National Park Quick Guide), Biscayne National Park (see Biscayne National Park Quick Guide), Dry Tortugas National Park (see Dry Tortugas National Park Quick Guide), Miami, the Florida Keys and everywhere in-between.  On our trip, we saw SO much wildlife including iguanas, dolphins, sharks, alligators, sea turtles, manatees and many different birds.  We recommend spending at least one week in the Florida Keys and Southern Florida, potentially longer, if you want to see all three of these National Parks and a large majority of what the Florida Keys has to offer. 

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. That means that, at no cost to you, we may get a small commission if you purchase through these links. This helps us keep providing travel resources for you!


What to do in the Florida Keys/Southern Florida


Visit Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park
Dry Tortugas National Park

This park is located 70 miles west of Key West and is one of the most remote and secluded National Parks in the US.  To get to this uninhabited island, you have to either take a seaplane or a ferry.  Highlights of visiting this National Park include exploring the historic Fort Jefferson (built in the 1800s) and snorkeling in the crystal clear water around the Fort. A visit to this park is not one you will soon forget.  See our Dry Tortugas National Park Quick Guide for all the details about visiting this National Park.  

Dry Tortugas National Park


Visit Biscayne National Park

Biscayne National Park
Biscayne National Park

Biscayne National Park is located near Homestead, Florida (Southeast Florida) and is 95% water.  Highlights of visiting this park include traveling across the very clear Biscayne Bay, exploring the mangroves, snorkeling around the mangroves on the bay side of the park or in the Florida Reef on the Atlantic side of the park. To visit this National Park, take a tour with the Biscayne National Park Institute.  We highly recommend sailing, snorkeling, kayaking and visiting one of the remote Keys during your time at this park.  For all the the details on visiting this National Park, see our Biscayne National Park Quick Guide

Biscayne National Park


Visit Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park
Everglades National Park

This National Park, the 4th largest US National Park, spans from the Miami area all the way down into the Florida Keys so there are many points to access it.  On the northern end of the park, visit Shark Valley and rent a bike or ride a tram on the loop road to see more Alligators than ever before.  Near the Homestead entrance (Ernest F. Coe entrance), you can explore many different hiking trails and/or canoe/kayak.  Near both of these areas, you can also take an Airboat ride.  The possibilities are endless.  See our Everglades National Park Quick Guide for all the details about visiting this park.  

Everglades National Park


Visit the Turtle Hospital

Turtle Hospital, Marathon, FL
Turtle Hospital, Marathon, FL

In Marathon Key, there is a unique Turtle Hospital, that rescues local sea turtles, that we recommend visiting.  Here, you can take a tour and see more sea turtles than ever before.  On the first part of your tour, you will learn about the different types of sea turtles in Florida and how/why the turtles end up at the Turtle Hospital.  On the second part of your tour, you get to see many of these massive sea turtle patients and permanent residents up close.

Sea Turtle Hospital
Sea Turtle Hospital

This hospital’s goal is to release as many of the sea turtle patients as possible back into the wild, but some turtles become permanent residents here as they would not survive in the wild on their own.  This tour costs $27/person and is well worth every dollar.  

Turtle Hospital

Mile Marker 48.5


Take a Pontoon Boat Tour

Pontoon Boat Tour
Pontoon Boat Tour

This pontoon boat tour, based in Key Largo, explores a small portion of the southern saltwater Everglades National Park, part of John Pennekamp State Park and some of the Key Largo Canals.  On this tour, we saw manatees (a mom and her baby), giant iguanas and plenty of different birds.  Our captain on this tour, Captain Tony, was very entertaining and we learned quite a bit of history about the different areas we visited. 

Pontoon Boat Tour
Pontoon Boat Tour

Key Largo Everglades Eco Tour

Mile Marker 101.9


Spend a day in Key West

Key West, Florida Keys
Key West, Florida Keys

Key West is the most vibrant, fun and walkable of the Florida Keys.  On Duval street (the most lively street on the island), there are 43 bars alone, which speaks to the exuberant party scene here.   With all the bars and the unique style of the houses on the island, Key West felt to us like a Tropical New Orleans.  If you are looking to take advantage of the nightlife here, you may want to consider staying down on this Key.  

Key West Tourism Website

Key West Food Scene 

Lucy’s (left) and Conch Republic Seafood (middle & right)

A large part of the Key West culture is the many different vibrant restaurants.   During your visit to Key West, make sure to stop at Conch Republic Seafood for a meal, our favorite restaurant on the island.  This restaurant is located right along the harbor with delicious seafood.  We recommend getting the blackened snapper and the seafood ravioli but really do not think you could go wrong with anything on the menu.  For other meals, we recommend eating at Blue Heaven (good brunch) and Lucy’s (casual diverse food, on Duval street).  However, you will have plenty of different options to choose from. 

Conch Republic Seafood

Sunset Celebration

Key West Sunset Celebration
Key West Sunset Celebration

While in Key West, make sure not to miss the Sunset Celebration.  This nightly celebration starts about an hour or two before sunset when street performers, artists and food vendors fill Mallory Square.   These street performers look to make tips by dazzling onlookers while artists and food vendors look to sell their products.  The Sunset Festival is really a Key West cultural experience. The sunset over the ocean from Mallory Square is also truly unmatched and not to be missed.  

Sunset Celebration

Other Key West Activities

Key West, Florida Keys
Key West, Florida Keys

Another fun thing to do while in Key West is to take your picture by the Southernmost point of the Island, the closest spot in the US to Cuba (90 miles from).  Also, seeing chickens/roosters everywhere on the island is part of the Key West experience.  We saw at least 30 chickens and roosters during our day in Key West.  Other things we did not have time for while visiting Key West but have heard good things about include visiting the Ernest Hemingway House (one of the most famous Key West residents) and watching the Turtle races (bet on Turtles racing) at the Turtle Kraals.  

Tip: If visiting Dry Tortugas National Park, we recommend doing your day in Key West on the same day you visit the park (if you are taking the seaplane/doing the half day tour). 


Visit Bahia Honda State Park 

Bahia Honda State Park
Bahia Honda State Park

At Bahia Honda State Park, you can hike (about 1 mile trail), kayak, fly a kite or lay out on the beautiful natural sandy beach. The views from the old Bahia Honda Bridge are very pretty.  We enjoyed hiking on the trail and exploring the park for an hour or so.  

Admission is $4.50/person, $9/two people and 50 cents more per person after two.  

Bahia Honda State Park
Bahia Honda State Park

Tip: If staying in one the more northern Florida Keys, stop here in the morning on your way to Key West or after visiting the Turtle Hospital. You only need an hour of two at this beach, depending on what you want to do, and this will minimize your driving time on different days. 

Mile Marker 37


Feed the Tarpon at Robbie’s Marina 

Spending an afternoon at Robbie’s Marina will offer you a plethora of activities to choose from.  You can eat at the Hungry Tarpon restaurant (we highly recommend–great views and good food), rent a kayak or boat, shop at the different stores/stands or the most unique and well-known activity, “Feed the Tarpon.”  

Feed The Tarpon, Robbie's Marina, Islamorada
Feed The Tarpon, Robbie’s Marina, Islamorada

“Feed the Tarpon” involves feeding tarpon, which are giant, 4 foot up to 8 foot, fish that can go flying into the air to grab fish to eat.  At Robbie’s, buy a bucket or two of fish ($4/bucket, food for the Tarpons) and admission to the pier ($2.25/person) that these tarpons frequent.  Then, go onto the pier and feed the tarpon by holding fish near the water in the designated area. 

Robbie's Marina, Islamorada
Robbie’s Marina, Islamorada

Feeding these tarpon is quite entertaining as they jump high into the air to get fish that are being fed to them.   It is really a spectacle as, even though you know they are going to jump into the air, it is quite startling with their size.  Further, adding the experience, there are always many Pelicans waiting very closely (maybe too closely) for a fish to accidentally get dropped to them.  Also, when we fed the tarpon, we saw a 5+ foot shark in the water with the tarpon, making our experience even more unique. 

Robbie’s Marina

Mile Marker 77.5


Eat Key Lime Pie

While in the Florida Keys, make sure you eat the iconic desert of these islands, key lime pie. The authentic Florida Keys style is served with meringue.  The best meringue key lime pie we had in the Florida Keys was at the Fish House in Key Largo.  If whipped cream is more your style, the best whipped cream key lime pie is from Key Largo Chocolates. Regardless of what kind you get, make sure you get some.  

Key Lime Pie, Florida Keys
Key Lime Pie, Florida Keys

Note: The key lime pie in the Florida Keys is not green, it is more of a light yellow, unlike other places we have eaten it in the US.  This less vibrant coloring reminded us of how you know if gelato is the real deal. Generally speaking, authentic gelato will not have extreme or vibrant coloring either. See…coming soon…Rome, Italy Quick Guide.


Spend a day in Miami 

Miami is a lively, colorful and culturally vibrant city to explore.  The options on what to do while in Miami for a day are really endless. However, we most recommend visiting both Little Havana and the Wynwood area during your time there.

Little Havana

In Little Havana, make sure to visit Calle Ocho.  Here, you will be impressed by the many colorful murals and different authentic Cuban (and other Latino) restaurants.  On this street, there is also the famous Domino Park (small park where locals come to play dominos), Walk of Fame (stars in the sidewalk highlighting famous Cuban Americans) and Cuban Memorial Boulevard Park (a pretty and peaceful park located right off Calle Ocho).  

Little Havana, Miami
Little Havana, Miami

Tip: To find Calle Ocho, either search for Domino Park or Cuban Memorial Boulevard Park in your GPS and you will be sure to stumble upon it. 

Wynwood

After visiting Little Havana, head to Wynwood.  Here, you will also be impressed by the many different murals that seem to be on nearly every building or business you pass.  You can explore these murals through walking around or driving.  We recommend eating lunch at Tacomiendo while in Wynwood.  This simple outdoor eatery, which is BYOB, serves delicious tacos (at least 10 to choose from) that you can enjoy on a pretty outdoor patio.  

Wynwood, Miami
Wynwood, Miami

Next, consider spending the afternoon at the lively and youthful South Beach.  Here, you can go roller skating, relax on the beach or simply people watch.  We opted not to visit South Beach, as we had plenty of ocean time during other parts of our trip but we think it would be a fun place to explore.  

Visit Miami


Rent Bikes 

There are plenty of different bike rental shops in the Florida Keys.  If you want to rent it conveniently, you can rent from a place near where you are staying or if you want to explore another Key, you can rent a bike in a different Key.  We rented bikes in Key Largo, from All Keys Cycles, and really liked exploring the Key via bike. We found biking around the Keys to be more enjoyable than walking as the breeze created while on the bike was much appreciated. Biking was a fun way to see a lot of the different neighborhoods/houses in Key Largo. 

Bike Riding in Key Largo
Bike Riding in Key Largo

While riding bikes, we played the “name the price game” of different houses for sale.  This is where we would both guess how much a house was for sale and then look up how much it was actually for sale.  We found this to be entertaining as the real estate market is really much more pricey than what we are used to in Wisconsin.  

All Keys Cycles

Mile Marker 103.4


Visit Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park

Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park
Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park

At Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park, you can see the fossils of different coral reefs on the approximately 1.5 miles of hiking trails here.  Plan to spend an hour or so here on the hiking trails looking at the different coral reefs fossilized. This is a nice to see, not must see, so only stop here if it is along the way (you will likely pass it at least one of the days while driving).  

Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park
Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park

Tips: This state park, similar to some other state parks (not Bahia Honda) in the Keys, is only open Thursday-Sunday so plan accordingly.  The park admission is $2.50/person and bring this in exact change as you will likely pay the self-pay station. 

Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park

Mile Marker 84.9


Where to Eat in the Florida Keys and Southern Florida


As our Airbnb had a kitchen and a covered patio overlooking the ocean, we cooked/ate most of our meals at our Airbnb.  However, we did eat out several times and below are our recommendations for different areas. 


Key Largo

  1. Fish House (seafood, good meringue key lime pie)
  2. Key Largo Chocolates (best to-go whipped cream key lime pie) 
  3. Hobo’s (seafood) 

Key West

  1. Conch Republic Seafood (harbourfront dining, seafood)
  2. Blue Heaven (good breakfast/brunch)
  3. Lucy’s (on Duval Street, causal) 
  4. Kermit’s (key lime pie)

Islamorada

  1. Hungry Tarpon (seafood)

Homestead

  1. Robbies (fruit stand, delicious fruit milkshakes/smoothies)
  2. La Quebradita Mexican Grill (Mexican)

Where to Stay in Southern Florida/ The Florida Keys


Stay in Homestead or one of the Florida Keys 

We based ourselves in northern Key Largo, at a cute Airbnb perfect for two people, right on the Atlantic Ocean.  This location was perfect for us because we wanted to stay in the same place our whole Florida Keys/Southern Florida trip to make it a bit more relaxing (packing and unpacking numerous times in a trip can be a bit exhausting).  We were very happy to find this little slice of paradise, that was reasonably priced, with a beautiful view.  It was a 2 hour and 15 minute drive to Key West from here but we only made that drive one day so it was manageable.  The other days, we were within 30 minutes to 1 hour drive of where we were going. 

Key Largo Airbnb
Key Largo Airbnb

Lookout Point Airbnb in Key Largo at Mile Marker 113

Use this link to get up to $65 off your first Airbnb

Alternatively, you could also stay a little further down in the Keys for an even more central location (such as Islamorada).  Another option is to split your time between Homestead or Key Largo and Key West.  However, keep in mind that accommodations only get more expensive as you get further down into the Keys and closer/into Key West.  Conversely, accommodations in Homestead are on the more reasonably priced than any accommodations in the Keys.  


We hope this guide helps you plan your trip to the Florida Keys and Southern Florida.  Anything you’d add to our guide? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions.  Please leave us a comment!

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!

Dry Tortugas National Park Quick Guide

Dry Tortugas National Park
Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park is one of the most remote and secluded National Parks in the US.  It is located about 70 miles west of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico and the only way to access it is by seaplane or boat.  This National Park is home to the massive Fort Jefferson, a large brick structure built in the 1800s to help protect the shipping lanes in this part of the ocean and then later used to hold Civil War prisoners. This park preserves not only Fort Jefferson but also the seven Dry Tortugas islands, the most western of the Florida Keys. This island is surrounded by the clearest blue water and is well-known for its excellent snorkeling and scuba diving. You can visit this National Park for the day or stay at one of the 8 primitive campsites overnight.  We recommend spending at least a morning or an afternoon exploring this park, if not more time.  Here is our quick guide for visiting Dry Tortugas National Park.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. That means that, at no cost to you, we may get a small commission if you purchase through these links. This helps us keep providing travel resources for you!


How to get to Dry Tortugas National Park

Snorkeling, Fort & Moat, Dry Tortugas National Park
Snorkeling, Fort & Moat, Dry Tortugas National Park

There are two ways to get to Dry Tortugas National Park

  1. Take a Seaplane…Key West Seaplane Charters
  2. Take a Ferry…Dry Tortugas Ferry

Both options have their pros and cons but we highly recommend taking the seaplane, which is what we did. 

Fun Fact: Last time we were on a plane this size was when we met 7.5 years ago in Belize.  Crazy how a plane ride can change your life forever! 

Why take the Seaplane 


It’s Faster

Seaplane to Dry Tortugas National Park
Seaplane to Dry Tortugas National Park

The seaplane takes 35 minutes each way whereas the ferry takes 2.5 hours each way. If you take the ferry, you will be spending 5 hours of your day on it where conversely, on the seaplane, you will only spend a little over an hour. This allowed us our whole morning to explore Key West prior to going to Dry Tortugas as we went on the 2pm-6pm seaplane trip.  The plane ride to/from Dry Tortugas goes by very fast as well .  On the ride, the pilot is either pointing out different wildlife and viewpoints or an educational recording about the park is playing.  You’ll be at the park or back in Key West before you know it. 


The Views from Above

View from above on the Seaplane
View from above on the Seaplane

The views from above on the seaplane are really neat!  You fly at 500 feet elevation so you can see into the water quite well from the plane. Our pilot pointed out sharks, dolphins, stingrays and sea turtles along the way which were all very fun to see.  You’ll also see some sunken shipwrecks and other islands on the way to the park.  Our favorite view was seeing Fort Jefferson from above before landing on the water at the park. 


Avoid the Crowds 

Moat Views, Dry Tortugas National Park
Moat Views, Dry Tortugas National Park

Further, when you visit on the 8am or the 2pm seaplane trip, you will almost completely have the island to yourself.  The only other people at the park at those times will either be from one of the two small 10-person seaplanes or campers on the island (there are only 8 remote sites). If you visit on the ferry, it carries up to 175 people and it will certainly feel more crowded during your visit.  Be sure to book the seaplane in advance and book the 8am or 2pm trip to avoid any crowds. 

The seaplane is about twice the cost of the ferry (which is still expensive) but with all the pros to taking the seaplane, we think the extra cost is well worth it.


Other Seaplane Logistics

Seaplane to Dry Tortugas National Park
Seaplane to Dry Tortugas National Park

With the seaplane you have the option to do a full day trip (8 hours total, with 6.5 hours at the park) or a half day trip (4 hours total, with 2.5 hours at the park).  We did the half day trip and felt it was adequate to tour Fort Jefferson and do all the snorkeling we wanted around the Fort.  However, if you are looking to spend more time relaxing on the island or want to snorkel for more than an hour, you may want to book the full day tour.  Keep in mind though, the full day tour is twice the cost of the half day tour. 

Included with your seaplane trip is the use of snorkel gear for the day as well as a cooler of soft drinks of your choice to enjoy on the island. Both of these were added perks. It was especially nice to not have to pack or purchase our own snorkel gear for the trip.  


Caution: Beware of Motion Sickness

If you are prone to motion sickness (like Natalie), you may experience it on the seaplane.  Prior to our trip, one pro that sold us on the seaplane was being told it was a way to avoid the motion sickness sometimes experienced on the ferry.  However, on our trip, we did not find that to be the case.  Our pilot did several banking 360 degree turns to show us different creatures on our trip to/from the park.  Although these turns provided us some stellar wildlife views, they did not bode well for Natalie’s stomach. 

If you take meclizine for motion sickness, try to take that before the flight to/from the island.  Also, make sure you are hydrated and are dressed cool as the plane tends to be quite warm (which does not help with any motion sickness).  See, coming soon, How to Prevent Motion Sickness While Traveling.  Again, we recommend taking the seaplane over the ferry and would both take it again but just be aware that it may be a bit of a roller coaster ride for your stomach.


What to do at Dry Tortugas National Park


Snorkel

Snorkeling Dry Tortugas National Park
Snorkeling Dry Tortugas National Park

The snorkeling at Dry Tortugas National Park was hands down the best snorkeling we have ever done. The water here is crystal clear and the coral reef growing around the moat of Fort Jefferson is so colorful.  We saw many different colored and sized fish while snorkeling around the moat.  If you are a more experienced snorkeler, you can also snorkel in some deeper water on the North and South Beach of the park which is supposed to be stunning as well.  We highly recommend spending at least an hour, if not more time, snorkeling while visiting the park. 


Tour Fort Jefferson

Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park
Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park

At the park, you can take a self-guided tour of Fort Jefferson.  This took us about 45 minutes to do.  On the tour, you can read history about different aspects of the Fort.  It was also really astounding to walk through this brick fortress as it was built at this very remote location with such limited resources in the 1800s.  The architecture of the Fort is really pretty.  From the top of the Fort, you get great views overlooking the park as well.  

Water Views from Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park
Water Views from Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park

Relax on the Beach 

Pristine Beach, Dry Tortugas National Park
Pristine Beach, Dry Tortugas National Park

The beach here is pristine.  If you have time, enjoy a beverage overlooking the clear blue water while on the white sandy beach.   


Where to Stay when visiting Dry Tortugas National Park


Key Largo Airbnb
Key Largo Airbnb

We opted to stay in Key Largo and take a day trip to Key West (about 2.25 hours from Key West) to visit Dry Tortugas National Park. Going to Dry Tortugas this way does make for a long day (we left at 6am and got back to our place around 11pm).  If you want to spend more than part of a day exploring Key West, in addition to visiting Dry Tortugas, you will want to stay in Key West or another one of the more southern Florida Keys such as Marathon.  

We stayed at a cute Airbnb, perfect for two people, right on the Atlantic in Key Largo and would highly recommend it if looking to stay further up in the Florida Keys.  On our trip, we also visited Everglades National Park (see Everglades National Park Quick Guide), Biscayne National Park (see Biscayne National Park Quick Guide) and Miami in addition to Key West, the other Florida Keys (see Florida Keys/Southern Florida Quick Guide) and Dry Tortugas National Park so we wanted a more central homebase than one of the more Southern Florida Keys.  

Lookout Point Airbnb in Key Largo

Use this link to get up to $65 off your first Airbnb


We hope this guide helps you plan your trip to Dry Tortugas National Park.  Anything you’d add to our guide? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions.  Please leave us a comment!

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!

Biscayne National Park Quick Guide


Snorkeling in Biscayne National Park
Snorkeling in Biscayne National Park

Biscayne National Park is located in Southeast Florida, just south of Miami, and is about 95% water. It preserves not only Biscayne Bay but also the mangroves and coral reef associated with it. This includes the northernmost portion of the Florida Reef, the third largest coral reef in the world.  Further, several of the small, northernmost Florida Keys, such as Elliot and Adam’s Key, are part of this park. We recommend spending 1-2 days in this park depending on what you would like to see or do in it. Here is our quick guide on Biscayne National Park. 

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. That means that, at no cost to you, we may get a small commission if you purchase through these links. This helps us keep providing travel resources for you!


What to do in Biscayne National Park 


Take a day trip with the Biscayne National Park Institute 

Kayaking Views in Biscayne National Park
Kayaking Views in Biscayne National Park

Since this National Park is 95% water, you need to get out on the water to really experience it. The best way to do this is to take a day trip with the Biscayne National Park Institute. This nonprofit company is the only company allowed to run day trips in Biscayne National Park. The Institute offers many different options for day trips depending on your interest.  Be sure to book your trip far in advance so that you have your pick of different tours.  We booked our trip about 3 months ahead of time for March travel with no issues; however, availability will likely vary depending on time of year.

Sail, Paddle, Snorkel and Island Visit

Sail, Paddle, Snorkel and Island Visit Day Trip, Biscayne National Park
Sail, Paddle, Snorkel and Island Visit Day Trip, Biscayne National Park

We did the Sail, Paddle, Snorkel and Island Visit day trip and highly recommend it.  This day excursion is a great mix of activity and allows you to get a little taste of everything while in the park.  First, this trip will take you on a sailboat ride across Biscayne Bay to one of the Keys within the park. Our trip took us to the secluded, peaceful and small Adams Key.  On this island, there are only two houses for National Park Rangers and a small bathroom. Besides that, you have the island completely to yourself/group. 

Adams Key (left) Biscayne National Park, Kayaking & Water (middle & right) Biscayne National Park
Adams Key (left) Biscayne National Park, Kayaking & Water (middle & right) Biscayne National Park

After relaxing and eating lunch (pack/bring your own) on the Key, you will take a kayak or a standup paddleboard into the mangroves where you will then have the opportunity to go snorkeling in the very clear blue and shallow water.  While snorkeling here, we saw a lot of different pretty colored fish along the fringes of the mangroves and really enjoyed it.  While kayaking through the mangroves, we saw a juvenile shark which was pretty neat too (avoid calling it a baby shark to avoid getting a certain song stuck in your head).  After paddling and snorkeling for several hours, you will make your way back to the sailboat and then sail back to the mainland.  We found this trip to be the right balance of relaxation and activity. 

Sail, Paddle, Snorkel and Island Visit

Other Excursions Options

Biscayne National Park
Biscayne National Park

The Institute also offers several other day trips that go to the Atlantic side of the park and into the coral reefs. On the same trip, we were also visiting Dry Tortugas National Park (see ***)  and going to go snorkeling in the coral reef there. Therefore, we opted to stay in the calm, bayside waters near the mangroves while visiting Biscayne. 

Make sure to look at all the daytrip options and pick one that suits your interests. You may consider doing two different day trips into the park to see two different parts of Biscayne as well. Once you book one trip with the Institute, you will likely get a small discount offer to book another.  If you plan on purchasing two excursions, book your top choice first and wait to see if you get an email for a discount after booking to book another. 


Where to Stay to Visit Biscayne National Park


Stay in Homestead or Key Largo

Key Largo Airbnb
Key Largo Airbnb

We opted to stay on the northern end of Key Largo, which is about 30 minutes from Biscayne National Park.  We stayed at a cute Airbnb, perfect for two people, right on the Atlantic that we found to be an excellent place to unwind and would recommend it.  

On our trip, we were also visiting Everglades National Park (see Everglades National Park Quick Guide), Dry Tortugas National Park (see Dry Tortugas National Park Quick Guide), the Florida Keys (see Florida Keys/Southern Florida Quick Guide) and Miami so we wanted a more central homebase than staying in Homestead.  However, if only visiting Biscayne National Park, Everglades National Park and/or Miami, you may want to stay in Homestead as it is closer to all three of those. 

Lookout Point Airbnb in Key Largo

Use this link to get up to $65 off your first Airbnb


We hope this guide helps you plan your trip to Biscayne National Park.  Anything you’d add to our guide? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions.  Please leave us a comment!

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!

Everglades National Park Quick Guide


Biking in Shark Valley, Everglades National Park
Biking in Shark Valley, Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park is the largest subtropical wilderness in the US, spanning from southern mainland Florida and into the Florida Keys.  It is the 4th largest National Park in the US and spans over both freshwater and saltwater environments.  Everglades National Park is home to many different unique species including manatees, panthers, numerous birds, the American crocodile (prefer saltwater) and alligators (only live in freshwater).  Fun fact: this park is the only natural habitat in the world where alligators and crocodiles live among one another.  

Hiking in Everglades National Park, Alligator & American White Ibis in Everglades National Park
Hiking in Everglades National Park, Alligator & American White Ibis in Everglades National Park

Our favorite part of visiting Everglades National Park was seeing heaps of Alligators while biking in Shark Valley but we also enjoyed our time hiking and seeing many different species of birds.  We recommend spending 1-3 days in the park, depending on everything you want to do while visiting.  Here is our quick guide on Everglades National Park.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. That means that, at no cost to you, we may get a small commission if you purchase through these links. This helps us keep providing travel resources for you!


What to Do in Everglades National Park 


Visit Shark Valley

Biking in Shark Valley, Everglades National Park
Biking in Shark Valley, Everglades National Park

In Shark Valley, located in the northern section of Everglades National Park near Miami, you will have the opportunity to see more alligators in nature than likely ever before.  If you only do one thing in Everglades National Park, do this.  Here, you can rent a bike or take a tram ride on the paved Shark Valley loop trail that abuts the water.  We recommend renting and riding bikes (if you are physically capable) over taking the tram as you can stop and look at/take pictures of wildlife as you please.  However, if riding a tram is more of your jam, you will get to hear a bit of history from the tram guide and still see plenty of wildlife. 

Wildlife on the Trail
Alligators on Shark Valley Trail, Everglades National Park
Alligators on Shark Valley Trail, Everglades National Park

Along the trail, you will see loads of wildlife.  On our 15 mile bike ride, we saw 50+ alligators (including about 5 babies), 100+ birds and several turtles.  Some of the alligators were even right on the trail!  Don’t worry though, we felt completely safe while passing these alligators on our bikes and, most of the time, we were 15+ feet away (which is considered a safe viewing distance for an alligator).  These alligators seemed to care less that we were there and seemed more concerned about soaking up the sun.  

Trail Logistics
Observation Tower, Everglades National Park
Observation Tower, Everglades National Park

This trail is 15 miles in total and almost completely flat.  It is a loop trail and at the halfway point, there is an observation tower you can climb up to see the Everglades horizon, which seems to stretch endlessly.  From this observation tower, we were also able to see many alligators from above.   

Bike Rental Logistics
Biking in Shark Valley, Everglades National Park
Biking in Shark Valley, Everglades National Park

Make sure to plan ahead if you want to rent bikes at Shark Valley.  Make reservations online for the day of your choosing ($20/bike/day) and then you can pick up your bike that day between 8:30am and 12:30pm. Although you do not need to pick up your bike first thing in the morning, we highly recommend picking it up as close to 8:30am as possible.  At this early time, there are very few trams (we only saw 2 on our whole ride) or other people on the trail.  It is really nice to have the trail and observation tower to yourself as much as possible. The weather is more mild/less hot in the morning, making for a more pleasant ride at this time as well.  Additionally, you have first choice from the group of bikes at that park as many of the bikes are operational but weathered.

Everglades National Park Bike Reservations

Everglades National Park
Everglades National Park

If you do not make reservations online (you may not be able to if all sold out), you can get a bike on a first come, first serve basis when they are returned from the morning riders with reservations.  However, there is no guarantee you will get a bike through this method.  When we returned our bikes a bit before noon on a Monday, there were a good 30+ people waiting for bikes and the parking lot was completely full.  If you plan to take a tram, be sure to book that in advance as well as only a handful of tram rides operate each day. 


Hike

Birds while Hiking in Everglades National Park
Birds while Hiking in Everglades National Park

Hiking in Everglades National Park is a great way to see many different species of birds and to see some of the variable scenery.   To hike in this park, you’ll head to the Ernest F. Coe Visitors Center Entrance in Homestead (northeast corner of the park) and then drive along the approximately 40 mile road that leads you to the Flamingo Visitors Center (southwest corner of the park).   There are many different hiking options along this road.  You can drive the whole road and hike them all or just drive the first part of the road and hike a few.  The choice is yours.  Here are our top hiking recommendations in the park, starting from the closet to the Ernest F Coe Visitors Center to the furthest away from the Ernest F. Coe Visitors Center.  

Hiking in Everglades National Park
Hiking in Everglades National Park

Note: Hiking in Everglades National Park is scenic but does not take you to one specifically exceedingly scenic destination like many other National Park hikes do.  Do not expect an astounding viewpoint at the end but instead enjoy the journey.  The trails here are more about seeing the different flora and for wildlife (mainly bird) viewing. 


Anhinga Trail

0.8 Mile, Out & Back/Loop, Royal Palm Parking lot

Anhinga Trail, Everglades National Park
Anhinga Trail, Everglades National Park

If you only have time to hike one trail in Everglades National Park, hike this one.  You will likely see the most wildlife on this trail as the ample water supply here attracts both birds and alligators.  We saw many different species of birds (including Anhinga) and fish during our hike.  Although we did not see alligators on this trail, it is not uncommon for visitors to see them under the boardwalks so be sure to look under those for some.  This trail is also conveniently located near the northeast park entrance. 

Tip: BEWARE of the vultures in the parking lot and make sure to cover your car windows/windshield with a tarp.  

The vultures that live in the Royal Palm parking lot (where Anhinga Trail and Gumbo Limbo Trail both start), for some unknown reason, love the rubber around the windows/windshield of the cars parked there.  These birds literally will swarm a new car and start to try to rip off the rubber parts.  Be sure to bring your own tarp or use one of the provided tarps in the large bin by the bathroom (limited supply, we had no problem getting some to borrow at the park but only enough for a handful of cars).  

Vultures at Royal Palm Parking Lot, Everglades National Park
Vultures at Royal Palm Parking Lot, Everglades National Park

We have never seen such an odd phenomenon before but this is no joke.  Although we covered our car’s windshield/windows completely with tarp and secured the tarp down, these vultures were ruthless and tore the tarp right off.  They actually ripped out a piece of our windshield rubber!  Thankfully, this piece of rubber was not actually damaged, laying right next to the car when we returned from our hike and just had to be put back into place.  However, be warned, these vultures will stop at nothing to try to take the rubber off your car and may actually do some real damage.  


Gumbo Limbo Trail

0.4 Miles, Loop, Royal Palm Parking Lot

Gumbo Limbo Trail, Everglades National Park
Gumbo Limbo Trail, Everglades National Park

This paved trail takes you through a tropical hardwood hammock.  Along the trail, there are signs to identify the different flora.  This trail is very easy to hike and be sure to combine it with doing the Anhinga Trail as it starts from the same parking lot.  Again, beware of the vultures in the parking lot of this trail.  


Pa-hay-Okeee Overlook

0.16 Miles, Loop

Pa-hay-Okeee Overlook Trail, Everglades National Park
Pa-hay-Okeee Overlook Trail, Everglades National Park

This short boardwalk leads to a raised observation platform where you can view out onto a grassy wetland area. No vultures at this parking lot. Phew! 


Mahogany Hammock

0.5 Miles, Loop

Mahogany Hammock Trail, Everglades National Park
Mahogany Hammock Trail, Everglades National Park

This boardwalk trail takes you through tropical hardwoods and gumbo limbo trees.  Also on this trail is the largest living mahogany tree in the US.  


Snake Bight Trail

3.2 Miles Round Trip, Out & Back

Snake Bight Trail, Everglades National Park
Snake Bight Trail, Everglades National Park

Snake Bight Trail takes you through a tropical hardwood hammock to a boardwalk that ends at Snake Bight Bay.  Many people like to spend some time bird watching at the end of the boardwalk. Also, bight is not a typo. Fun fact: a bight is a bend or curve in a coastline, river or other geographical feature, or it may refer to a bay formed by such a feature.

Tip: Make sure to have bug spray for this trail as it is the only trail (thus far on our guide) that is not paved and was much more buggy than the others


Eco Pond

0.5 Miles, Loop 

Eco Pond Trail, Everglades National Park
Eco Pond Trail, Everglades National Park

This unpaved grassy trail loops around a pond and will give you a good opportunity to hear/see different birds.  There are many other short pond loops along the main road you may wish to stop at too.


Looking for great hiking boots?  Here are links to the ones we’ve used for 6+ years and highly recommend: Men’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots & Women’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots


Kayak or Canoe

Kayaking or canoeing through the mangroves is a great way to see Everglades National Park.  There are a lot of different tours offered but be sure to book in advance as these tend to fill up weeks in advance.  We opted not to do this as we were kayaking through Mangroves at Biscayne National Park (see *** for more details on this) on the same trip but we would do this if we ever go back.  

Two Kayak/Canoe options: Kayak Safari and Manatees and Mangrove Tours


Go on a Pontoon Boat Tour

Pontoon Boat Tour
Pontoon Boat Tour

The pontoon boat tour we did through part of the Everglades was awesome, and we highly recommend it.  However, it only visits a small portion of the southern saltwater part of Everglades National Park so be sure to explore the park other ways as well.  On this tour, you will get a taste of the Everglades as you boat through the mangroves and see several types of birds.  You may also be lucky enough to see Manatees and giant iguanas like we did too.  This tour also takes you into John Pennekamp State Park and throughout some of the Key Largo canals.  We learned some history about all the spots we visited on this tour as well as about the development of Key Largo.  

Key Largo Everglades Eco Tour

Note: This tour leaves from Key Largo at Mile Marker 101.9.  See our *** Florida Keys Guide *** for more information on visiting the Florida Keys. 


Airboat Ride

Natalie has done this several times as a teenager and found the rides to be exciting.  We opted not to do it on our trip because we got our fill of Alligators and the Everglades through biking and hiking but this is another fun way to see the park.  There are lots of different airboat tour options near the Ernest F. Coe Visitors Center and Shark Valley.  Pick one that works for where you’ll be.  Typically, you do not need to reserve these in advance and will likely be able to walk up/get on the next airboat ride. 

Tip: Try to pick an airboat tour that does not guarantee alligator sightings as it will be more realistic. 

Further, some of these tours have an alligator show before/after the airboat ride and may be a bit reminiscent of Tiger King but with alligators instead of tigers. Do your research before booking and know what to expect.  That being said, having done both, Natalie recommends biking shark valley over an airboat ride to see alligators.   

Two Airboat tour options: Alligator Farm Airboat Rides and Captain Jack’s Airboat Rides


Bonus: Visit Big Cypress National Reserve 

Big Cypress National Reserve
Big Cypress National Reserve

Most people overlook this area, located less than 20 minutes from Shark Valley, but don’t be one of them.  Make sure to go to the Oasis Visitor Center in Big Cypress Reserve where there is a short boardwalk that overlooks a freshwater area with many alligators.  Here, we got to see alligators actively hunting fish.  It was really neat to see them stalk and pounce at the fish.  

Further, you can drive the scenic loop road (unpaved, will take about 1.5 hours without stops) to see more alligators and birds as well. We opted to only go to the visitors center here, as we had seen plenty of bird and alligators at Shark Valley, but seeing the alligators actively hunt fish from the boardwalk was completely worth the short additional drive. 

Note: An America the Beautiful Pass will get you into this National Reserve for free so take advantage if you have this!  


Where to Eat near Everglades National Park


Robert is Here Fruit Stand

Robert is Here Fruit Stand, Homestead, FL
Robert is Here Fruit Stand, Homestead, FL

This fruit stand has been in operation for over 60 years and for good reason–their delicious fresh fruit shakes/smoothies are unmatched.  Make sure to stop here for a shake or smoothie!  We also got a tasty Cuban Sandwich here that did not disappoint either.  This stand is located in Homestead near the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center.

Robert is Here


La Quebradita Mexican Grill 

La Quebradita Mexican Grill
La Quebradita Mexican Grill

This authentic Mexican restaurant located in Homestead has a classic menu.  The food is great here and can be enjoyed on the very pretty garden filled patio.  We had the shrimp fajitas and a chorizo burrito, both were delicious! 

La Quebradita Grill


Another place you could stop to eat is at one of the many fruit stands you will pass traveling from Shark Valley to Homestead on Fl-997 S.  Unfortunately, most of these were closed on a Monday when we went passed them but these local stands looked like a great place for a simple and unique meal as well. 


Where to Stay Near Everglades National Park


Stay in Homestead or Key Largo

Key Largo Airbnb
Key Largo Airbnb

We opted to stay on the northern end of Key Largo, which is about 35 minutes to the Ernest F Coe Entrance and about an hour to the Shark Valley Entrance.  We stayed at a cute Airbnb, perfect for two people, right on the Atlantic that we found to be an excellent place to unwind and would recommend it.  

On our trip, we were also visiting Biscayne National Park (see Biscayne National Park Quick Guide), Dry Tortugas National Park (see Dry Tortugas National Park Quick Guide), the Florida Keys (see Florida Keys/Southern Florida Quick Guide) and Miami so we wanted a more central homebase than Homestead.  However, if only visiting Everglades National Park, Biscayne National Park and/or Miami, you may want to stay in Homestead as it is closer to all three of those. 

Lookout Point Airbnb in Key Largo

Use this link to get up to $65 off your first Airbnb


We hope this guide helps you plan your trip to Everglades National Park.  Anything you’d add to our guide? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions.  Please leave us a comment!

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!