Florida’s three national parks house some of the world’s most awe-inspiring aquatic ecosystems and over 10,000 years of human history. From the protected remains of the Everglades’ fragile ecosystem, to the coral reefs of Biscayne, all the way to the island of Dry Tortugas, Florida’s parks are sure to surprise you. If you haven’t already been to the state’s parks, you may be surprised at how much preserved American wilderness is hiding in plain sight!
Everglades National Park is the United States’ largest subtropical wilderness with over 1.5 million acres of protected land. Despite its immense size, today’s everglades represent only about one-fifth of the original ecosystem’s size. This sanctuary to some of the most endangered species on the North American continent, including manatees, American crocodiles, the Florida panther, and over 700 additional known species, is less than an hour’s drive from the city of Miami. To the pleasant surprise of many who are looking for a break from the hoy-polloi of the city, the 30-mile park road and 15-mile Tram Road allows easy access to otherwise remote sections of the park. If you want to fully appreciate the great estuary, don’t forget to take a boat tour or kayak the Wilderness Waterway in the park’s Gulf Coast area.
Boating and snorkeling are among the most popular activities at Biscayne National Park, which makes sense since 95 percent of the park is water. Located about 20 miles south of down town Miami, the park includes coral reefs, small islands, mangrove forests, and a Maritime Heritage Trail that leads snorkelers and scuba divers to a half-dozen shipwrecks. Favored dive spots include segments of the Florida Reef, one of the world’s largest coral reefs. The park’s many islands have a rich history, once inhabited by various tribes, pirates, farmers, and others. These islands are also accessible to visitors for camping and wildlife watching. The visitor center is located at Convoy Point, on mainland Florida near the city of Homestead, but you’ll need a boat to visit the vast majority of the park. If you don’t have your own you can always go on a boat tour, join a dive trip, or you can even kayak across Biscayne Bay to visit the islands if you think you’ve got what it takes!
Located about 70 miles offshore of Key West, Dry Tortugas proves to be a bit less accessible than the state’s aforementioned national parks. Visitors must access the park via sea plane or endure a three hour ferry ride just to reach the park, but the journey is well worth the investment. Baring the seven small islands that make up the Dry Tortugas themselves, the park’s 100-square-miles is entirely open-ocean. The park’s most renowned island is Garden Key, which is home to Fort Jefferson, a massive, never-completed fortress considered the largest masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere. Tours of Fort Jefferson are very popular, featuring gun rooms, impressive walls, and the cell where Dr. Samuel Mudd, accomplice to John Wilkes Booth’s Lincoln assassination, was confined. On land, bird watching and camping are among the most popular activities and in the water, the park’s shoals and reefs are home to abundant marine life, including turtles and sharks, as well as several shipwrecks.
So you’re interested in exploring some of the great water parks of the Sunshine State, but you don’t know where to start; why not use the Chimani apps to plan your next excursion? Chimani’s guides are available for free in the Apple Appstore, Google Play, and the Amazon App Store, and each allow you to plan your trip and navigate in the parks without the need for a cell connection. The Chimani National Park apps all work using GPS-enabled maps to ensure that you’re always in the know and able to navigate around the parks and can even aid you in finding activities that match your preferences and skill level.