Florida National Parks

I believe I once said “three national parks in three days – that’s too much – never again!” Well, I guess my memory is not serving me well, because on a Thursday night we took the redeye to Florida and went to Everglades, Dry Tortugas and Biscayne Bay National Parks for a 3 day weekend.

Key West sunset

Key West sunset

Everglades National Park

– Bike ride at Shark Valley – 15 miles of flat paved trail passing by tons of alligators, birds and turtles. Half way on the trail there is an elevated observation deck. The most photographed gators must be the ones at the beginning of the trail. By mile 10, nobody was stopping anymore to look at them. There were literally hundreds of them.

Shark Valley bike tour

Shark Valley bike tour

Shark Valley bike tour

Shark Valley bike tour

Shark Valley observation deck

Shark Valley observation deck

There was a big group of gators laying motionless in the grass and soaking in the sun near the observation deck. They were only a few yards from the path, no fence to protect the people (or the gators). Apparently, they feed at night and are pretty lazy during the day in order to conserve their energy.

Aligators soaking in the sun

Aligators soaking in the sun

– Boat tour through Ten Thousand Islands – a nice ride of about 1.5 hours. The tour guide pointed out various wildlife, chased dolphins and watched hundreds of pelicans land on a teeny tiny sand bar.

10000 island tour

10000 island tour

Hot real estate in pelican world

Hot real estate in pelican world

– Wildlife in Flamingo area – there is nothing special about this area but we just happen to see an amazing concentration of wildlife there: 3 crocodiles, an osprey family, a brown pelican, and a lazy manatee.

Mama osprey and her chick

Mama osprey and her chick

Old manatee covered in algae and barnacles in the warm waters of Flamingo harbor

Old manatee covered in algae and barnacles in the warm waters of Flamingo harbor

– Drive the unpaved Loop Road (from Monroe Station) – although the drive is not very scenic, there are quite a few stops along the way where you can stop and observe nature go about its business.

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Sunset in the everglades

Sunset in the everglades

Biscayne Bay National Park

– Canoeing through the bay – The boat tour we had reserved ahead of time was cancelled due to rough seas, so we had to improvise. We signed up for a free family canoeing tour offered by the national park services (reservations are preferred). It was an educational and fun tour along the shoreline in the the bay. Sure, we ran into mangroves a few times, but by the end, the blonde from California finally learned how to properly steer a canoe:)

Mangroves

Mangroves

Dry Tortugas National Park

There are two ways to get to the park from Key West, boat (3 hrs) or airplane (45 min). Rather than spending 3 hours on a boat, we took the much shorter flight to Dry Tortugas (that’s after the overnight flight to Miami and another flight to from Miami to Key West).

– Scenic flight to the park – The plane flies at a lower altitude and the pilot has a brief narrative. The ride was rather rough because of the winds, but thanks to some Dramamine, we were able to enjoy it. We took the flight in the afternoon and by the time we landed, the last boat departed for Key West, so there were only a handful of people on the entire island.

Flying over Dry Tortugas

Flying over Dry Tortugas

Flying over Dry Tortugas

Flying over Dry Tortugas

Flying over a sunken ship on the way to Dry Tortugas national park.

Flying over a sunken ship on the way to Dry Tortugas national park.

– Fort Jefferson walkway – most of the island is occupied by Fort Jefferson – an unfinished and abandoned fortress. While the interior hallways are hauntingly empty, walking along the exterior wall was a nice way to see the fort from the outside. After a few relaxing hours on the island, we flew back to Key West, where we caught the flight back to Miami.

Fort Jefferson

Fort Jefferson

Fort Jefferson

Fort Jefferson

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Exterior wall around the fort

Exterior wall around the fort

Fort Jefferson

Fort Jefferson

Given that most of Dry Tortugas and Biscayne Bay parks is underwater and we couldn’t do any snorkeling this trip, I think we might go back there at some point, but for now, we’ll check them off the list!

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