Sunday, October 23, 2016

Long Weekend In Florida: Dry Tortugas, Biscayne, and Everglades National Parks

Instead of spending a long weekend in Florida at the traditional haunts (or if you want to check out some off the beaten path locations after having seen the main attractions in Florida), why not head to all three national parks located in Florida (south Florida to be exact), where you can avoid the crowds and enjoy world-class snorkeling, beaches, and wildlife? 

Gator in the Everglades
Start your weekend by flying into the Miami International Airport. Spend your first full day in Everglades National Park (approximately 90 minutes from the airport). Say hello to the alligators and make sure you check out at least one of the pontoon boat tours. (Lodging tip: if your flight gets in at night, consider staying near the airport and driving to the park the following morning.)
Pontoon Boat Ride in the Everglades
Exit Everglades National Park and head toward Key West (approximately 3.5 hours from the Flamingo Visitor Center in the park). Those who want a shorter drive can make hotel reservations on one of the more northern keys. Cheeca Lodge on Islamorada is lovely. More budget-conscious travelers may want to consider the Holiday Inn Express in Marathon - clean and conveniently located. Be sure to book early if traveling over a holiday weekend. Get some gator for dinner and get a good night’s sleep since you will be heading to Dry Tortugas National Park in the morning.
Gator for Dinner
On day two, get to Key West by 7 a.m. to sign in for your trip to Dry Tortugas National Park via the Yankee Freedom. More extravagant travelers may want to consider taking a seaplane to the park (which is about 68 miles west from Key West and only accessible via air or sea). Visitors to Dry Tortugas national Park can visit one of the islands on the archipelago. Visitors should be sure not to miss snorkeling in the least disturbed coral reefs of the Florida Keys, and they should relish in the fact that they are in one of the least visited national parks. (Dry Tortugas only gets about 60,000 visitors per year. The least visited national park, Gates of the Arctic, gets about 11,000 visitors per year, and the most visited, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, gets over 300 million visitors per year.) Spend your time at Dry Tortugas (which was named after giant sea turtles who were swimming in the water near the park when Ponce DeLeon discovered the park) swimming, sunbathing, and most important, snorkeling. Guests can also explore the fort, though it pales in comparison with the snorkeling adventures guests can have. Enjoy dinner and key lime pie in Key West before heading to Biscayne National Park in the morning.
Dry Tortugas National Park
Biscayne National Park is about two hours and 45 minutes from Key West. Once in the park, enjoy ranger-guided canoe trips and snorkeling. Biscayne National Park is best known for its protection of offshore barrier reefs, and 95% of the park is underwater (so make sure to do some snorkeling while there). The park is also known for an extensive mangrove forest (which you can learn about while snorkeling with the rangers).
Canoeing In Biscayne National Park
After enjoying the day in Biscayne, head straight to the airport in your wet bathing suit to maximize time in the park (which is 42 minutes from the airport). Note that food options in the park are lacking; you may want to head into Miami (about 30 minutes) to get Cuban food for lunch. 
All in all - a great long weekend for those seeking lots of adventure (along with sunshine, exercise, and great food) in a short time.

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