Begin at Compass Rose on the first floor of the Dante Fascell Visitor Center
Welcome to Biscayne National Park, the largest marine park in the National Park System. Take a moment to orient yourself with the compass rose at your feet. Find north. Find south. Point east. Point west. Where did you come from…literally? Did you fly south on a plane? Did you travel north from the Keys? Point to the direction of your home. Point to the direction of your next destination.
Biscayne National Park is 173,000 acres and over 95% is water. Sailors of old and boaters of today rely on compasses to orient their vessel and to reach their destinations. Your exploring today is no different. This walk relies heavily on directions. Orienting yourself to these directions now is going to come in handy along your walk. You can use the map provided here to assist you or a handheld compass.
This walk is an out-and-back walk as opposed to a loop trail. Some of the trail is covered in boardwalk and some is gravel. Either way, the ground provides solid footing for nearly all levels and abilities. The trail is 0.8 miles round trip if you start and finish at this compass rose.
We've designed this independent exploration to have informational ‘stations’ with these short narrations to accompany you as you head out, though there are no markers to indicate when you've reached a station. Your return trip is left open for independent adventuring and all-around enjoyment of this beautiful walking trail here at Biscayne National Park. The text written here is meant to accompany you to possibly be read out loud as a family, silently to yourself or skipped all together. Take your time or walk it very quickly. Do one station or do all of them. Go back a station if you'd like. Stop to watch the birds. Stop to watch the fish. Stop to read some of the waysides. Stop at one of the many benches to think about the direction your life is taking you. (Woah. That got deep very fast!) In all seriousness, enjoy this walk at your own pace.
(Also, be safe. Watch your surroundings. Be careful by the road. And let us know if you see something that looks a bit out of place.)
Next Station: Walk southwest just a short way until you come to a nice spot to view the Fish Wall. Stop before you reach the road.
Fish Wall and Breezeway
You've arrived at Biscayne's 'Fish Wall'. Look at the fish that are ‘swimming’ along the wall. These fish are examples of the nearly 600 different species of fish that are found in Biscayne National Park. Can you spot the tarpon? (It’s the big one with the upturned mouth. This upturned mouth helps the tarpon gulp air at the surface when it is swimming in shallow waters with low oxygen levels.) What about the Lookdown Jacks? Bet you can't guess which ones they are! Do you see the Great Blue Heron around the corner? In addition to so many fish, Biscayne is home to many different species of birds. Some are year-round residents while others stop by on their spring and fall migration routes.
As you continue this walk, keep your eyes open all around you…in the water and in the skies. Keep your ears active as you listen for any bird calls. When you see a fish or a bird, try to take note of its identifying features such as size, color, or any other distinct markings. When you return to the visitor center, you can use one of our guides to help identify the animal.
Next Station: Do not cross the road but follow the sidewalk around to the right. You'll be heading in a general northwest direction, walking along grass until you come to the beginning of the Jetty Walk trail near the canoe ramp. Stop here.
Jetty Walk Trailhead & Canoe Launch
Look out at the water in front of you. You are standing at the edge of Biscayne Bay.Are there any canoes or kayaks out today? How about wind surfers? They love the windy days! Park visitors with their own paddle craft can launch their boat from here from 7am-5:30pm, 365 days a year. The park and its partners may offer paddle programs, depending on the season.
Look north and you may see two little islands about 1/3 of a mile ahead of you. These are referred to as ‘spoil islands’ as they were built with the earthen contents when the canal to the west of them (Mowry Canal) was dredged. Mowry Canal is just one of thousands of miles of canals that were built when early developers to the area decided to drain all the freshwater in order to grow and develop South Florida. Not only was surface water diverted in these canals, but the underground freshwater flow of the Biscayne Aquifer was also disrupted. Historically, freshwater used to flow underground with such force that there were areas in the bay where freshwater would visibly well up. However, with the construction of the canals, the ecosystems of what we now know as Biscayne, Big Cypress, and Everglades National Parks were forever altered. There are major efforts currently ongoing to restore the area to a more natural flow of fresh water. You may see some of these efforts as you travel to the other national parks of South Florida.
Next Station: Follow the Jetty Trail along the water's edge. You are now walking east. Stop when you come to an intersection near the flagpole.
Jetty Walk Crossroads by American Flagpole
Biscayne National Park has hundreds of years of maritime history represented in a variety of cultural sites. Over 50 of these cultural sites are shipwrecks, remnants of long ago when charts and navigational tools were extremely primitive. Biscayne’s eastern boundary sometimes includes the northward flowing Gulf Stream, a major oceanic superhighway that has seen hundreds of years of shipping traffic. Many ships made it to their final destinations, but many wound up on the ocean floor.
Artifacts from HMS Fowey, a fifth-rate British man-of war that sunk in 1748, predating the United States Declaration of Independence, are on display in the park’s visitor center. A cannon from Fowey is on display on the first floor just before you enter the ramp to the second floor. Artifacts from an unidentified shipwreck simply referred to as the ‘English China’ wreck are also on displayed at the park’s visitor center on the second floor.
Biscayne is home to the National Park Service's only underwater Maritime Heritage Trail. This trail is unique. It is all underwater and made up of six shipwreck sites and a lighthouse that are spread across the coral reefs of Biscayne National Park. Access to these sites is by boat unlike a traditional walking/hiking trail and waypoints for each ship on the trail are published on our website. The story of the ship and the eventual wreck are preserved on brass plaques underwater near each wreck as well as on our park website. The ships lie in 10-30 feet of water making them great for snorkeling and novice divers.Owing to the maritime heritage of Biscayne, it is only fitting that the flagpole also represents the park’s role in preserving maritime heritage. This flagpole is a nautical flagpole and the flag’s current position would have been the position of honor aboard a sailing ship.
The maritime stories are only part of Biscayne's human stories. Protected within the park boundaries lies evidence of over 10,000 years of human habitation in South Florida from native people such as the Tequesta to homesteaders like the Sweetings. The story of the Jones family who lived on islands in the southern end of the park for nearly 100 years, is inspiring and integral to the formation of this unique national park..
Next Station: Follow the Jetty Trail along the water's edge heading east. Stop when you reach a nearly 90° bend in the trail.
Jetty Walk Bend
Do you see anybody fishing here? Biscayne draws many anglers and families out to try their hand at catching a fish. Recreational fishing was part of the legislation that created Biscayne National Park, so it will likely always be permitted. However, when the legislation was written, they could not have known the quantity of people who would now be living in South Florida. Part of Biscayne’s mission is to teach responsible fishing techniques to park visitors to include catch and release. Anglers need to follow current park fishing regulations.
As you continue your gaze north, you likely will see features that you may not have expected in a national park. The mountain looking feature to the north is a landfill and the buildings on the northern horizon are the City of Miami. A little bit later in along the walk, you’ll also see some structures that belong to Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant. Admittedly, having such unique landmarks in the park does help with navigation on the water but it also poses some real challenges for park managers. Each year, thousands of pounds of marine debris are removed from park shorelines to include turtle nesting beaches. That's a lot when you consider much of it is single use plastics. If you see any trash on your walk, you can help care for your national park by carefully taking it to the nearest trash can. If you’d like to volunteer for a park or partner sponsored cleanup, you can find more information here.
Next Station: Follow the Jetty Trail along to the south/southeast until you come to the bridge. Walk out onto the bridge until you come to a quiet place somewhere in the middle.
Jetty Walk Bridge
As you look east, you’re looking out across Biscayne Bay. Everything you can see out in front of you averages only about 6-8 feet deep. Much of the bottom is covered in seagrass. The seagrass is a flowering plant that provides home and habitat for many organisms that live here in the Bay. Nearly 70% of commercially important seafood here in South Florida begins life here in the Bay. Because life starts out small, it often also starts out camouflaged. Look closely: do you see any fish...perhaps a barracuda? Do you see any blue crabs scouting for their dinner? What about any southern stingrays foraging in the shallows?
As you continue looking east, you may see the northern Florida Keys lining the horizon. When Henry Flagler brought his railroad south from Miami to Key West, he engineered the track to be built where the keys come closest to land: Key Largo, south of present-day Biscayne National Park. In doing this, he bypassed the northernmost keys in the chain of the Florida Keys. To your northeast, lies Soldier Key, generally considered to be the northernmost Key. Looking east, and if you have really good eyes or binoculars, you may be able to spot Boca Chita Key and Elliott Key. These two islands are popular boating and camping destinations in the park and are accessible only by boat.
(Ranger tip: Come up to the second floor of the visitor center and borrow a pair of binoculars to better see objects on the horizon.)
Beyond these islands, and out of your view, lies the northernmost section of Florida’s Coral Reef. Coral reefs are second in biodiversity only to the tropical rainforests. Visitors to Biscayne's coral reefs are treated to a glimpse into another world with untold numbers of shapes and sizes. Coral generally needs a certain set of circumstances in order to grow: a set range of temperatures, ideal salinity (saltiness), and access to constant sunshine. Take away one of these factors and fragile corals face immense challenges.
You can do your part to ensure the longevity of corals around the world. Pick up your trash, don't touch coral when you visit the reefs, and use reef safe sunscreen.
Next Station: Follow the Jetty Trail south/southeast until you reach the end of the bridge. Stop before you reach the end of the bridge where you can closely see the mangrove trees on each side of the bridge.
South End of Jetty Walk Bridge
To your right (west) and your left (east), you will see some incredible trees called mangroves. Notice that these trees are living directly in the saltwater. What would happen if you put salt water on your plants at home? They likely would not survive. But they would if they were mangroves! Mangroves have devised ways to live along marine shorelines around the world. The mangroves to the west are called red mangroves due to the reddish tinge that the roots take on when they are wet. Red mangroves are characterized by the long roots that reach out into the water, making the tree almost look like they are walking out into the water. To the east, look for little pencil- like structures poking up from the ground. This indicates that there is a black mangrove in the area. Black mangroves can often be identified by carefully inspecting the back sides of the leaves where they expel salt. A third type of mangrove tree in Biscayne is the white mangrove tree which is characterized by an oval leaf that has two little bumps at the base of the leaf. The white mangrove is not as easy to identify from afar as the other two trees, so you’ll have to look closer as you walk along the jetty. Please do not break any leaves off as you are trying to identify mangroves. Unlike leaves on many other trees, mangrove leaves can stay on the tree for years, or even decades, before falling off!
Next Station: Turn right at the end of the bridge. Take a seat at the western end of the Jetty Trail.
West End Benches
Take a seat. Take a break. Take a breath. Close your eyes and listen. What do you hear? Most people know that national parks are established to help protect the landscape, with natural (trees and fish) and cultural (like the shipwrecks!). Did you also know that parks protect things the soundscape? When you go home, what sounds do you think you’ll hear there? How will those be different than what you hear now? What do you think you’ll hear if you snorkel at the reef? What do you think you’ll hear at Everglades National Park? What's your favorite sound? What's your favorite sound to hear while you are exploring the outdoors?
Next Station: After enjoying some time listening to Biscayne National Park, head east along the jetty until you are all the way out to the end. Stop at the end.
East End of the Jetty Walk
Excellent view, wouldn't you agree? Think about everything that we’ve talked about. Think about this wonderful park. Think about the four different ecosystems and the 10,000 years of human history that make up the stories of Biscayne.Now, try to picture an oil refinery as you look northwest.
Try to imagine high rises as you look east. Imagine large ships intersecting your view. All of these things nearly happened. All of these were discussed. All of these were possibilities...and some ideas came really close to reality. Some of them were even started. We owe a lot to individuals like journalist Juanita Green writing about the importance of preservation in the Miami Herald to Lloyd Miller who constantly advocated for the preservation of this tremendously special area.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.-Margaret Mead
Next Station: East End of Jetty Walk (same as station #9)
As you prepare to return to the visitor center, one last thing to think about: directions. Directions are important. What is your next direction? in a literal sense, you’ll head west, back to the visitor center. But what about a more figurative sense? Your life’s direction. Where are you headed next? Are things good for you? Are things tough right now? Where were you five years ago? Where are you today? Which road are you taking tomorrow? National parks can be places of contemplation, for stressful times and for peaceful times. Have you ever sought out a national park for the sole reason of needing to recharge? Needing to do some soul searching? How did the natural world call to you? How did you feel when you made time for yourself?
The walk back is on your own, for exploring, contemplation, and adventuring. There are no more stations on this walk. Take your time. Think about your visit. Come up to the visitor center to watch several park films, view our art exhibit, explore our museum, and touch a sea turtle shell among many other fun items at our touch table. Young and young at heart visitors can become Junior Rangers, Reef Rangers, and our furry canines can become Bark Ranger. Enjoy a boat trip with the Biscayne National Park Institute. Enjoy your visit and please let us know how we can answer any questions that you may have come up with as you explore this special place.
Return to the Dante Fascell Visitor Center along this same path.
Last updated: September 22, 2022
9700 SW 328th Street
Sir Lancelot Jones Way