NATIONAL PARKS: Biscayne National Park

Story and Photographs by Jerry Ginsberg

Biscayne Bay on Elliott Key

Biscayne Bay on Elliott Key

The bustling, eclectic, urban city of Miami, Florida, with the pulsing rhythms of its day and night life, is not your typical location for a national park. Yet, the southern portion of Miami’s Biscayne Bay is indeed a wonderful tropical wilderness.

As recently as the 1960s, this highly desirable real estate was earmarked for commercial development. Those who were drawing up those blueprints did not reckon on the determination of then-first- lady, Lady Bird Johnson, who lent her name to widespread efforts to preserve this remnant of tropical beauty.

While Biscayne covers 173,000 total acres, just a tiny fraction are actually dry land. The remainder—more than 90 percent—are found beneath the salt waters of this big bay.

The land portion consists of a couple dozen small coral islands that make up the eastern boundary of Biscayne Bay. Long, narrow Elliott Key is easily accessible and offers ample opportunity for both east- and west-facing photography of sandy beaches and lush foliage with just a short stroll across the island. Camping at least one night on Elliott Key will allow you to enjoy the best evening and morning light. Bring a light tent and plenty of high-octane insect repellent.

But don’t let the tail wag the dog. The great majority of Biscayne National Park is an aquatic wonderland. The brilliantly colored and vibrantly alive coral reef in the bay supports hundreds of species of tropical fish, turtles, lobsters and other aquatic creatures. Pelicans frequently swoop down and dive headlong into the water when they spot a meal on the fin, while sharp-eyed great blue herons hunt patiently along the shores for their dinner.

How to access this wet environment? The small mainland area around the visitor center at Convoy Point is pleasant and can yield some worthwhile compositions, particularly around sunrise. However, to really get into the best of this national park you will need to get out on—and in—the water. Unless you have access to a private boat, try park concessionaires at the visitor center for a variety of options. Among them, the very popular, if not photogenic, glass-bottom boat ride providing views of the reef.

If you have a waterproof camera or housing (or even if you don’t), make sure to take a snorkeling cruise. That’s the way to really get up close and enjoy the rainbow-hued wonders of this watery world. Dive trips are also available for those who are qualified.

Traveling to Biscayne is easy. Miami International airport is closest, but Ft. Lauderdale may be more economical, less congested and an all-round better choice. From either one, just take the short drive on Florida’s Turnpike to its southern end and you’re almost there.

Renting any standard passenger car will serve you well as all roads are well paved.

Lodging choices are plentiful. Stay in one of the many modern motels along U.S. Route 1 in either Homestead or Florida City. Route 1 is centrally located between Biscayne and Everglades national parks; if you have the time, visiting both is expedient. And an hour’s drive away, west via Route 41, is the large and pristine tropical wilderness of Big Cypress National Preserve.

South Florida is one of the few places that is best enjoyed from November through March. When the northern states are deep in the grip of winter, this area is sunny and mild with great skies. A great respite for you and your photography.


Jerry Ginsberg is a widely published freelance photographer whose images have graced the pages of hundreds of books and magazines. He has photographed all 59 U.S. national parks as well as most of South America with medium-format cameras. Jerry is also an artist in residence for 2015 at Petrified Forest National Park. More of Jerry’s work can be seen at www.JerryGinsberg.com. E mail: jerry@jerryginsberg.com