Author Archives: Sandy
Author Archives: Sandy
When it comes to planning an epic vacation getaway, the first thing that pops into everyone´s mind are the most well-known national parks that get all of the attention. From Yellowstone to the Grand Tetons, to the Grand Canyon, it is pretty hard to go wrong with one of these places. What few people ever think about, however, are the other nearby attractions from state parks to national monument areas that also offer some pretty spectacular opportunities for adventure.
Imagine the following scenario: After having saved up for months, you finally are ready to take your family to Yellowstone National Park, a place you´ve dreamed of visiting for years. You´ve done your research, planned out everything you´re going to see, and made reservations at the best campgrounds.
Only a couple days into your supposed vacation of a lifetime, however, your oldest son begins to drag his feet. “Another hot spring today?” he asks sarcastically.
Shortly afterwards your youngest daughter refuses to put her boots on to go and watch the bison at Yellowstone Lake. Even your spouse begins to make not so subtle suggestions that it might be a good idea to check out something outside the boundaries of the park.
The problem, of course, is that you have absolutely no idea what other attractions the state of Wyoming has to offer. The Grand Tetons are at least half a day away, and for all you know, the rest of the state is nothing more than red rocks, wind turbines, and a rodeos.
Fortunately for you, we´ve done our research and have all the information on everything that the state of Wyoming has to offer. From the 2 most well-known national parks, to the 12 state parks, 5 national forests, 4 national wildlife refuges, and 2 national recreation areas, we´ve put together a guidebook on the best that Wyoming has to offer.
Below we´ll offer a succinct but thorough review of the two Wyoming National Parks while also giving you some other ideas about nearby attractions should to complement the wonder and natural beauty of both Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.
Without a doubt, the main attraction for most travelers to the state of Wyoming is Yellowstone. While Yellowstone actually has land in three separate states, the vast majority of the national park and the main attractions are within Wyoming territory.
As one of the first national parks worldwide, and also one of the largest, there is definitely a lot to explore at Yellowstone. The unique geology of the area was formed by a massive volcanic eruption over half a million years ago. Today, Yellowstone is still brimming with geothermic activity, and one of the main attractions that people go to see are the dozens of geysers, hot springs, mud pots, and other unique geothermic formations that make you thankful for the thin crust of earth that separates us from our earth´s boiling innards.
If you do make your way to Yellowstone, you absolutely cannot miss going to see Old Faithful. This massive geyser erupts regularly, and the park has set up grandstands where you will be able to catch the glimpse of a mini-volcano in action.
The Midway Geyser Basin is another spot you shouldn´t skip. Home to the world´s largest hot spring, the brilliant turquoise colors will remind you of a Caribbean beach, minus the hot sulfur-laden air, that is.
Another major attraction at Yellowstone is the abundance of wildlife. From deer to grizzly bears to the majestic herds of bison, as soon as you step away from the crowds, you´re almost guaranteed to find some sort of wildlife that call the home park.
The massive herds of bison that used to roam freely over the Great Plains actually almost went extinct during the arrival of the frontiersmen to the western part of the United States. Today, however, they´re beginning to make a comeback and one of the best places to catch a glimpse of the bison is at Yellowstone.
Head out to the infamously named “Mud Volcano” on the Yellowstone River. Here you will be able to catch glimpses of bison warming themselves over the warm air escaping from a small geyser on the river´s edge. While slightly more strenuous, the Lava Creek Trail also offers a great chance to come upon a herd of wandering bison and even the solitary grizzly bear.
The vast majority of tourists and vacationers who come to Yellowstone never actually see the vast stretches of wilderness and the backcountry. The park service has done a great job organizing a family friendly tourist circuit which, while worth seeing, doesn´t do justice to the rest of the marvels that the park offers.
If you are up to challenge, the Sky Rim Trail offers a unique perspective into the wilderness of Yellowstone. During the course of the 21 mile roundtrip trail, you´ll hike up to the almost 10,000 foot summit of Big Horn Peak while also enjoying panoramic vistas that might allow you to spot the distant Grand Tetons which we´ll explore in more detail below.
Once in the backcountry, Yellowstone National Park also offers dozens of opportunities for quality fishing. Finding your own Shangri-La spot to go angling on the Yellowstone River is about as close you can get to paradise.
If you really want to explore all of the many wonders that Yellowstone has to offer, check out our complete guide to Yellowstone National Park here.
There are few sights that will leave you with your jaw dropping to the ground like the massive 40-mile-long mountain front that makes up the main attraction of the Grand Tetons National Park. Along this postcard like view, eight peaks rise majestically over 12,000 feet in the air and their jagged, rocky surface not only resembles the mountains you drew in your first grade art class, but also will leave you mesmerized by both fear and admiration.
Located near the luxurious mountain town of Jackson Hole, one of the most unique aspects of the Grand Tetons is that you can go from a 5 star hotel or plush mountain lodge in Jackson Hole to camping on the jagged rocks of a forsaken wilderness in almost no time at all. From pristine mountain lakes, to quality hiking, to adrenaline pushing extreme sports, there is plenty to explore at the Grand Tetons.
For many people, simply enjoying the view of the 40 mile front of jagged peaks is more than rewarding. One of the best sights in the entire park is found at Jenny Lake, an otherworldly beautiful mountain lake surrounded by the characteristic jagged peaks of the Tetons.
The 7.5 mile Jenny Lake Loop hike is definitely doable, and is mostly flat which makes this relatively easy trail the best way to get your nature fix while not scaling any of the towering mountains in the horizon. A day resting by this unique lake will get you all the relaxation you need.
With so many towering mountains and granite cliffs, of course the Grand Tetons would be a place for mountain climbing and rappelling junkies to flock to. If you like the thrill of hanging off the side of the mountain with nothing holding you from a certain death than a thin rope, then the Tetons are for you. There are dozens of places to go climbing and mountaineering, but you´ll need to check in with the visitor´s center to see which places are currently open to climbers.
Lastly, the Tetons also offer a great opportunity to camp out in the backcountry. You would be hard pressed to find a place with more spectacular night sky views than from the summit of the Grand Teton or any of the other massive, craggy peaks you can explore.
You will need a permit to explore the back country of the Tetons, and a bear canister is probably a good idea as well. But if you´re up for the challenge, there are few places on earth where you can feel more lost in the wildness of the natural world than at Grand Teton National Park. You can check out all of your backcountry options at the Grand Tetons here.
Like we said at the beginning of this article, Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons certainly have a lot to offer. You could theoretically spend a month at each place and still not even scratch the surface of different things to do. But as human beings, our attention spans or short and our continued need for adventure and new horizons is always a temptation.
Fortunately, the great state of Wyoming has several beautiful state parks and other natural areas in close proximity to both of the Wyoming National Parks. A change of scenery never hurt anyone, and though not nearly as famous as the Yellowstone or the Tetons, the following state parks are definitely worth exploring.
Just outside of Salt Lake City, Bear River State Park offers a quick nature getaway for urban dwellers. After several days braving the backcountry of Yellowstone or the Grand Tetons, this park offers much more civilization. The paved and gravel trails are great for biking or rollerblading and you can even catch a glimpse of some bison and elk that roam the park.
Near the border with Montana, Buffalo Bill State Park is another great spot nearby Yellowstone where you can enjoy the mountain vistas of the Absaroka Mountains and some great fishing along the nearby reservoir. If you didn´t have much luck catching anything at Yellowstone Lake the Buffalo Bill Reservoir is a good second option.
This state park features a pristine mountain river named the Popo Agie. While the river is an attraction in itself, the real prize here is the mysterious “disappearance” of the river as it sinks into a large cavern only to miraculously reappear as a beautiful, crystal clear pool a half mile down the canyon. While you can´t fish at this pool, there aren´t many other places in the world for a more refreshing swim.
This beautiful area often gets overlooked because it is “only” a national forest. Nonetheless, the forest ecosystem here is incredible diverse with alpine meadows, towering mountains, and glacier carved valleys, and so much more. There are a couple of great campgrounds to stay at, and the area has several miles of quality hiking and backpacking trails.
There is no shortage of adventure in Wyoming. While many vacationers make the obligatory stops at Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, there is so much more to see and explore. We hope that this brief guide peaks your interest to explore the endless wonders that Wyoming offers.
A warm sunny day; the perfect shady spot underneath a large weeping willow with roots deeply dug into the sides of a crystalline river brimming with rainbow trout whose quick, darting movements make the river literally shimmer with life; snow-capped mountains in the horizon whose snow melt is bringing life to the river where you now sit peacefully in a comfortable chair with your line baited and waiting in the river in front of you: for many people this is the essence of joy and bliss.
Fishing is perhaps one of the most relaxing sporting activities out there. Our nation´s national parks are easily some of the most beautiful, pristine natural areas our world has to offer. When you combine the two, you´re in for an experience you won´t soon forget. Below we look at the top five spots to fish in our extensive and diversified national park system.
There is something truly stunning at the site of crystal clear mountain lakes with jagged, perpetually snow-capped mountains rising literally right off of the lake´s shore. Lake McDonald at Glacier National Park is just one of the impressive lakes that this beautiful park offers. While the scenery would be enough of a consolation prize, the fishing is excellent as well. Fishers from all over the country come here to try and catch the infamous bull trout which has some of the best coloring of any trout in the world.
Imagine standing knee deep in a cool mountain river while casting your fly fishing rod. A couple hundred feet upstream a herd of wild bison cross the river. Warm gasses from a nearby geyser escape from the riverbank coating the entire river in a mystical fog. This is the essence of fishing at Yellowstone. Many people come to try and catch the native Yellowstone Cutthroats, an absolutely beautiful fish and complicated catch.
One third of this national park is covered by water, meaning that there is no lack of fishing opportunities. The peacock bass, snook, and redfish are some of the most prized fish in these waters, though you can find dozens of other species. One of the best places for fishing are any of the dozens of canals during low water times. The Interceptor Canals is a particularly beautiful area to spend the day fishing.
There is no shortage of water at Voyagers National Park in northern Minnesota, and fish are also in abundance. Crane Lake, especially where the Vermillion River enters the lake, is perhaps one of the best spots at the park to catch walleye, northern pike, bass, muskie or panfish. You could also take a several day (or week) canoe or kayak trip throughout the interconnected lake system to explore the beauty of the park.
One of the best parts of fishing at Acadia is that you can do both freshwater and saltwater fishing in the same day. There are hundreds of miles of rivers and streams running through the national park that are teeming with yellow perch and largemouth bass. The shoreline offers several coves that will let you try your luck at catching land stripers and blue fish while enjoying the impressive views of the iconic rocky coasts of Maine. Of all the quality fishing spots at this national park, you might want to check out Mount Desert Island which has great freshwater lakes while also offering nearby coves for ocean fishing as well.
Unlike the small creek running behind your home, you will most likely be looking at a hefty fine if you don´t take the time to get the proper licenses to be able to fish in our nation´s national parks. Since these areas are actively protected by rangers and other environmental agencies, it is essential that you stop in at the nearest visitor´s center to learn the requisites regarding fishing in the national parks. Fortunately, most of the national parks make it rather easy to get a simple fishing license which will allow you to truly enjoy a magical experience in the lakes, rivers, and coas
From beautiful beaches, to old growth rainforests, to dramatic snow-capped mountains, you would be hard pressed to find a national park with more diverse ecosystems than Olympic National Park in the northwestern corner of Washington State. With such varied landscapes, it can be difficult to decide which part of the park to visit and where to set up camp. Below we offer our advice on the top seven campgrounds that Olympic National Park offers.
This campground isn´t for the light of heart. It is easily the highest campground in the park, and on clear nights you´ll enjoy star-filled skies and perhaps even a glimpse of the lights from distant Seattle. You can also enjoy the stunning views of the nearby peaks of the Olympic Mountains. There are absolutely no services at this campground and you will have to hike in, but if you make it and don´t mind roughing it, there are some absolutely spectacular views and great nearby hikes where you´ll be sure to find plenty of company with the mountain goats.
Fairholme Campground is much more family friendly than Deer Park and does offer basic amenities such as restrooms and running water. It is located next the Lake Crescent and you and your family will be conveniently located next to several hiking trails, waterfalls, and short summits you can hike up. This campground fills up quickly so you will want to plan to get there early in the day to secure your spot.
What isn´t to like about camping in a rainforest? The Quinault Rainforest is an absolute beautiful area ripe with towering, moss-covered trees that seem to swallow you up in your smallness. The Graves Creek Campground has plenty of great camping spots, but if you are lucky you might even be able to find a spot right on the banks of the Quinault River where you´ll fall asleep to the tranquil sound of a crystal clear river running through a rainforest.
The Hoh Rainforest is easily the most famous rainforest ecosystem in the United States. The Hoh Rainforest Trail offers perhaps the best glimpse into this truly unique ecosystem. The campground here is rather simple, but each and every spot seems to be swallowed up by the towering trees and thick vegetation.
It is important to remember that this is one of the wettest spots in the United States so you will want to bring a quality water proof tent and several ground tarps to stay dry. To help you choose a quality tent, check out our post that features the best tent brands available today.
What could be better than finding a campsite that offers stunning views of sunsets over the Pacific Ocean? The Kalaloch Campground is located on a high bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean on the western most part of the National Park. After a long day of exploring the tide pools and the infinite variety of marine life and enjoying the great beach hiking near the campground, the sunsets are the best way to end your day.
This campground does fill up during the summer months so you might want to make a reservation. Know the appropriate gear for the right season. If you plan to visit during the summer months, it's best to bring a durable cooler to keep your drinks cool and food fresh. Check out our review of the best camping cooler to help you choose which cooler to bring.
If you visit during the off season, however, you will find the place almost empty and have your choice of the best sites available.
While this campground isn´t located within sight of the coast, you are only a short walk away from those magnificent sea stacks located along the Olympic Coast. This campground definitely is less crowded than the Kalaloch Campground, and it is also the closest campground to the LaPush coast. If you´re lucky, you might even be able to spot a whale off shore. Bald eagles and deer are also common sightings around this campground.
Perhaps the most under-appreciated of Olympic National Park´s campgrounds, the North Fork Campground along the Quinault River is a gem that very few people ever visit. While you can simply come to this campground to enjoy the solitude and hike along the river´s edges, you are also conveniently close to some great trail such as First Divide and the Skyline Primitive Trail.
Whether you hike up to the highest reaches of Deer Park or stay near the ground at Kalaloch, Olympic National Park offers several beautiful and unique campgrounds that will offer you a unique glimpse into this truly magical national park. Since most of the campgrounds don´t take reservations, you will want to make sure to plan ahead. The earlier you get to the campground, the better chance you will have to find that perfect spot for a few days of rest, relaxation and adventure.
The answer? Not very complete. While Biscayne National Park is one of the smaller national parks in the country, there are always nooks and crannies that are yet to be explored that we may have left out. That is one of the greatest parts of exploring the national parks of our country: finding a hidden wonder that no one seems to know about. If you feel something is missing or needs to be updated, you are welcome to contact us and contribute.
South Florida isn´t exactly known as a place of wilderness where one can go to get away from civilization and relax in the wonders of the natural world. Rather, South Florida is usually considered as a hopping place with great beaches, even better night life, and a cosmopolitan, Caribbean, urban feel.
However, as with most places in our world, it usually doesn´t take much to escape from the noise and clatter of civilization and find places that offer respite to the soul and mind. Just south of Miami, Biscayne National Park can be found. While 95% of this park is under water, you would be hard pressed to find a place more different than the bustling and hurried environment of downtown Miami.
Whether you live in downtown Miami and are looking for a place to get away from the rat race of urban life or are wanting to plan a tropical vacation to a truly unique ecosystem, Biscayne National Park is a place unlike any other. In this complete guide to Biscayne National Park, we will look at the history and ecology of Biscayne National Park, offer a few obscure and hard-to-believe facts and figures, and then go on to give you the lowdown on all the activities that Biscayne National Park has to offer so that you can plan out a truly unforgettable trip to one of the most unknown national parks in the United States.
The coral reefs, turquoise waters, and pristine beaches of Biscayne National Park might be the principal attractions of this unique place. However, the history of the reef and the island itself is a great attraction for history buffs and people who want a look into the how life and civilization has evolved together.
The Glades indigenous culture inhabited the island of what is today the park around 10,000 years ago, but due to rising sea water (sound familiar?) they were forced to abandon the islands in search of higher elevations. The Tequesta people were the next indigenous habitants that returned to the islands once waters receded and lived in the region until the Spanish conquistadors forcefully took over the islands in the 16ht century.
The large coral reef ecosystem is certainly an attraction to divers and snorkelers (as we´ll see below) but for Spanish ship captains, these reefs caused several shipwrecks leaving all sorts of unique underwater treasures to explore.
In the early 1900´s, wealthy millionaires from Florida and other places around the United States made the Biscayne islands into their private getaways. Stiltsville was an actual community that sprung up on the islands in the 1930´s. While the rest of the country was dealing with the Great Depression, this remote island of luxury and excess was a haven for high rolling gamblers and millionaire parties. During Prohibition, the remote location of Stiltsville on the Biscayne Islands also allowed for moonshining.
When Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba during the Cold War Era, the Biscayne Islands were used by the CIA and the US government to train Cuban dissidents who would later lead a failed invasion of Cuba in the infamous Bay of Pigs fiasco.
In the 1960´s, the area that is now the park was pretty much uninhabited until a massive development project led to the construction of two fossil-fuel power plants and even two nuclear power plants. Despite the ecological importance of this unique ecosystem, the national urge to reduce dependence on foreign oil led to these precarious energy developments.
Fortunately, many organized citizens who appreciated the park for its natural beauty fought against these energy developments. In 1968, the Biscayne National Monument was created while it wasn´t until 1980 that the area became a national park with full protection from industrial and residential development.
The more than 170,000 acres that make up Biscayne National Park are mostly water. However, several small keys Key Biscayne in the north to Key Largo in the south offer pieces of tropical paradise throughout the park. The unique location of Biscayne National Park has allowed for four distinct tropical ecosystems to converge in one place.
Mangrove swamps are one ecosystem that act as a buffer between the keys and the coral reefs. Many small lagoons that are scattered throughout the keys provide another key ecosystem and habitat for a variety of flora and fauna. The island key ecosystem constitutes most of the 9,000 acres of land in the national park, and offshore reef habitats provide some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving found anywhere in the world.
Avid bird watchers often make their way to Biscayne National Park for an opportunity to spot some of the unique tropical birds and migratory birds that can´t be found anywhere else in the continent. Furthermore, Biscayne National Park is home to hundreds of species of marine animals, both mammals, fish, and crustaceans. The giant blue land crab is a rare site that can be spotted throughout the keys.
The Caribbean reef octopus is another unique species that can be found in the water while flamingos, bald eagles, and other varied birds can be found in the air and nesting in the mangrove trees above.
· 95% of the park is underwater
· Two pirates, both named Black Caesar lived in on the islands of the park in the 18th century
· During Prohibition people came to the keys to drink since alcohol was permitted one mile offshore
· Hurricane Betsy in 1965 ruined Stiltsville, a makeshift community of wealthy Miamians who had built stilt houses on the keys
· In the coral reef, Elkhorn coral dominate up to a depth of 10 meters while staghorn coral make up the majority of the deeper reef ecosystem
· Five species of endangered whales can be occasionally spotted in the offshore waters, including the iconic sperm whale and humpback whale
· The lionfish, endemic to the Indian Ocean, can also curiously be found in the waters of Biscayne National Park
· Burmese pythons, probably illegally released from human captivity, have also been found in the park
· The National Park Services estimates that all of the land of the keys at Biscayne National park will be lost to rising sea levels within the next two centuries
While there is one terrestrial entrance to the park at Convoy Point, the vast majority of people arrive to Biscayne National Park via boat. Because of the fragile coral reef ecosystem, however, you will need to be careful to follow the buoys. Several fatal boating accidents have occurred due to irresponsible boat driving, and if you do cross into the protected reef ecosystem, you risk a hefty fine from park authorities.
If you don´t have a boat of your own, you can easily sign up for a unique boat tour of the national park at the visitor´s center which will take you through much of the park, introducing you to the four unique ecosystems, the unique flora and fauna, and also the historical structures located throughout the park. The glass bottomed boat tour is something you won´t want to miss. You can also charter a private boat or rent one from the mainland. It is free to enter into the park via boat, though you will need to pay a $20 dollar fee to dock overnight at the harbor at Boca Chita.
Most boaters who make their way to the national park come to fish. If you aren´t an experienced fisher, you might want to sign up for a free fishing awareness class offered by the national park service that will teach you what species you can catch and which you need to let be.
Snapper and rock bass are some of the most common species to be caught making for an excellent fish fry at your campsite after a day out on the water. Lobsters, crabs and shrimp can also be found in abundance throughout the park. If you have any luck, you might be in for quite a feast.
Tropical fish and sharks cannot be caught under risk of heavy fine and penalty. While you can fish for the spiny lobster and stone crab (both delicious!), there is a designated lobster sanctuary in the park that you will have to avoid.
If you want to try your hand at a more primitive form of fishing, spear fishing is also allowed in the park and some tour operators might offer unique classes so that you can try your hand at this unique activity. Make sure to sign up for your Florida seawater fishing license before heading out to catch your evening meal.
One of the most important gear for fishing or boating is a quality cooler to keep your catch cold until dinner. For a complete list of the best coolers out there, check out our camping cooler reviews
Another extremely popular activity at Biscayne National Park is kayaking. Especially during holidays and weekends, the amount of motorboats around the park can take away from the enchantment of this tropical paradise. Fortunately, there are several areas around the park that don´t allow motorboats to enter. These restricted areas will allow kayakers and canoes to find their own hidden corners of the park where the only sound you hear will be the gently rolling of waves and the calls of tropical birds in the mangrove swamps.
Simply paddling along the shoreline of the keys will allow you to spot everything from lobsters to crabs to strange looking sponges. If you really want to escape the motorized boats, consider paddling the roughly 7 miles across the bay towards Elliot and Adams Keys. South of Caesar Creek there are several unique lagoons that are closed to motorized boats. Jones Lagoon is perhaps the best place for kayakers where you can find jellyfish and the occasional shark spinning through the waters.
If you didn´t your own kayaks, there are several places to rent. A quick stop by the visitor’s center will allow you to check out all of the different paddling routes that the park offers to people wanting to explore the area without a motor.
Perhaps the most appreciated activity offered by Biscayne National Park is snorkeling and scuba diving. To scuba dive in the area, you will have to bring proof of your active scuba license. Snorkeling, however, can be done by anyone.
While you can try and snorkel along the shorelines of the keys, the mangrove forest and the grass and seaweeds can drastically limit what you are able to see and explore. A much better alternative for people wanting to get the true underwater, coral reef experience, is to paddle about 10 miles out to the actual reef where you will find the best snorkeling anywhere in the country. If you don´t feel like you have the stamina to paddle the 10 miles there (and back!), guided tours offered by both the park and private companies out to the reef are also available and you should have a couple of hours built into the trip to spend time exploring the reef with your snorkeling gear.
If you are ready to hit the water and discover the underwater world waiting for you there, you need to know the best places to go snorkeling. Much of the beaches near the keys are populated by thick sea grass which will impede your underwater vision and make for a rather unpleasant snorkeling experience. However, Biscayne National Park offers several fantastic snorkeling spots that allow you to explore everything from shipwrecks to sharks. Below we offer our advice on the top five snorkeling spots around the park.
While some people might think that snorkeling around a shipwreck isn´t as natural or exciting as a “real” coral reef, many ecologists have found that ship wreckage that settles at the bottom of the ocean eventually becomes a part of the natural ecosystem where fish, sharks, corals and other sea creatures make their home.
The Maritime Heritage Snorkel Adventure is a ranger guided snorkeling tour that will allow you to explore the wreckage of the Mandalay shipwreck that went down on 1928. Besides checking out the ship itself, you will also be able to see all sorts of colorful fish, purple sea fans, and other unique aquatic life.
One of the best parts of snorkeling the Biscayne Reef is that the national park service limits the amount of people that are allowed to visit each day. This has allowed for a greater protection of the fragile coral reef ecosystem. Only one private company is allowed to take a maximum of 45 people each day out to the reef, so you will need to make reservations in advance.
Once you get to the reef, however, you will find a virtually untouched reef ecosystem where clownfish, parrot fish, barracudas and even the occasional shark will be your swimming companions.
If you forgot to make your reservation for the Biscayne Reef and the tour is booked up for the next couple of days, the nearby John Pennekamp Reef is another great option. Since this reef is just outside the national park, there is less control meaning that there are no limits to the number of people who can visit. You can either private charter a boat to take you to this reef or take your own boat. While the reef itself is less “pristine” than the Biscayne Reef, you will still find a spectacular underwater ecosystem teeming with colorful coral and all sorts of fish.
While Elliot Key is one of the least visited places in the park, there is also some quality snorkeling spots that can be appreciated. What´s more, you can enjoy hiking throughout Elliot Key and end your day with a snorkeling adventure to cool off. You can find quality reef spots anywhere between and 8 and 20 feet deep just off the coat of Elliot Key
While the main coral reef is located a good distance away from the keys and the park´s mainland, there are patch reefs located around Stiltsville. If you contract a private boat to take you to visit the old stilt houses from the 1930´s, you might also ask your guide to let you stop and explore the patch reefs that are located nearby.
Unless you´re a marine biologist or a specialist in coral reef ecosystems, chances are that all of the vibrant colored corals, sponges, fish, and other marine life will look like something straight out of a fairy tale. To help you know what to look for and to identify the fish that magically appears from behind a piece of coral, below we offer a brief descriptions of 10 of the most common species of fish that can be spotted at Biscayne National Park.
These peculiar fish are recognized by their bright yellow color with bluish and turquoise lines running across their bodies. What is unique about the French grunt, however, is that if you listen carefully, you might be able to hear them “grunting”; a unique (though somewhat disconcerting) sound that you can hear while snorkeling.
This monster fish will most likely scare you if you encounter it during your first snorkeling trip. However, these fish are pretty docile and will most likely leave you alone. Between 2 and 5 feet length, these fish are a spectacular blue gray color and shimmer in the water while they swim.
This foot long fish is unique because of its pink or reddish coloring. Furthermore, the glasseye snapper is a carnivorous, nocturnal species. You might find it in darker spaces amongst the reef, since during the day it will most likely be resting.
The French Angelfish is the quintessential coral reef fish. The almost triangular shape of this fish along with its pointed nose, large fins, and elaborate bluish coloring make this an easy one to spot and identify.
These fish are definitely less attractive than some of their other reef companions, but they are a relatively common sight. Large and oblong shaped, these fish can easily reach several feet in length making them substantially larger than other fish you might encounter underwater.
This is one of the prized fish that snorkelers love to find. The vibrant, beautiful color patterns of the dragonet species make them easily identifiable and a favorite of scuba divers and snorkelers. While these fish are usually found at depths of 45 feet and deeper, they do occasionally rise to surface.
Many people think that trout are only fresh water species. However, it is completely possible to find sea trout as well. This species is common in the area and has a beautiful colors along its dorsal fin making it easy to pick out from the pack.
This unique fish is a frequent visitor to these coral reef and is easily identifiable by its sharp, pointed fin that juts up from its back. The jack knife fish is usually black and white colored though there are other specimens with more vibrant color schemes.
The name alone should make this fish one that you try to spot. The unique turquoise coloring on the peacock flounder makes it a unique, beautiful fish that enlivens the reef ecosystem.
Most people don´t come to Biscayne National Park to hike due to the wide array of water activities from boating, fishing, kayaking and snorkeling. However, if you have an extra day or two, there are a few unique trails through some of the keys that will offer you a completely different glimpse into the reality of the region.
A six mile trail running the length of Elliot Key (one of the park´s most unexplored and least visited lands, is a fantastic opportunity to spot some of the unique birds and wildlife that populate the park. There is also a great swimming area that will allow you to cool off after a long day in the sun. For people who are a bit more adventurous, you can also set up camp either in the depth of the forests or along the beach where you will enjoy the clatter of bird song at both dawn and dusk. The stars over the bay aren´t too shabby either.
Another good activity you can do either by water or by land is visiting some of the unique historical structures that give testament to the park´s storied history. A private boat tour will take you to the area of what is left of Stiltsville where you´ll be able to imagine a once lively community of wealth millionaires enjoying their own private tropical paradise. While most of Stiltsville´s building were lost to hurricanes, there are a few that are still left standing and in good shape.
Just outside the park, on Key Biscayne, the Cape Florida Lighthouse can also be visited. This lighthouse has been standing continuously since 1825. For a small fee you can climb to the top and enjoy some beautiful views of the surrounding waters. Making it to the top for a sunset view is truly extraordinary.
Lastly, though they aren´t “structures” in the typical sense, Biscayne National Park offers a shipwreck trail where you can visit several of the ships that these rough, coral reef laden waters have claimed over the years. The SS Arratoon Apcar is one shipwreck that is only 10 meters deep. If scuba diving isn´t your thing, you can easily spot the remains of this shop from your boat.
Because of the tropical climate at Biscayne National Park, there really isn´t a huge difference in temperature between summer and winter. While the winter months will be slightly cooler, you might want to plan your trip around the rains. The dry season runs from November to April and the temperatures are usually significantly cooler, with an average temperature between 66 and 76 degrees Fahrenheit.
Dry season, then, is usually the best time of year to visit as it will offer you an excuse to escape the colder winters from your hometown. You will also be conveniently missing the hurricane season.
If you are looking for a tropical adventure, great climate, unique wildlife and birds, and one of the most accessible tropical coral reefs in the world, Biscayne National Park is the place for you. Whether you are just escaping from the noise of downtown Miami for a day or two, or coming to spend several weeks exploring the four unique ecosystems, there is plenty to do, see, and explore at Biscayne National Park.
For backpackers, the feeling of taking off a super heavy pack after hours on the trail is the supreme bliss. Your whole body feels lighter and the cool breeze begins to gently evaporate the sweat that is dripping down your back. After a few days of hiking, however, that feeling of bliss slowly disappears as you immediately fall to the ground in exhaustion after escaping the weight of a huge pack.
Most people who are new to the world of backpacking tend to bring way more than they actually need. The thought of spending several days out in the wilderness without a refrigerator, central heating system, or a Wal-Mart nearby usually leads to a pack that is upwards of 70 pounds filled with obscure kitchen utensils, extra clothes, and a whole assortment of knives and other weapons to protect yourself while on the trail.
After a few hikes, however, most backpackers tend to realize that the majority of the stuff they´ve taken in the past ends up shifting to the bottom of the pack and never actually makes it out of their pack. You don´t need your nifty (but heavy) espresso maker when the lightweight pot you´ve been using for all your cooking needs does the trick. As the amount of stuff in your bag diminishes, your back and shoulders thank you and you soon find that even after a twenty mile day, you feel fresher and more energized.
For hikers and backpackers who dislike having to carry around a monster pack that needs to be lifted up onto your shoulders with the help of two volunteers, you might be ready to take the next step to ultralight backpacking which will allow you to pack in the miles without feeling dog-tired by the time you make it to your campsite. Below we explain the fundamentals of ultralight backpacking and offer a few tips to become an expert “ultralighter.”
Though there are no “official” definitions for what it means to be an ultralight backpacker, the idea is pretty simple: reduce the amount of weight in your pack as much as safely possible. Safety is key here, because while you could head out to the wilderness with nothing more than a pack of matches and a knife, ultralight backpacking still ensures that people will have the needed gear to feed and shelter themselves while on the trail.
Most people accept that “light” backpacking is achieved anytime a pack is under 20 pounds (10 kilos). Ultralight backpacking is more extreme as packs must be at or below 10 pounds (5 kilos). While several people might claim to have invented the ultralight philosophy, the practice can be traced back to indigenous people and scouts who headed out into the wilderness of their territories on several day long hunting trips with nothing more than the clothes on their back and their simple hunting weapons.
More recently, Grandma Gatewood gained fame when she thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail with nothing more than a duffel bag with nothing more than an army blanket, a plastic sheet, and an umbrella. Not a day goes by without the hundreds of companies that make up the hiking and backpacking industry throwing at us yet another product that is deemed as indispensable for life on the trail. Ultralight backpacking casts doubt on the true necessity of so many different items that quickly lead to a 50 pound pack and instead carefully scrutinizes the pros and cons of every item that eventually does make it into the pack.
Part of becoming a skilled ultralight backpacker depends on one´s ability to sharpen their wilderness survival skills and their intimate knowledge of the natural world around them. For people without much in depth knowledge and skill, reliance on heavy duty gear is a must. For example, when headed out for a three day hike in late autumn, you probably will be tempted to carry a strong tent and an extra heavy sleeping bag. If, however, you knew how to build a simple structure that protected you from the elements while efficiently capturing and storing the heat of a fire, you could easily make do without the tent and heavy sleeping bag.
One of the benefits of the burgeoning backpacking supplies industry is that companies are always competing against one another to try and lower the weight of essential items you will want to carry with you. From ultralight cooking pots to sturdy backpacks that weigh in at less than a pound (read this Wild Guide for more info), you will want to do your research to find which pieces of essential gear will save you an ounce or two. To help you with that, we have compiled and reviewed all the best hiking backpacks available on the market today. Don't forget to check out this Live Once Live Wild Guide as part of your research.
When considering weight, most hikers and backpackers only think about what they are carrying on their back. However, the weight of what you´re wearing on your feet is another fundamental concern of the ultralighter. Instead of opting for those bulky hiking boots that when wet might feel like you´re dragging two rocks along the path, a lighter pair of hiking shoes will significantly reduce your overall weight and even go a long way in making your pack feel lighter as well.
For ultralight backpackers, the idea of carrying along an extra pair of mittens or gloves when you have a clean pair of wool socks buried at the bottom of your bag is nonsense. One of the essential elements of ultralight backpacking is getting as many functions or uses out of each piece of gear that you bring along. For example, a poncho for rainy weather can also double as a ground cover for your tent, tarp, or other sleeping arrangement. A camping hammock likewise is a good way to keep your bag dry during wet weather. Just don´t try to use your shoe laces for dental floss.
If you have foregone the extra pair of clothes and the heavy tent but your pack is still a couple pounds over the 10 pound threshold, you might want to look at what you´re carrying as kitchen. Those pots, pans, stoves, and silverware quickly add on the pounds, and one of the best ways to reduce weight is to forego the stove all together and opt instead for no-cook meals. You can always bring along the infamous “billycan” which is a single cook pot that you can use to boil up a soup made from the edible plants and morel mushrooms you´ve collected along the trail over an open fire.
While most all traditional hikers and backpackers would agree that we really don't need half the stuff we carry on our backs, there is a limit to how light you can go. You should never sacrifice your personal safety just to enjoy a lighter pack. If you´re headed out for a weekend jaunt in the woods and the forecast calls for the possibility of snowstorms, you might want to bring along that heavy duty sleeping bag, or a durable tent even if it pushes your pack up to 15 pounds. With that being said, it's also important to know the best tent brands available today. Make sure to take a look at Live Once Live Wild Guide to help you choose the best tent.
By following these five simple pieces of advice, however, you should be able to drastically reduce the weight of your backpack and continue to hone your wilderness survival skills as your lack of gear will put you closer in contact with the natural world around you.
With an extreme elevation of 2,000 to more than 13,000 feet, Yosemite provides diverse habitat for over hundreds of species of birds. Below are some of the birds that can be found in Yosemite National Park.
Also known as mountain blue birds, Stellar’s Jays are one of the common birds at Yosemite. What’s interesting, though, is that these so-called “blue birds” are not blue at all. Their feathers do not have blue pigment in them. Their feathers are made of keratin which when hit by sunlight causes blue wavelengths to reflect back, giving these birds its radiant color.
Juncos are little sparrows that have small rounded heads. You’ll most likely catch a glimpse of these birds as they hop around bases of trees looking for fallen seeds.
These magnificent birds are known to be the largest owls in North America. Although Yosemite is home to 65% of owls’ population in America, these birds are not easily spotted. They prefer to hunt in mid-to-upper elevated woods where most visitors don’t like to spend much time in.
Historically known as the duck hawks, peregrine falcons are known for its incredible speed of up to 320km/h, making it one of the fastest members of the animal kingdom. These birds were once endangered species, but due to the diligence of the park to protect them, peregrines’ recovery has been made possible.
Among the birds of Yosemite is Sooty Grouse, a bird the size of a chicken. You may spot these birds or hear the males’ calls – a loud booming sound that can be heard for miles – as they attract the females.
These reddish, or Tyrian purple birds are migratory birds that can be seen in Yosemite. A trip to the park in summer gives visitors more chance to spot these beautiful birds, as these birds spend a lot of time on the ground of Yosemite Valley during this season.
You’ll recognize a hermit thrush through its feathers, with rich brown upper body and smudged spots on its breast. As you walk around the park, take time to listen to its call, a soft chuck or sup. Visitors have been fortunate to spot a hermit thrush most often at dusk or sometimes mid-day, as it hops around and scrape in leaf litter while foraging.
These birds are called acorn woodpeckers for they depend heavily on acorns for food. Expect to see them among oak trees as they perform their own peculiar method of storing acorns. They store their food in holes they drilled themselves, or sometimes even in natural holes and cracks in barks.
A northern goshawk is a medium-sized raptor that is usually found between 5,000 to 9,000 feet in elevation. A lot of hikers in Yosemite have had the experience of spotting a goshawk as it soars high in the air.
These little songbirds are a common bird of Northern America. They are known to be slow but persistent singers, often times their songs can be heard in Yosemite Valley.
Also known as the Arctic three-toed woodpecker, these birds are known for the color of their feathers. Their feathers are white from the throat to the belly, and black on its head and back. Most of their food are acquired through pecking, and sometimes by gleaning off branches as well.
Grosbeaks are seed-eating birds with large beaks. There are a lot of grosbeak species, and the one that can be found in Yosemite is the black-headed grosbeak. This particular bird is a frequent summer visitor of the park, and is common in Yosemite Valley.
Usually seen during the winter season, American dippers are birds that like to frequent near cascades and dashing waters of upper Yosemite. During winter, more dippers come to Yosemite when the rivers and valley falls are stilled. You may recognize them by their distinct behavior of squatting their bodies up and down, hence the name dipper.
A mountain chickadee is one of the common birds you may spot in Yosemite National park. Their feathers are gray, and there is a distinctive white line above each of their eyes. Chickadee’s diet consists mainly of different kinds of insects and spiders. They also come to birdfeeders for food, and are busy storing nuts and seeds for later use.
Birdwatching in Yosemite is surely a unique experience. While spending time in the park, look around and listen carefully to the harmonious calls and songs of countless birds. However, every birdwatcher should keep in mind basic birding etiquette. While enjoying and exploring these birds, remember that following the park’s rules is the most important. Make sure you always go by the rules, as these rules are implemented to protect and nurture these beautiful creatures.