Go Wild in Miami’s Natural Wonders

WITH a year-round mild climate and unrivaled water access, Miami is the perfect long-haul destination for families that like to spend their time enjoying the great outdoors.

Whether it’s lounging on one of Key Biscayne’s family-friendly beaches, snorkeling in Biscayne National Park or canoeing through the Everglades National Park, visitors can escape artificial theme parks and get real in a wonder-filled natural paradise.

Covering 1.5 million acres, Everglades National Park is the third largest in the U.S. National Parks system. Made up of sawgrass prairies, mangrove swamps, subtropical jungles and the warm waters of Florida Bay, the park is home to a rare community of plants and endangered animals that inhabit the seemingly endless grassy waters. Visitors to the park can enjoy self-guided and ranger-led tours and activities from the Main Visitor Centre at the Park’s entrance, or journey deeper into the Everglades for a more extensive experience in the Florida wilderness. Families may want to drive south to the town of Flamingo, 38 miles from the park’s main entrance and featuring many rare birds and exotic wildlife.

Exciting sites along the drive include Anhinga Trail and the Pahayokee Overlook, and great bonding experiences include naturalist tours and world-class fishing. To the north, the Shark Valley entrance offers tram tour and the chance to rent a bike and traverse a scenic 15-mile route.  A 65-foot observation tower gives you a bird’s eye view of the River of Grass.

A rarity among national parks, Biscayne National Park offers 173,000 acres to explore, 95 percent of which are under Miami’s clear Caribbean blue waters. Teeming with colorful sea life and plants, the park encompasses Biscayne Bay, the longest stretch of mangrove forest left on Florida’s east coast, living coral reefs and 40 of the northernmost Florida Keys. At the Dante Fascell Visitor Center, visitors can enjoy glass bottom boat tours, snorkeling and dive trips and island excursions, as well as rent canoes and kayaks. Fishing is excellent, with snapper, snook and barracuda among the most common catch. In shallow waters less than 10 feet deep, the living coral is home to a variety of sea life including tropical fish, sponges and the spiny lobster. Playful and curious manatees, dolphins and five species of sea turtles call the waters of Biscayne Bay home, as do moray eels, stingrays, squid, starfish and hundreds of varieties of fish, large and small.

Closer to the city, there are many other opportunities to get out on the Bay waters, from fishing charters and catamaran rentals, to jet skis and kayaks. Standouts include North Miami Beach’s Oleta State Park (which also offers bike trails) and naturalist-led Eco-Adventure Tours around the region’s unparalleled ecosystems, including sunrise/sunset/moonlight kayaking, snorkeling and canoeing in Miami’s many waterways. They also offer an inspiring sea turtle awareness programme in the summer, where families can learn about these fascinating and vulnerable creatures and help hatchlings as they embark on their exciting journey into the depths of the ocean.

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Miami Beach is the stuff of legends, a beautiful barrier island stretching from the tip of South Beach to Sunny Isles Beach. With more than 15 miles of white sand, the community offers one of the nation’s consistently top rated urban beaches. On South Beach, kids can play on the beach with lifeguards watching over them from candy-colored Art Deco lifeguard stands. When it’s time to eat, they can wander with their parents over to any of Ocean Drive’s festive outdoor cafés. When it’s time to play again, teens and parents can rent jet skis, roller blade or join a volleyball game on the beach.

Key Biscayne’s Crandon Park offers some of the area’s loveliest beaches as well as a carousel and playground suitable for younger children. Here, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center offers hands-on marine exploration, coastal hammock hikes, fossil-rock reef walks, bike trips, local history lectures and beach walks to aquatic tourists. At Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, active families can enjoy the beach, bicycling, canoeing and camping, while Matheson Hammock offers a gentle lagoon area where toddlers can safely waddle.

One of Miami’s most historic sites, Coral Gables’ Venetian Pool is formed from an old coral-rock quarry and fed by 820,000 gallons of spring water daily. Considered one of the world’s most unique and breathtaking municipal swimming pools, the non-chemical pool provides a nice break from the chlorine and salt water, and the beautiful coral rock keeps the water nice and cool even in the summer sun. Hailed as one of the best destinations for families by locals and tourist guides alike, the Venetian Pool is a great alternative to the beach for family fun in the sun.

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