| |

South Florida National Park Itinerary – An Amazing four days

Did you know South Florida had four amazing National Park sites and you could see all of them in a long weekend? Check out the four-day South Florida National Park itinerary we used and get some great ideas for your next trip. Even though this is a condensed trip, we had fun and enjoyed all the sites.

Table of Contents

Quick Overview of your four-day South Florida National Park Itinerary

  • Day 1: Big Cyprus National Preserve, Everglades National Park, Nike Missile Base
  • Day 2: Kayak Biscayne National Park and Drive to Key West on the Overseas Highway
  • Day 3:  Seaplane flight to Dry Tortugas National Park
  • Day 4: Key West and Return Home through the Florida Keys

Map of South Florida National Park Itinerary

Day 1: Big Cyprus National Preserve, Everglades National Park, Nike Missile Base

  • Driving Miles for Day 1: 154 miles/ 248 km
  • Driving Time for Day 1: 3 Hours 30 minutes

This Itinerary assumes you have your own car to drive the route. You can rent cars easily at Miami International airport and the car rental companies all have numerous options.

alligator laying on the ground next to water at Big Cypress National Preserve
Don’t worry there was a fence!

Big Cypress National Preserve

Address: 52105 Tamiami Trail East, Ochopee, Florida 34141

The Oasis Visitor Center is a great place to start with exhibits, video overviews of the preserves, a gift shop and knowledgeable Rangers.  Next, take a walk on the nearby boardwalk that overlooks a canal full of wildlife. We saw numerous Alligators, Terns, Anhinga, Egrets, Florida Gar, and Bowfin. Did I mention Alligators?!

Hike a portion of the Florida National Scenic Trail which runs from the entrance of the Visitor Center and around the small ranger airport. This trail actually runs all through the preserve and beyond through the entire state of Florida and the Visitor Center is actually the south Terminus. Note, make sure to talk with the ranger for the conditions of the trail. It was super muddy when we were there, which only allowed us to go but so far.

Everglades National Park

Shark Valley Visitor Center

Address: 36000 SW 8th Street. Miami, FL 33194

After this early start at the Oasis Visitor Center, your next stop should be the Shark Valley Visitor Center within the Everglades National Park. 

Take in the information at the visitor center and get your National Park Stamps. There is a small concession stand in the building if you want a snack or a drink.

Rent a bicycle for a ride on the 15-mile paved road to the Observation tower that provides amazing views of the everglades. If you plan ahead, you can also reserve the 2-hour Ranger guided tram tour.

If you don’t have the time, Hike the short Boardwalk trail (0.2 miles) or the Ottercave trail (0.3 miles)

Note: This Visitor Center is VERY busy, and you may see a line of cars if you arrive later in the day. They rangers only allow cars in if there is an open parking spot. You can park on the road if busy or wait in line.

two airboats on the water with lily pads in the foreground on a cloudy day
Airboats at Everglades Safari Park

Take an Air Boat Ride

Address: 26700 SW 8th St, Miami, FL 33194

Driving East you can pick one of three National Park affiliated Air Boat ride companies and experience the everglades from a whole new perspective, the water. We tried Everglades Safari Park, who has a 40 min ride at a reasonable price. If you show them your National Park pass to get a discount! They also have a National Park Cancelation Stamp as well!

Nike Missile Base Tour

Address: 40001 State Road 9336, Homestead, FL 33034 (Earnest F. Coe Visitor Center)

information sign with hanger and Nike missile inside on a cloudy day
Nike Missile in the Everglades

Who knew there was a Nuclear Missile base in the Everglades during the cold war? I didn’t! Drive to the Earnest F. Coe Visitor Center in the Everglades and take the Ranger led tour and learn all about it and see an actual Nike Missile! 

You can get a National Park Cancellation Stamp during the tour. It is found on a table inside the hanger with the Nike Missile.

Note the time of the tour as they only run for part of the day. Also, you will have a 15–20 minute drive from the Visitor Center to the Missile site.

Nature Walk

After a tour of the missile base and as you drive back along the main park road, consider taking a hike along the long Pine Key trail. Or consider the short 0.4 mile round trip gumbo Limbo Trail.

Day 2: Kayak Biscayne National Park and Drive to Key West on the Overseas Highway

  • Driving Miles for Day 2: 154 miles/ 248 km
  • Driving Time for Day 2: 3 Hours 30 minutes

Biscayne National Park

Address: 9700 SW 328th Street, Sir Lancelot Jones Way, Homestead, FL 33033

water, white clouds and blue sky and patches of green coastline, View from Jetty Walk at Biscayne Florida National Park
View from Jetty Walk

Your first stop this morning is Biscayne National Park. Only 15 minutes from homestead, this National Park is over 90% water, so much so the National Park Service calls this their Watery Wonderland. It should be no surprise that there is an abundance of water themed activities ready for you here.

Walk Around the Visitor Center

When you arrive, check in at the bookstore on the second floor for your excursion, and since you arrive early, check out the visitor center, right next door. Exhibits from shipwrecks, information about natural wonders of the park, aquariums and information videos are available.

Stamp for Cape Florida Lighthouse Key Biscayne Fl 1825 1846

There is also a small table that has the National Park Cancellations Stamps. As a special treat there are several Lighthouse stamps!

You can also walk along the boardwalk and past the marina on the Jetty Walk to see the Biscayne Bay up close. You may run into a fisherman at the end of the end of the jetty.

View of the back of a girl kayaking holding a paddle on the water
Kayaking in Biscayne National Park

Kayak the Mangrove Maze of Biscayne National Park

At the appointed time, meet up with your guide at the boat launch. Jump into your Kayak and follow your guide as they tell you about the local environment, sea life and natural wonders of the park. Enjoy paddling the mangroves and see if you can find some Manatees. (My son and daughter were able to see a mom and baby!)

view from car of open road driving with blue sky and clouds toward Key West
Starting out on US1 toward Key West

What is the Overseas Highway?

Your next stage of your trip is driving on one of the most scenic highways in the country that stretches over turquoise waters, connecting islands fringed with palm trees. The Overseas Highway is magical. Stretched 113-miles and uses 42 bridges in a scenic route that leapfrogs across the Florida Keys toward Key West. It is part of U.S. Route 1 and is often called the “Highway that Goes to Sea” for a reason.

History of the Overseas Highway:

  • Built upon the former path of the Overseas Railroad, a visionary project by Henry Flagler completed in 1912.
  • The railroad was severely damaged by a 1935 hurricane, leading to its conversion into the highway we know today.
  • The Overseas Highway boasts 42 bridges, weaving between the islands and offering breathtaking ocean views.

Driving the Overseas Highway to Key West

Prepare for a leisurely journey and focus on soaking in the scenery rather than on speed. It will take 2.5 hours to drive the 113 miles, but you will want to allow time for stops, detours, and potential traffic, especially during peak season. Enjoy the vibrant island life, quirky roadside attractions, and endless photo opportunities. Check out below for some ideas for stops and sites along the way.

Best Stops Along Overseas Highway to Key West

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

Mile Marker: 102.5

Experience the underwater world through glass-bottom boat tours, snorkeling, or diving in this underwater wonderland. The Visitor center gives a nice overview of the different activities that are available. We took the short Grove hike while we were there. A short 1/2 mile out and back stroll.

Tarpon Feeding sign with wall covered in dollar bills at Eddies

Feed the Tarpons at Robbie’s

Mile Marker: 77

Is feeding the Tarpon fish at Robbie’s a little cheesy and touristy? Yes. Should you miss the opportunity to grab a bucket of dead fish and feed it to a different bigger fish that jump out of the water at you? No! it is a unique experience even if you just pay the $5 to get out on the pier and watch your loved one feed the fish.

What makes this experience so unique is the SIZE of these fish. They are huge! They can get up to eight feet (!) long. If you dangle the fish just above the water the fish will jump out for the bait. Just be careful you don’t get bit! Also, keep an eye out for the pelicans, they usually have staff discouraging them, but they will steal your fish if you are not careful.

Man in pink shorts and green shirt laying on pier in Floriday Keys feeding fish with pelican and girl watching him
Feeding the Tarpon!

Ice Cream and Key Lime Pie on a Stick

While there are multiple contenders for the best key lime pie on a stick, two that I would suggest on the way to Key West:

  • Key Largo Chocolates: More than just key lime pie, they have awesome ice cream and a wide selection of chocolate. Mile Marker 100.5
  • The Key Lime Pie Factory: Located in Islamorada, this spot offers key lime pie in various forms, including on a stick dipped in chocolate. Mile Marker 92
Front store front of Key Largo Chocolates on a sunny day
Key Largo Chocolates

Turtle Hospital

Mile Marker: 48.5

The Turtle Hospital in Marathon is a non-profit organization dedicated to the rehabilitation of injured and sick sea turtles. Visitors can take a guided tour to learn about the turtles, their injuries, and the rehabilitation process.

Seven Mile Bridge

Mile Marker: 46.7

There are actually two ‘seven mile’ bridges. The new seven-mile bridge part of US 1 and the Overseas Highway and opened in 1982. It is actually only 6.7 miles long but connects the middle keys to the lower keys. The old seven-mile bridge was built in 1912 and was part of the overseas railroad. It is now a pedestrian and bicycle path but only can be used for a small stretch of the bridge.

Green Australian Pine tree growing on seven mile bridge
Fred the Tree
Fred the Tree

One of the most interesting things about the old seven-mile bridge is Fred the Tree. An Australian pine tree that miraculously sprung up and began growing on the abandoned railroad tracks of the abandoned bridge. Keep an eye out for Fred as you drive toward Key West.

View of beach and overseas highway from old bridge Bahia Honda State Park
Bahia Honda State Park from the Old Bridge Road

Bahia Honda State Park

Mile Marker: 37

This little state park offers a lot of various recreational activities, at a reasonable price:

  • Snorkeling and diving in crystal-clear waters teeming with marine life.
  • Kayak through lush mangrove forests and exploring hidden coves.
  • Hike scenic trails and get a great view of the old bridge trail with breathtaking vistas of the Atlantic Ocean and the overseas highway.
  • Pronounced Bah-EE-ah OWN-da, means ‘deep bay.’

Day 3:  Seaplane Flight to Dry Tortugas National Park

Aerial view of Dry Tortugas and Fort Jefferson Florida National Park
Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park

One of the most isolated National parks in the United States, the Dry Tortugas is truly a special place. Take a Seaplane from Key West airport using Key West Seaplane Adventures to spend time on an island 70 miles west of Key West. Explore Fort Jefferson, listen to a Ranger talk or just relax on the white sand beaches. Amazing snorkeling abounds and if you are lucky, you will be able to find a spot all to yourself. Don’t forget to get your National Park Cancellation Stamp at the visitor center inside the Fort!

Walking Old Key West and Duval Street

After coming back from your amazing visit to Dry Tortugas, return to your lodging get cleaned up to explore old town Key West.

Walk Old Town Key West and check out the Little White House and see some presidential history. Alternatively, visit the classic Hemingway House, the Lighthouse Museum or go shopping along Duvall Street to fill time as you wait for sunset.

yellow and orange Sunset with sun behind cloud and sail boats on the water in Key West Florida

Check Out the Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square

Join the street performers, concessioners and crowds in Mallory Square as you all wait for the incredible sunset. Amazing sunset views can be enjoyed as you enjoy shave ice or watch incredible street performances.

Day 4: Key West and Return Home Through the Florida Keys

  • Driving Miles for Day 4: 154 miles/ 248 km
  • Driving Time for Day 4: 3 Hours 30 minutes
Southernmost point in the US icon on a sunny day in Key West Florida

Get you photo at the southernmost point in the US

If getting you photo with a giant painted concrete cone that looks like a buoy is your idea of a good time, then you are in luck. This iconic spot marks the southernmost tip of the continental United States and is a popular photo spot. Grabbing the photo early in the morning will help you avoid the lines. It symbolizes reaching the end of the road (literally!) and is a great way to start your return journey.

blue stairs with writing that states "Support Your Local Caffeine Dealer"

Breakfast at the Morning Joint on Cudjoe key

Located at mile marker 22, this popular breakfast spot offers delicious and creative dishes in a relaxed, island-style setting. Their menu features classics like pancakes and omelets, alongside unique options like lobster benedict and key lime French toast. They also have a variety of coffee drinks and fresh juices. They do have an outside patio as well, with colorful murals and seating. This will help you fuel up as you start your drive back to Miami.

Tips for your south Florida National Park itinerary

What is the best Key West Audio Tour?

One of the best audio tours out there is the Guidealong app. Why? It is not only chock full of interesting information; it also is fun to listen to. It’s just like having a tour guide along for the ride. The best part is that it just plain works, even without a gps signal! Plug it into your car’s audio, and it will, well, guide you along.

Guidealong app for the Florida Keys

We used the guide along app for this trip to the Florida Keys. You’ll hear stories, local tips & navigation play automatically, all based on your location. You will learn the history of the overseas highway, how it came together, shipwrecks, food, restaurants, detail on National and State parks, plus a whole lot more.

Our kids loved it. My daughter nick-named the narrator ‘Bob’ and wanted to make sure we had him ready to talk to us on each segment of our drive. Click the link to check out the Florida Keys Guide or browse through some of their other offerings.

What to eat on your south Florida National Park trip


Conch, a large sea snail, isn’t just a delicacy, it’s a symbol of the Keys. Nicknamed “the poor man’s lobster,” its meat is firm, slightly sweet, and versatile. Diving into conch is like taking a bite of the island itself. Easily assessable, conch fritters are a go to for the whole family. Conch Chowder is perfect to way to end the day.

Stone Crab

Stone crab claws, prized for their delicate sweetness and sustainable harvesting practices, are a true Keys delicacy. Available only from October to May, they offer a unique taste of the season. Have them steamed, in crab cakes or in a bisque, you cannot go wrong!

FAQ:  South Florida National Park Itinerary

Can you see Everglades and Biscayne in one Day?

Sure! It is absolutely doable to do interesting things at both parks in one day. We did a morning kayaking excursion at Biscayne National Park and was able to have plenty of time to visit the Ernest Coe visitor center and the Nike Missile site in the Everglades during the afternoon. Just know that both parks have a lot to offer, and if you have more time, you can take advantage of many more activities.

How do you get to Dry Tortugas National Park?

There are three basic ways to get to Dry Tortugas:

Ferry boat on water at Dry Tortugas with beach in foreground on a clear blue sky day

Ferry ride to Dry Tortugas

The first and most economical way is to take the Yankee Freedom Ferry from Key West. It is the only National Park affiliated company that takes visitors to the site. Holding close to 200 people the ferry is air conditioned with bathrooms and a full galley with snacks, beverages and sandwiches. Leaving at 8am, it will take 2-1/2 hours to arrive at the fort. You will have 4 1/2 hours on the island to explore, swim and grab sun.

woman looking at view of Dry Tortugas through window of inside of seaplane
We had an awesome view!

Seaplane flight to Dry Tortugas

The next way, and I think best way, to get to the fort is to take a Seaplane from Key West Seaplane Adventures. They are the only approved seaplane charter that can drop you off right on the island next to Fort Jefferson. They have flights going all day, and you can sign up for a 1/2 day or full day excursion. Plan early though, as the book up months in advance! We were able to squeeze in a half-day charter on our quick visit and loved it!

Boat Charter to Dry Tortugas

Another way to get to visit Fort Jefferson is to charter your own boat out of Key West. This allows you the ability to go where you would like without worrying about the schedule of a flight or Ferry boat. This can also get you some of the outer keys, such as the Lighthouse on Loggerhead key.

When is the best time to visit the Florida Keys?

For the best weather, anytime between November and April would be best. The summers in south Florida can be outright brutal (think, 95°F / 35°C with 100% humidity). To avoid crowds, target March and April or September and October. Note that Hurricane season runs from mid-summer until as late as October, with the peak in mid-September.

View from car driving down the overseas highway in the Florida Keys
Driving along the Overseas Highway

How long does it take to drive from Miami to Key West?

It should take about 3 1/2 hours to drive from Miami to Key West on US-1. However, it is always a good idea to allow for some extra time for traffic, and for any unforeseen need to stop for key lime pie on a stick.

aerial view of turquoise clear water over the Gulf of Mexico near Key West

Final Thoughts: 4 day South Florida National Park Itinerary

South Florida’s National Parks are certainly full of amazing things to do and see. This 4-day itinerary just scratched the surface of all you could do. I hope it gives you some great ideas for a grand adventure!

Wanting more? Check out all the other National Park Sites in Florida. Can you visit them all?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *