American Nomad Blog
About this blog
American Nomad covers the best of U.S. travel—from vacation deals to festivals, weekend getaways, travel tips, and more. A seasoned traveler and Moon author, Laura is the perfect guide to help discover new gems when traveling domestically.
- A Southern Girl's Wintertime Adventure in Yellowstone
- One Novelist's Odyssey Across America
- Gearing up for a Family Camping Trip
- Mint Juleps and More at Oak Alley Plantation
- Avoiding Identity Theft While on Vacation
- Money-Saving Travel Tips from Nomadic Matt
- Fashion, Fun, and Convenience for the Modern Traveler
- In Search of Irish Museums Across America
- The Inspiring Journey of a Solo Kayaker
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 2
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 1
- Experiencing Yosemite with YExplore
- Two Travel Contests Worth Mentioning
- A Word About the TSA's No-No List
- A Reader's Advice About Airport Security
Columbus Day in Florida's Biscayne National Park
Although the details of Christopher Columbus's famous 1492 expedition from Spain to the New World are still disputed more than five centuries later, it's generally accepted that the Italian explorer never set foot on the North American continent. Nevertheless, several countries, including the United States, have long celebrated the anniversary of Columbus's supposed discovery of the Americas, specifically the islands now known as the Bahamas, on October 12, 1492 (according to the Julian calendar). Known as Columbus Day here in America, it became a federal holiday in 1934, during President Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration, and has been observed on the second Monday in October since 1971. While many businesses, municipalities, and state offices choose to abstain from honoring this controversial holiday, Columbus Day is annually observed by banks, post offices, federal agencies, many state government offices, and some school districts. Some Italian Americans even honor the holiday as a celebration of their heritage.
Naturally, Columbus Day celebrations vary across the country. One such annual tradition occurs in Biscayne National Park (9700 SW 328th St., Homestead, 305/230-1144, visitor center 7 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, park 24 hours daily, free), where large crowds of boaters typically come during this four-day weekend to enjoy a stunning wonderland of aquamarine waters, peaceful islands, and living coral reefs, all within sight of downtown Miami. First established in 1968 as Biscayne National Monument and later designated a national park in 1980, this one-of-a-kind place encompasses 172,000 acres of Biscayne Bay, and whether you venture here for Columbus Day or opt for a less crowded time, you needn't bring your own seafaring vessel. Luckily, Biscayne National Underwater Park, Inc. (305/230-1100, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily) offers canoe and kayak rentals as well as scuba-diving and snorkeling trips ($40-99 pp) in Biscayne Bay, around the islands inside the park, and to the fascinating underwater coral reefs. Of course, if you'd prefer a less active experience, you're welcome to board a glass-bottom boat tour, which provides a wonderful glimpse of the coral reefs as well as frolicking dolphins and other marine creatures.
The islands, which are only accessible via canoe, kayak, or boat, are also worth exploring. Once a thriving community of wreckers, sponge makers, and pineapple farmers and now the park's largest island, Elliott Key offers ample picnicking, swimming, hiking, camping, fishing, and wildlife-viewing opportunities. Meanwhile, on Boca Chita Key, the park's most popular island, you can relish a relaxing picnic, stroll along a half-mile hiking trail, or tour the 65-foot ornamental lighthouse, which is open intermittently and affords a fantastic view of nearby islands, Biscayne Bay, and the Miami skyline. One way to reach Boca Chita is via the Boca Chita Island Adventure ($35 adults, $25 seniors and military personnel, $20 children 2-12, children under 2 free), a three-hour boat ride and island tour through Biscayne National Underwater Park, Inc. Although the water portion of Biscayne National Park is open 24 hours daily, be advised that the keys have different operating hours. Adams Key, for instance, is a day-use area only. Keep in mind, too, that there are no bridges or ferries to the islands and, consequently, no RV camping facilities on the islands themselves. For more information about tours and activities, consult the Dante Fascell Visitor Center (305/230-7275, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily) near Convoy Point (9700 SW 328th St., Homestead) on the mainland.
To learn more about specific boating rules and regulations on Columbus Day, consult the National Park Service, and for additional details about Biscayne National Park and other attractions in southern Florida, order a copy of Jason Ferguson's Moon Florida guidebook or my upcoming Moon Florida Keys. Of course, no matter how you choose to observe Columbus Day, I hope you have a safe, memorable holiday!
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below or contact me via laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com.
Disclosure: While I occasionally accept free or discounted travel assistance when it coincides with my editorial goals, my opinion is never for sale, which means that everything written in my American Nomad blog and my Moon travel guides is my unbiased reflection of the things that I see, do, and experience while traveling across the United States.
Photo © 2010 Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau / Text © 2010 Laura Martone