1. Biscayne National Park
Lloyd Miller died in August at the age of 100.
If you’re not familiar with him, his story is worth learning. An avid fisherman and a true South Florida character, he’s known for his work in preservation and activism – and particularly, for spurring the founding of Biscayne National Park.
The story goes back to the 1960s when developers were eyeballing the southern end of Biscayne Bay for an oil refinery and port. They also wanted to turn undeveloped Elliott Key into “Islandia,” an upmarket waterfront development. Miller wasn’t having it – and, long story short, he won. Thanks in large part to his tireless activism, that south end of Biscayne Bay first became a national monument and then, in 1980, Biscayne National Park.
The best and frankly most fun way to honor Lloyd Miller’s legacy? Get out and enjoy the park he helped create. And while you can experience Biscayne by driving there, a boat really helps you get the most out of your visit.
Elliott Key and Boca Chita Key have campgrounds and docks. Boca Chita is also home to a historic lighthouse.
All around the islands of the national park are some of South Florida’s best snorkeling and scuba diving, as well as pristine beaches to explore. It is a strange sensation to look up and note that you’re still just down the road from Miami – out here, you can experience South Florida the way the earliest South Floridians did.
And the way Lloyd Miller wanted you to.
2. Andros Island, Bahamas
When it comes to Bahamas boating trips from Fort Lauderdale, we’ll have nothing bad said about Bimini. It’s the first island you get to, and it’s great. But if you don’t mind adding more open-ocean miles to your trip, head to Andros Island for a meetup with some of the Caribbean’s best nature.
The island – actually a series of islands, although close enough together to be considered one place for practical, travel reasons – is large but sparsely populated. It’s home to several national parks and mile after mile of undisturbed beach. This isn’t the place for a weekend of gambling and debauchery, but if your idea of a good time is kayaking, birdwatching or some of the best snorkeling or scuba diving around, you’ll find it on Andros. And of course, you can drop a pole in the water and catch a bonefish or two.
A few small towns on the island offer upmarket lodgings, but camping or more downhome hotels and guesthouses will most likely be your best bet. But don’t get the idea that it’s all roughing it on Andros. The Tiamo Resort, for example, offers a full spa alongside luxury accommodations and fine dining options. But this is still Andros – so it also offers watersports, deep sea and bonefish fishing, and guided hikes through the tropical Andros wilderness.
3. The Okeechobee Waterway
Mention boating excursions in South Florida, and thoughts most likely turn to the open ocean. But the region’s inland boating should also be considered – and not just for dinner trips to Shooters Waterfront or 15th Street Fisheries. (Although those are great too.)
The Okeechobee Waterway is, in essence, South Florida’s Panama Canal. It was built in the 1930s as a way for barges and other boats to cross Florida without heading all the way down to the peninsula’s tip. Today it’s a unique trip that provides a vantage point on some of Florida’s less accessible and visited bits of nature. Old Florida mariners sometimes call it “the ditch,” and no, the body of water itself is not always a spectacular beauty. (Not the man-made parts of it anyway.) But for the adventurous backcountry boater, this off-the-beaten-path journey is worth it.
The waterway runs from Stuart to Fort Myers. In addition to its manmade stretches, it incorporates several natural bodies of water – the St Lucie River at its eastern edge, the Caloosahatchee River in the west and in the middle, Lake Okeechobee itself. Boaters also need to navigate several locks. Prior research on times for locks and bridges is a good idea for this trip.
While not every moment of the entire 134-nautical-mile route is thrilling – we’ll admit, the bit just east of the lake might not offer the most exciting time you’ve ever had – there’s enough exploring here to make the entire trip worthwhile. If you’re looking to do it all in one go, roughly the halfway point is a good place to stop. It’s most straightforward to leave the lake and rejoin the waterway at Clewiston, where the Roland Martin Marina offers dockage and supplies plus lodging or camping. Oh, and it also offers a tiki bar on the water – nothing like celebrating a full day’s boating with margaritas, a meal and maybe some live music overlooking Lake O.