Sunday 5 January 2014

Miami Key Biscayne Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 5.3 km (3.3 miles), terrain: flat (like all of South Florida)

Most pictures courtesy of the creative folks at Flickr Creative Commons. Thanks!

Miami Running Routes:
South Beach
Coconut Grove

Key Biscayne
For more running routes, see Route List.

Here's a little corner of the real, original Florida, hidden away. And surprisingly, it's right inside Miami: Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, on Key Biscayne. You can get to this island by driving over the Rickenbacker Causeway from the south end of Miami. You have to pay a few dollars to get into the park, but you'll be glad you did.

Key Biscayne is the southernmost island lining the north end of Biscayne Bay, just north of the natural entrance into the bay.
View from the lighthouse south to Cape Florida, photo by Tach_RedGold&Green
The island is split into three parts: the northernmost section (just after the bridge) is occupied by Crandon Park, with a great beach and nature center along the eastern shore, facing the Atlantic. When I was a kid, growing up just north of Miami, Crandon Park also housed the zoo, south of the parking lots. The western side of Crandon Park is occupied by a golf course, a gigantic tennis center and a lot of inaccessible mangrove thickets.

Then, in the middle part of the island, comes Key Biscayne Village, with beautiful homes on the west side of the main road, and stupid high-rises lining the east side.

And then -- on the southern third of the island, with Cape Florida -- comes the best part. It has been preserved as Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. It has the nicest beach around (voted as one of the 10 best in the US), a lighthouse, a little harbor, loads of trails and great views in every direction. As a state park, you just have to make sure that you go there during opening hours: from 8 a.m. till sunset every day.

And, hey, once you've made the effort to go there and you've paid your money, you might as well plan to make a day of it: bring your swimming gear, maybe some picnic food or even a fishing pole. The beach is more natural -- and normally much less crowded -- than Miami Beach. This is the place to kick off your running shoes later and enjoy paradise for a bit longer!

After you pay at the park entrance station, drive past the first picnic area to go south to the main swimming area, with the snack bar, near the lighthouse. Now walk out over the boardwalk to the beach and look around before you start running. The Cape Florida lighthouse is directly south of you, along the beach. The lighthouse was built in 1825 to guide sailors into Biscayne Bay.
The Bill Baggs beach and lighthouse, photo by Keith Hauser
We want to run past the lighthouse, running clockwise along the shore, following the southern tip of the island (Cape Florida), then back up the west shore to No-Name Harbor, see a few mangroves, then cut across the island back through the picnic area to the beach, then head back south to the starting point, right here at this wonderful beach.
The lighthouse, photo by Ron Wiecki
Unfortunately, the beach is blocked by a fence directly in front of the lighthouse. The lighthouse and the lighthouse-keeper's house and a 100-meter section of beach are all fenced-off. So we'll first have to take the last path through the dunes on the right, back to the parking lot, then take the trail leading past the lighthouse to the south. You might want to run to the lighthouse first, just to see it from close-up, then back to take the path that takes you back to the beach, south of the fenced-off area.

From now on, there are no more obstacles. Just run along the water's edge, with the Atlantic waves rolling over the sand, and the seagulls and pelicans winging overhead.

You'll round the tip of Cape Florida, and start heading north, going by the end of the parking area. On the bay side of the island, there is no beach, and the rocky shore is used by fishermen and nature lovers, with occasional docks for fishing and bird-watching scattered along the shore. The trail is lined by Florida's state tree: the sable palm. You can see westwards across Biscayne Bay, and the sunsets here can be beautiful.
Sunset along the trail on the west side of the island, photo by dania102100
At the 2-km mark, you come to No-Name Harbor, a little anchorage with a restaurant, the Boater's Grill. Follow the path as it curves around the little bay.

When you pass the restaurant and parking lot, keep running along the water, until -- about halfway around the north side of the harbor -- you come to the trail that leads off through the mangroves north of here. Turn right onto the mangrove trail and follow it to the end, where there is a lookout over the lagoon, and then head back to the harbor again.
Pelican on a seawall, photo by onebrowncookie
Most of the Florida bays were once lined with such mangroves, and this area is also being restored. The whole area north of No-Name Harbor had been buried under sand dredged up from the bottom of Biscayne Bay to build more houses, but Miami Herald editor Bill Baggs started a campaign to save this corner of Key Biscayne, and the State of Florida bought the land. Since then, Florida naturalists have been restoring the land to a half-way natural state.

When you get back to the harbor again, run back to the parking lot near the restaurant and now follow the bicycle path eastwards, cutting across the island.

When you get to the main road, cross the road into the picnic area parking lot and follow the boardwalk out to the beach. The beach is narrow here, and not many people swim at this spot.
Crossing the dunes to the beach, photo by Keith Hauser
Now turn right to head south along the sand to the starting point. It's easiest to run on the wetter, hard-packed sand right at the water's edge. I like to take off my shoes when doing a beach run: there's nothing like the feel of sand between your toes to make you feel like you've just landed in paradise.

You'll see the lighthouse down the beach as you approach. And when you get back to the start, you can jump into the water to cool off with a good swim, take a freshwater shower and enjoy some more of that good old Florida beach life.

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