Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park is located on the southern end of Key Biscayne Island. Due to its beautiful mile-long Atlantic shoreline, the state park beach was listed many times in Dr. Beach’s America’s Top 10 Beaches report. The place offers several picnic pavilions for rental, 2 restaurants, parking, showers and toilets. Aside from relaxing in a nice beach chair or enjoying the warm water, visitors can also rent a bike or a kayak, go hiking, snorkeling or fishing.
The history of the park is also rich. The place hosts the oldest structure in South Florida: The Cape Florida Lighthouse (1825). Also, the site is marked as part of the National Underground Railroad Network, as fugitive slaves escaped from the island to freedom in the Bahamas during slavery time.
“Dr. Beach” Top Ten Best Beaches in US
Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park offers one of the best beaches in America, listed many times by the noted researcher Dr. Stephen Leatherman (“Dr. Beach”) as one of the Top 10 Beaches in the entire United States. The criteria used by Dr. Beach to create the list considers 50 different factors including temperature, waves and which beaches are best-suited for activity. Considering the number of beaches United State’s coasts offers along with Hawaii, being recognized as one of the best beaches in America really means the place is amazing!
The Rich History of Cape Florida Lighthouse
Cape Florida lighthouse is the oldest structure in South Florida, built in 1825. The attraction is open for free tours twice a day (10 am and 1 pm), except on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. From the top of the lighthouse visitors are rewarded with the best views of Biscayne Bay, the state park and Miami skyline. To get to the top you must face almost 110 steps and be at least eight years old. The effort is worthwhile because the view is incredible!
The Lighthouse history
Since Florida’s discovery in 1513, when the first Spanish expedition arrived in the region, the area was known to the sailors as dangerous, full of storms, coral reefs and sandbanks responsible for many shipwrecks. In 1821 the US authorities decided to establish a plan for the construction of lighthouses across the east coast of Florida to help sailors. The Cape Florida Lighthouse was part of that plan and was built in 1825.
In 1836 Florida natives from a tribe called Seminole attacked the lighthouse. The assistant lighthouse keeper managed to escape and entered the lighthouse locking the heavy door behind him. The natives couldn’t get inside, but started a fire at the base of the tower. Tanks filled of lamp oil for the light where kept at the bottom of the lighthouse and later that night, still during the attack, the tanks exploded and the noise was heard by a schooner nearby. The schooner crew managed to rescue the assistant keeper, but assistant helper died during the attack.
After the attack and all the damaged the lighthouse suffered, the tower was closed. In 1846 a contract was signed to restore the lighthouse and the Assistant Keeper’s house. The old bricks from the first lighthouse were partially reused. The new lighthouse was finally concluded on April 1847. Later on 1855 a restoration raised more 29 meters above the off-shore reefs.
The National Underground Railroad
In the beginning of the 19th century, specially after 1820, when the state of Florida was acquired by the US, many American slaves used the Key Biscayne Island as a escape point to the Bahamas. Hundreds of slaves and Black Seminoles (also slaves) escaped to the British colony of the Bahamas, mainly to the Andros Island, where a village called Red Bays was created. The construction of Cape Florida Lighthouse in 1825 helped US government to prevent slave escapes by blocking the route. Both Cape Florida and Red Bays are sites on the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Trail.
Natural Preserved Park
Bill Baggs Cape Florida is a natural preserved park. The park was seriously damaged by Hurricane Andrew in 1992 devastating some of the original plants and opening space for exotic ones to come. So the authorities decided do close the park for almost one year to restore the native plants. The work still goes on and thanks to that effort the park is today very close of what it was back in 1800. It is very choking (in a good way) and interesting the idea that you are just minutes away from the cosmopolitan Miami Downtown and at the same time surrounded by an intense natural environment.
Another interesting fact is that on April starts sea turtle season (ends on October). So if you visit the park during that period you will probably see some turtle eggs on the beach. The Park Rangers protect the eggs with a yellow tape around to avoid people from stepping on it.