The local gang: a tourist-free look under Biscayne National Park
Q: We are looking for a four-day winter getaway on a beach in the southeastern United States. We have a limited amount of money. We would like to go sometime in December of this year. Any ideas?
John Hom-Ball, Stacy, Minnesota
A: If there's any silver lining for American in the post-September 11 travel climate, It's that those who are willing to leave home have a gigantic bin of bargains to pick from. In no place is this more evident than Florida, where the summer's over-hyped shark attacks and the recent anthrax scare have added to the national travel paralysis and caused a serious lull in the state's previously booming travel industry.
Aside from lower airfares, what this means to adventure travelers is that you won't have to work so hard to escape the crowds this holiday season. For that reason, I recommend places like Biscayne National Park (www.nps.gov/bisc), just outside Miami. Last December, the park's prime dive and snorkel spots were swarming with warm-weather seekers from all over the globe. This year you can expect a much higher fish-to-human ratio. Camp at the park's Elliot Key campground and you'll be perfectly positioned to take advantage of nearby beaches and hiking trails.
If you'd rather not break the habit of traveling off the beaten path, then Lovers Key State Recreation Area (www.abfla.com/parks/LoversKey/loverskey.html) might be a better fit. Trails run from the wide, isolated beach at Oyster Bay through the tidal lagoons and mangrove swamps. There's no camping, but you can spend long days on the sand and explore the waterways by canoe, before heading to the nearby town of Fort Myers Beach for the night.