Everglades National Park | NIKE MISSILE SITE TOUR

Nike Hercules Missile at the Nike Missile Site, Everglades National Park

Nike Hercules Missile at the Nike Missile Site, Everglades National Park


See the Royal Palm Area web page for an interactive location map.

For the current Nike Missile Site Tour schedule, check Everglades National Park’s Calendar web page (search the word “Nike” in the Keyword Search).


NIKE MISSILE SITE TOUR

The Nike Missile Site at Everglades National Park is open from December through the end of March. Visitors can tour the site on their own from 10 AM to 2 PM or attend a guided tour at 2 PM. The tour starts at the Daniel Beard Center, which is a short drive from the Royal Palm Visitor Center. There is no need to register, so just show up a few minutes before the tour begins. A park Ranger will be waiting outside, usually under a shade tree near the entrance to the parking lot. If you tour the missile site on your own, knowledgeable volunteers are on hand to answer any questions you might have.

The tour lasts about 1.5 hours. Nearly all of it is outdoors and exposed to the sun, and the tour requires approximately a half mile of walking. Those in wheelchairs are welcome to attend and are able to access all sites. There are no bathrooms available. Be sure to bring plenty of water.

When the base closed in 1979, all of the buildings were left standing, so everything is just as it was when the base was closed. Overall, there are 22 buildings remaining on the site. The Beard Center was the former command center, and it was painted pink even when operational. Today it is a research center for Everglades National Park. It is open to park employees and scientists, not to the public.

Daniel Beard Center in Everglades National Park

Daniel Beard Center in Everglades National Park

The Nike Missile Site Tour starts off with a half-hour talk about the history of the Cuban Missile Crisis. This is conducted in front of the Beard Center. After that, the tour ventures to the back of the building and the Ranger explains what the other pink buildings were used for. Any pink buildings you see are original buildings.

Pink buildings at the Nike Missile Site in Everglades National Park are all original to the site

Pink buildings at the Nike Missile Site in Everglades National Park are all original to the site

Once done at the Beard Center, everyone gets in their own vehicle and follows the Ranger to the actual missile site.

Reproduction of the original sign at the entrance to the Nike Missile Site at Everglades National Park

Reproduction of the original sign at the entrance to the Nike Missile Site at Everglades National Park

The small building near the entrance is where the guard dogs were kept.

Dog kennel at the Nike Missile Site, Everglades National Park

Dog kennel at the Nike Missile Site, Everglades National Park

A building with a missile drawn on the outer wall is where the missiles were assembled and maintained.

Missile assembly and maintenance building at the Nike Missile Site in Everglades National Park

Missile assembly and maintenance building at the Nike Missile Site in Everglades National Park

There are also three missile sheds on the property, each surrounded by a hill. If an explosion occurred in the shed, the earthen hills would shield the other sheds from the blast.

Earthen hills protect against an explosion in one of the missile sheds at the Nike Missile Site, Everglades National Park

Earthen hills protect against an explosion in one of the missile sheds at the Nike Missile Site, Everglades National Park

Each shed housed four Nike missiles, one of which was fitted with a nuclear warhead. These were surface to air missiles. A nuclear warhead would cause a mid-air explosion so large that it could wipe out multiple enemy aircraft. Missiles without the nuclear warhead were designed to shoot down a single plane.

One of three missile sheds at the Nike Missile Site, Everglades National Park

One of three missile sheds at the Nike Missile Site, Everglades National Park

Ranger explains the missile launch process at the Nike Missile Site, Everglades National Park

Ranger explains the missile launch process at the Nike Missile Site, Everglades National Park

One shed has been renovated and now houses a museum. There is way more information to read than is possible during the tour, as you are only given about fifteen minutes to spend in the shed. There is one restored Nike Missile and plenty of spare parts and other equipment on display.

Restored Nike Hercules Missile at the Nike Missile Site, Everglades National Park

Restored Nike Hercules Missile at the Nike Missile Site, Everglades National Park

Missile part at the Nike Missile Site in Everglades National Park

Missile part at the Nike Missile Site in Everglades National Park

Original warning signs from the entrance of the Nike Missile Site in Everglades National Park

Original warning signs from the entrance of the Nike Missile Site in Everglades National Park

Transponder Control Test Set Group at the Nike Missile Site, Everglades National Park

Transponder Control Test Set Group at the Nike Missile Site, Everglades National Park

Launcher Control Indicator at the Nike Missile Site, Everglades National Park

Launcher Control Indicator at the Nike Missile Site, Everglades National Park

When the tour is over, you can either walk back to your vehicle the way you came or continue down the road, which loops back around to the parking area. It is not a very long walk, and you can see the other two missile sheds this way. Unlike the first, they are not renovated and are not open to the public.

Second missile shed at the Nike Missile Site in Everglades National Park

Second missile shed at the Nike Missile Site in Everglades National Park

Third missile shed at the Nike Missile Site in Everglades National Park

Third missile shed at the Nike Missile Site in Everglades National Park

The Nike Missile Site Tour is my favorite tour in Everglades National Park, and it isn’t even about the Everglades. In fact, it is the park’s only history-related tour, which is rare for a National Park. Even at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is as nature oriented as the Everglades, there are dozens of historic sites open to visitors. I highly recommend this tour to everyone, but those who are interested in history or who lived through the Cold War should not miss it if possible.

CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS

After Fidel Castro took over Cuba in 1959, he allied himself with the Soviet Union in return for financial and military aid. Because the United States had nuclear missiles staged in Turkey that were within striking distance of the Soviet Union, the Soviet Union wanted missiles close enough to strike the U. S. Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev decided Cuba would be a suitable destination, and missiles were secretly deployed.

On October 14, 1962, a U. S. U-2 spy plane photographed a large number of Soviet SS-4 medium-range ballistic missiles being assembled. Their destination was to be Cuba. President John Kennedy toyed with the idea of bombing the current missile sites in Cuba, followed by a full scale invasion. Instead, it was decided to create a naval blockade of the island to prevent the new missiles from arriving. Any agreement to end the crisis would not only require these ships to turn around, but also for the Soviet Union to remove the existing missiles. The plan was broadcast to the citizens of the United States on October 22nd. The world then waited to see if an all-out nuclear war would start.

The Soviet ships reached the blockade on the 24th. Instead of fighting their way through, they stopped and waited: a wait that lasted for another three days. In the meantime, a U. S. spy plane was shot down over Cuba, killing Major Rudolf Anderson, the only casualty of the conflict.

Through negotiations, the U. S. and the Soviet Union came to a last minute agreement on the 28th and avoided any fighting. The U. S. promised not to invade Cuba and to remove its nuclear missiles from Turkey. The Soviet Union would remove the existing missiles in Cuba, and the ships carrying the new missiles would return home. The Turkey arrangement was done in secret and kept from the public.

This did not end the Cold War, nor neutralize the possibility of a future threat from Cuba, so following the Cuban Missile Crisis a Nike Hercules Missile Base was set up west of Homestead, Florida. Officially named Alpha Battery, it was operational in 1964. At the time, the property was not part of Everglades National Park, but private farmland. The government used the power of eminent domain to evict the farmers and set up the base. Three other missile sites were built: B Battery in Key Largo, C Battery in Miramar, and D Battery near Miami on the site of today’s Krome Immigration Detention Center.

Men stationed at the missile base knew they faced a death sentence should an attack from Cuba ever be launched. The base is only 160 miles from Cuba, and supersonic Soviet MIG aircraft could attack before the men could react and fire the missiles. After all, the south Florida missile bases would certainly be the first places hit.

The missile site remained operational until 1979, at which time technology and a diminished threat had made it no longer necessary. The land became part of Everglades National Park, but nothing was done with it until 2008 when the National Park Service decided the base would make for a fascinating tour.

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Last updated on February 24, 2023
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