While the Everglades may conjure images of hot and humid weather with mosquitos and alligators, there is so much more to this unique climate that is brimming with beauty and mystique. As the third-largest national park in the U.S (about 2,400 square miles!), unless you have access to a boat, most visitors only scratch the surface and visit a fraction of the area.
Even if you only have one day to explore, you can easily drive through a good portion of it, go on short walks, look for manatees and alligators, and even take a kayak trip or a ride in an airboat. But hopefully you will have more time than that to fully appreciate all this national park has to offer.
The Everglades is a huge wetland, fed by water from Lake Okeechobee. But for many hundreds of years, we humans have been encroaching on its wonders. About a hundred years ago, we built canals, diverting the water from the lake into cities and residential areas, which has dramatically changed the delicate ecosystem here. As a result, wildlife populations dwindled, and now a few species are on the verge of extinction.
When you do visit the Everglades and explore its many activities, an awareness of the conservation and restoration efforts of this great place is a good thing to have in the back of your mind.
The Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center
As with most national parks, the visitor center should be one of the first stops, as it can glean valuable insight into what is offered and you can find out about current events happening within the park.
With educational exhibitions and plenty of maps, it’s the perfect place to get an overview of the extensive offerings in the Everglades. Be sure to stay for a showing of River of Life, a 15-minute film that provides an excellent park overview. The Coe Visitor Center also provides information on park ranger-led activities (mostly talks and some walks) as well as details about boat tours and canoe rentals.
Books, postcards, and even insect repellant can be purchased so that you are well prepared for the best park experience possible. Many of the popular hiking trails are only a short drive away.
Where the Hiking is Superb
Everglade’s Trails allow for hearty exploration of diverse habitats. Bring plenty of water and stay aware of changing weather conditions. Florida’s weather can be temperamental, especially during the wet season. Mosquitos and other biting flies can be present year-round, so bug repellent is always a good idea when you’re experiencing one of the most breathtaking climates in America. Sunscreen and hats are a must for the warmer months.
The Anhinga Trail is an easy 0.8-mile trail, partly paved and partly boardwalk that leads through a small section of wetlands. It’s a great way to safely spot alligators and Anhingas, which is the bird the trail is named after.
The Gumbo Limbo Trail is paved and meanders through a shaded, jungle-like hammock of gumbo trees, royal palms, ferns, and lush plants. It is an easy 0.4-mile trek and starts at the Royal Palm Visitor Center, about four miles from the main park entrance. Pahayokee Overlook is a raised observation platform on a short boardwalk loop offering amazing sweeping vistas of the “river of grass.” Located 13 miles from the main park entrance.
The Mahogany Hammock Trail is another boardwalk trail that meanders through dense jungle-like hammock hardwoods. The lush vegetation is highlighted by gumbo-limbo trees, air plants, and the largest living mahogany tree in the U.S. Located about 20 miles from the main park entrance.
The Flamingo Trails offer a wide variety of differing climates and delve a little more into areas where species may be threatened, so check the latest developments with the visitor’s center on trail availability.
Get On a Bike
Let the wetland wind whip past you on a bicycle trail, which is allowed on the main park roads, on the Shark Valley tram road, the Old Ingraham Highway, the Long Pine Key Nature Trail, the Snake Bight, and Rowdy Bend trails at Flamingo.
The Birdwatching is Divine
Here you will find some of the best birdwatching opportunities in the world. Over 300 species reside in the park or pass through on a migratory path. Some of the best spots for birding are near the Homestead entrance (Royal Palm area), and Flamingo Districts of the park.
The Anhinga Trail, Eco Pond, Mrazek Pond, Mahogany Hammock, Snake Bight Trail, and Paurotis Pond should be on your birdwatching list. A variety of exquisite and grand wading birds can be spotted in the Shark Valley areas.
Kayak Around Ten Thousand Islands
Ten Thousand Islands is an archipelago that covers more than 35,000 acres of Florida’s southern tip. The eponymous national wildlife refuge lies in the northern portion, while the southern part is in Everglades National Park. The islands-which number in the hundreds, not thousands-are a perfect place to decompress in nature.A maze of mangroves in some of the most gorgeous scenery Florida has to offer awaits in this exotic location. It’s also one of the least-explored places in the park, due to its remote location. Boat tours operate here through a portion of it when they’re available. So if you’re able to get a spot on a tour, look for bottlenose dolphins and manatees frolicking, and of course the ever-present crocodiles and alligators.
Tamiami Trail Scenic Drive
When the Tamiami Trail was constructed in 1928 traversing the Everglades, it was considered a feat of engineering, becoming the only route from Tampa to Miami at that time. Riding along the Tamiami Trail, visitors will enjoy the surprisingly varied landscape of the park, from pinelands to saw-grass marshes; you might catch a glimpse of an alligator sunning himself in one of the roadside canals and water birds are plentiful. In addition to the natural landscape, remnants of the 1950s and 60s tourist traps remain, man-made kitsch is abundant and there are plenty of opportunities to ride an airboat or go gator-sighting. Keep an eye out for the Skunk Ape, the Everglades’ version of Big Foot.