While the Everglades can conjure up images of hot and humid weather with mosquitoes and alligators, there is so much more to this unique climate that exudes beauty and mystique. As the third largest national park in the US (roughly 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 chunk of it, go on short hikes, look for manatees and alligators, and even take a kayak or airboat trip. But hopefully you will have more time than that to fully appreciate all that this national park has to offer.
The Everglades are a huge wetland, fed by the water of Lake Okeechobee. But for many hundreds of years, humans have been invading its wonders. About a hundred years ago, we built canals, diverting lake water into cities and residential areas, which has dramatically changed the delicate ecosystem here. As a result, wildlife populations declined and some species are now on the brink of extinction.
When visiting the Everglades and exploring its many activities, it is good to keep an awareness of the conservation and restoration efforts of this great place in mind.
Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center
As with most national parks, the visitor center should be one of the first stops, as you can gain valuable information on what is on offer and you can get information on current events happening within the park.
With educational exhibits and a wealth of maps, it’s the perfect place to get an overview of the Everglades’ vast offering. Be sure to stick around to see River of Life, a 15-minute movie that provides a great overview of the park. The Coe Visitor Center also provides information on ranger-led activities (mostly talks and some hikes), as well as details on boat tours and canoe rentals.
Books, postcards, and even bug spray can be purchased so that you are well prepared for the best possible park experience. Many of the most popular hiking trails are just a short drive away.
Where hiking is great
Everglade’s Trails allows for in-depth exploration of various habitats. Bring lots of water and stay aware of changing weather conditions. Florida’s weather can be temperamental, especially during the rainy season. Mosquitoes and other biting flies can be present year-round, so bug spray is always a good idea when you’re experiencing one of America’s most breathtaking climates. Sunscreen and hats are a must for the warmer months.
The Anhinga Trail is an easy 0.8 mile, part paved, part boardwalk trail that leads through a small section of wetlands. It’s a great way to safely spot alligators and anhingas, which is the bird that gives the trail its name.
The Gumbo Limbo Trail is paved and winds through a shady, jungle-like hammock of gumbo trees, royal palms, ferns, and lush plants. It’s an easy 0.4 mile hike and starts at the Royal Palm Visitor Center, about four miles from the main park entrance. Pahayokee Overlook is an elevated observation deck on a boardwalk loop that offers incredible panoramic views of the “river of grass.” Located 13 miles from the main park entrance.
The Mahogany Hammock Trail is another boardwalk trail that winds through dense jungle-like hammock hardwoods. The lush greenery is highlighted by gumbo-limbo trees, air plants, and the largest living mahogany tree in the US Located about 20 miles from the main park entrance.
Flamingo Trails offer a wide variety of different climates and dig a little deeper into areas where species may be threatened, so check with the visitor center for the latest developments on trail availability.
Let the wetland wind blow you through a bike path, which is allowed on the park’s main roads, Shark Valley Trolley Road, Old Ingraham Road, Long Pine Key Nature Trail, Snake Bight, and trails Rowdy Bend in Flamingo.
Bird watching is divine
Here you will find some of the best bird watching opportunities in the world. More than 300 species reside in the park or pass through a migratory path. Some of the best bird watching spots are near the Homestead entrance (Royal Palm area) and the park’s flamingo districts.
Anhinga Trail, Eco Pond, Mrazek Pond, Mahogany Hammock, Snake Bight Trail, and Paurotis Pond should be on your birding list. A variety of large and exquisite waders can be seen in the Shark Valley areas.
Kayak around ten thousand islands
Ten Thousand Islands is an archipelago that covers more than 35,000 acres in the southern tip of Florida. The national wildlife refuge of the same name is in the northern part, while the southern part is in the Everglades National Park. The islands, which number in the hundreds, not thousands, are a perfect place to relax in nature. It is also one of the least explored places in the park, due to its remote location. Boat tours operate here through a party when available. So if you can get a spot on a tour, look for frolicking bottlenose dolphins and manatees and of course the ubiquitous crocodiles and alligators.
Scenic Tamiami Trail
When the Tamiami Trail was built in 1928 through the Everglades, it was considered an engineering feat, becoming the only route from Tampa to Miami at the time. Along the Tamiami Trail, visitors will enjoy the park’s surprisingly varied landscape, from pine groves to saw-grass marshes; You can see an alligator sunning itself in one of the roadside canals and waterfowl are plentiful. In addition to the natural scenery, remains of tourist traps from the 50s and 60s, man-made kitsch is abundant, and there are plenty of opportunities to ride an airboat or spot alligators. Keep an eye out for Skunk Ape, Big Foot’s version of the Everglades.