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By: Shayne Benowitz

Miami is home to one of the most unique ecosystems in the world, the Everglades National Park. These lush subtropical wetlands occupy 1.5 million acres of sawgrass prairies, hardwood hammocks, saltwater marshes and a diverse population of wildlife that includes bald eagles, white-tailed deer, and of course the Florida alligator.

For nature enthusiasts, it’s a must-visit during a trip to Miami, and for meeting planners, it’s an excellent option for team building retreats, spousal programs or leisure activities outside of your official meetings. With two national park entrances accessible from Miami, you can reach the Everglades in about an hour’s drive, making it an ideal day or half day excursion. Here are some great ways to experience the Everglades with your group.

Airboat Rides

One of the first things that probably comes to mind when you think of the Everglades is airboats. These flat-bottomed, fan-propelled aluminum vessels are designed specifically to zip across the shallow “River of Grass” at top speed for an exhilarating nature tour. You’ll learn about the ecosystem and the history of the Everglades while spotting alligators, turtles and wading birds in the wild.

Founded in 1945, Coopertown Everglades Airboat Tour is the original and you can even reserve an entire boat for your group to enjoy a private tour. There’s also a small restaurant found next to the gift shop that serves fried gator tail and frog legs for a true taste of the ‘glades!

The Miccosukee Indian Village is also an excellent destination for airboat rides in the Everglades. The historic reservation is home to a resort, casino and Indian Village Museum where you will learn about the history of the Miccosukee tribe and the Everglades.

Alligator Shows

Both Coopertown and Miccosukee boast alligator shows and reptile displays. At the Miccosukee Indian Village, watch in awe as a brave tribesman jumps into a pit of alligators and performs rituals to subdue them that have been passed down for generations. You’ll watch him perform tricks including holding the alligator’s jaw open with his head and placing a hand inside the alligator’s mouth. It’s a one-of-a-kind show not to be missed. You’ll also see displays of other reptiles native to the Everglades, including snakes and turtles. And you’ll have the opportunity to hold a baby alligator for a photo opp.

Nature Trail & Walking Tours

One of the best ways to experience the Everglades is by nature trail and you’ll find a great one at the Shark Valley entrance to the park, which is about 35 miles due west of Downtown Miami. Activities at Shark Valley are based around a 15-mile paved loop through the Shark River Slough, which your group can explore by foot, by bicycle or by a tram tour guided by a park ranger or naturalist. The tram is a great way to see the whole of Shark Valley while learning all about the plants, animals and history of the Everglades from an expert guide. Don’t be surprised if you spot an alligator resting at the side of the trail along the way, but don’t get too close either. At the midway point of the loop, you’ll find a 65-foot observation tower to scale where you can take in unobstructed views of the acres of lush vegetation and wildlife sprawling before you.

If your group is up for a more active adventure, then bicycling the loop is a great option and rentals are available onsite. There are also shorter walks to embark on along the east road of the loop towards the Bobcat Boardwalk. Here, a raised wooden walkway winds through a bayhead tree island atop the sawgrass slough. The boardwalk connects the east and west sides of the loop, so when you emerge on the other side, continue your journey along the west road towards the Otter Cave Hammock Trail, a limestone path that cuts through a dense tropical hardwood hammock.

As you can see, there’s plenty to discover on a day trip to the Everglades that’s sure to wow your group, so start planning that visit now.

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