Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park

Located at the southernmost tip of the Florida mainland, just before the Florida Keys, Everglades National Park is the largest subtropical wilderness in the U.S. and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park’s 1.5 million acres are a mosaic of ecosystems, from slow-flowing freshwater sloughs and salt-tolerant mangrove forests to tropical hardwood hammocks, pine rocklands, freshwater marl prairies, moss-draped cypress domes and the sparkling marine waters of Florida Bay. In these complex systems, you’ll find a wide range of native water and land animals, including alligators basking right off the Anhinga Trail, herons and egrets feasting in the marshes and slow-moving manatees cruising the bay.

Everglades National Park

Guided Everglades Tours

While ranger-led tours are currently paused because of the coronavirus, they can be a good way to get a sampling of what the Everglades has to offer. During the dry season (December-April), ranger-led tours run the gamut from guided hikes and bike rides to canoe trips and even an adventure car caravan. For an immersive swamp experience, try the slough slogging tour, also known as swamp-walking.

Want to get a taste of the extraordinary backcountry but not comfortable paddling a canoe? Consider booking a naturalist-led boat tour of Whitewater Bay, available through the park’s authorized outfitter, Everglades Guest Services. All daily boat tours depart from the Flamingo marina.

If you want to follow a naturalist-led tour from the comfort of your own car, sign up for “Everglades Experience: Guided Tour of Royal Palm, Nike Missile Site, Pa-hay-okee and More.” On this half-day experience, you’ll get to explore some of the park’s most exciting sites. At each stop, you can get out of your car to explore and hear from the guide. Be sure to sign up for a spot in advance. Each tour is limited to three vehicles.

Guided tour options are plentiful at Shark Valley. For starters, embark on a guided tram tour provided by the park’s tour concession, Shark Valley Tram Tours. Led by expert naturalists, you’ll see Shark Valley’s wild residents and learn about the history, fauna and flora of the park. The tour also includes a stop at the park’s observation tower, where you’ll have the opportunity to stretch your legs and take in panoramic views of the Shark River Slough. Reserve a spot on the online calendar.

During the dry season, time your visit to join one of the park’s ranger-led adventures. From swamp-walking through Shark River Slough and a full-moon bike ride to an excursion to witness a meteor shower over the sawgrass prairie, the ranger-led tours offer a chance to gain new insight into the park’s natural beauty.

Everglades National Park Bike Riding

Explore the Everglades by Bike

Discovering the Everglades by bike gives you the chance to pause for wildlife whenever you choose. If you don’t plan to bring a bike, it’s easy to rent one at the visitors center. Keep in mind that bike rentals are on a first-come, first-served basis, and the bikes can only be used on Tram Road.

Bringing your own knobby tire bike or mountain bike? Consider riding directly into Shark River Slough on the park’s raised L-67 Canal Road – a rugged levee road located off Tamiami Road and 5 miles east of the main Shark Valley visitor area. While you’re there, keep your eyes peeled for all sorts of reptiles such as alligators, snakes and turtles. During the dry season, it’s a prime birding spot too.

Pedal your way through 14 round-trip miles of rugged pine rocklands at Long Pine Key or catch sight of woodland birds as you ride through a tropical hardwood hammock on the 5.2-mile-long Rowdy Bend Trail. Starting at the main road, the 3.2-mile round-trip Snake Bight Trail crosses diverse stands of hardwood hammocks and mangroves, all bustling with wildlife. The difficulty level is easy on the park’s three natural terrain bike trails. If you’re visiting during the start of the dry season, call the Flamingo Visitors Center for updates on trail water levels.

Bike rentals are available at both the Ernest F. Coe Visitors Center and Flamingo Visitors Center. You can book bikes ahead of time on the park outfitter’s website.

Hiking Trail

Hiking in the Everglades

Planning to explore the Everglades on foot? There are trail options to suit a variety of experience and adventure levels. Whether you’re planning a day hike or a laid-back stroll, the park offers trails that range from less than a quarter mile to 22 miles round-trip, including the 15-mile Tram Road.

Bobcat Boardwalk and Otter Cave Hammock Trail are at the shorter end of the spectrum, offering half-mile and 1-mile trails through sawgrass slough and tropical hardwood hammocks. For a quick and easy wildlife-viewing jaunt, the Anhinga Trail, at just under a mile, is the most popular for seeing Everglades fauna up close, especially alligators.

Ready for a more challenging hike? Cross through coastal prairies of succulents and buttonwood hammocks on the 15-mile round-trip Coastal Prairie Trail to Florida Bay. Although you won’t have to bushwhack your way through it, some parts of the trail may be overgrown and should be traversed carefully.

Coopertown Airboat Experience

Airboat Excursions

The airboat is a quintessential Everglades mode of transportation, allowing visitors to skim over the “River of Grass” in a boat powered by a massive fan. Within Everglades National Park, a designated area in Shark River Slough is open to airboat tours conducted by Coopertown, Everglades Safari Park and Gator Park. Coming from Miami, you’ll find all three airboat tour services on Tamiami Trail. Book an airboat tour from any of them for a memorable excursion into the park.

For more details on the ins and outs of exploring Shark Valley, head over to our in-depth Shark Valley guide.

Kayaking in Everglades National Park

Canoeing and Kayaking in the Everglades

With an abundance of freshwater marshes, mangrove-fringed waterways, creeks and bay waters, Everglades National Park offers some of the canoeing and kayaking opportunities in Florida. Backcountry waterways abound throughout the park but there are only two marked paddling trails: Nine Mile Pond and Hells Bay.

For a day trip, Nine Mile Pond loop is an ideal beginner-level trail offering a 3- or 5-mile loop. Starting from an easily accessible main park road launch, the trail guides paddlers through a unique area of the park where you’ll find mangroves growing in the freshwater. The trail is a popular place to spot alligators, as well as roseate spoonbills, white-crowned pigeons and wading birds.

Paddle the 11-mile round-trip Hells Bay trail for an immersive experience in a mangrove ecosystem with plenty of twists and turns along the way. Planning an overnight canoe trip? Although the Hells Bay trail can be paddled as a day trip, you also have the option to stay overnight in one of the trail’s three chickees (raised huts).

Don’t have a canoe or kayak? No worries – the park’s outfitter offers rentals at the Flamingo marina dock.

For a serious backcountry excursion, check out the Wilderness Waterway, a 99-mile route that connects Flamingo to Everglades City on Florida’s west coast and offers the opportunity to embark on the canoe trip of a lifetime. Most explorers allow eight days to complete the trip. It’s recommended for experienced paddlers only.

Alligator in Everglades National Park

Spotting Florida's Alligators

The Everglades is home to more than 200,000 Florida alligators, a keystone species of the park. The top three places to spot alligators in Everglades National Park are just off the Anhinga Trail; in Shark Valley, just 25 miles west of the Florida Turnpike; and along the Nine Mile Pond paddle loop.

When to Visit Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park is an unforgettable destination year-round. Visiting during the dry season (December-April) is prime time to enjoy everything it has to offer. Mosquito numbers are lower, temps are milder and daily rainfall has largely ceased. As water levels decline, creatures big and small gravitate to the remaining bodies of water, making them easier to find. The dry season is the busiest time for visitors, so advance reservations for tours and campsites are recommended.

Visiting the Everglades during the wet season (May-November) allows you to witness the park in its most lush and verdant state. This period is a great time to go boating as well. Be prepared with insect repellent due to an increased number of mosquitoes, no-see-ums and biting flies during this time. Adequate gear and advance preparation are recommended to make the most of your visit.

Everglades Geography

Spanning three counties – Dade, Monroe and Collier – Everglades National Park has three entrances, including two that are close to the Greater Miami Area: Shark Valley and Homestead (southern region).

Located approximately 40 miles from Downtown Miami off Tamiami Trail, Shark Valley is not only the northernmost entry point into Everglades National Park but also a great option for first-timers who want to get a taste of the Everglades. When you arrive, stop at the Shark Valley Visitor Center for bike rentals, guided tour booking, general information, restrooms and, of course, park rangers’ expert advice.

Getting around Shark Valley is pretty straightforward. Its main, 15-mile paved trail, Tram Road, is where most of the wildlife-viewing, tours, biking and hiking happens. If seeing an alligator is at the top of your list, you can count on plenty of opportunities along the trail. More into birds? Bird lovers can look forward to spotting anhingas, wood storks and other wading birds.

Everglades National Park Camping

Camping in the Everglades

Fully immerse yourself in the wilds of the Everglades by spending a memorable night (or more) under the stars at one of the park’s scenic campsites. The park offers a variety of camping options, from decked-out eco-tent glamping to primitive, open-air chickees. There are even fully equipped houseboats available for rent. Aside from backcountry camping, all campsites and accommodations are booked via Flamingo Adventures, the park’s outfitter.

Long Pine Key Campground

Nestled in a pine rockland glade about 5 miles from the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center, Long Pine Key Campground provides an easy overnight nature escape as well as convenient access to miles of hiking and biking trails. Campers can take their pick from 108 sites, which accommodate everything from tents to full-size RVs.

Flamingo Campground

Farther south and situated on Biscayne Bay is Flamingo Campground, which features three camping areas with tent sites as well as spots for RVs in a range of sizes. For a car-free setting and a view of the bay, the Bayside campground has 68 sites located just a short walk from the parking lot.

Both Long Pine Key and Flamingo feature full restroom and shower facilities.

Glamping and Houseboats at Flamingo Campground

Looking for something less rustic than a standard tent? Consider booking a spacious eco-tent complete with a raised deck floor, full or queen size bed and electricity. For a memorable overnight stay on the water, opt for one of the four houseboats equipped with all the necessary comforts including galley kitchen, air-conditioning and bathroom with shower.

Backcountry Camping

Consider yourself a seasoned adventurer? Whether you’re planning a multi-day canoe trip on the Wilderness Waterway, kayaking around Cape Sable or paddling into the backcountry waterways off Whitewater Bay, visitors will find no shortage of primitive campsites and chickees to camp at for the night. A wilderness permit is required for overnight trips into the backcountry so plan to stop at Flamingo to pick one up. To help you plan your trip, a map of backcountry campsites can be found on the park’s website.

Everglades Visitor Information

Everglades National Park is open seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Park staff at the Ernest F. Coe Visitors Center are available between the hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from mid-April to mid-December and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. from mid-December to mid-April. At Flamingo, park staff hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. from mid-November to mid-April and intermittent during the wet season. If you need to self-register for a backcountry permit, the Flamingo Visitor Center lobby area is accessible 24 hours a day.

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