Must-See Natural Wonders in the Everglades

Anhinga bird drying its wings

Anhinga bird drying its wings

Birds in the Everglades

Birds in the Everglades

everglades biking

Allligator crossing the trail

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By: Mercedes Diaz

Nature's Magic at its Heart

Nature takes center stage in the Everglades, a sprawling subtropical wetland where terrestrial, freshwater and saltwater ecosystems converge and pristine national parks provide a combined 2.4 million acres of sanctuary for diverse flora and fauna. Included amongst these protected swaths are: Everglades National Park, Biscayne National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve. Looking to experience the Everglades’ natural beauty up close? From snorkeling among coral-encrusted shipwrecks to kayaking through lush mangrove habitat, or swamp walking in cypress domes, these nature hotspots offer plenty of outdoor experiences you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else in the country.

Everglades National Park is a bird lover’s paradise
Everglades National Park is a bird lover’s paradise

Everglades National Park

Possibly the most famous wetlands on earth, Everglades National Park is the largest subtropical wilderness in the country as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park’s 1.5 million acres, located at the southern tip of Florida, encompass a mosaic of ecosystems offering everything from coastal mangrove forests to sweeping stretches of freshwater sloughs and marl prairies. Dense stands of tropical hardwood hammocks, moss covered cypress domes and limestone rocklands with towering canopies of slash pine are also part of the mix.

Even more impressive is the amazing biological diversity. If you’re a wildlife aficionado, be prepared for unparalleled wildlife viewing. With more than 360 recorded species of birds including large wading birds like the roseate spoonbill, wood stork and great blue heron, it’s a bird lover’s paradise. Interested in the park’s popular reptilian residents? From partially submerged alligators off the Anhinga Trail to crocodiles basking across from the marina at Flamingo, you can count on running into both of these Everglades icons. In fact, it is the only place where you’ll find alligators and crocodiles co-existing within close proximity of each other.

Besides wildlife ogling, there’s plenty more to do at the park, from backcountry camping on a chickee hut to kayaking mangrove mazes or hiking through pine rocklands on Long Pine Key. First time visiting? If you need a park rangers expert advice or just want to pick up a free map, stop at the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center located at the entrance of the park in Homestead.

Crocodile at Biscayne National Park
Crocodile at Biscayne National Park

Biscayne National Park

Just south of Everglades National Park, the aquamarine waters, vibrant coral reefs and secluded islets of a one-of-a-kind aquatic wonderland await you. Almost entirely underwater, Biscayne National Park offers endless opportunities to snorkel alongside colorful reef dwellers, paddle a sublime crystal clear lagoon, explore a cemetery of ill-fated ships, or simply be captivated by an expansive view of the Atlantic from the top of an historic lighthouse.

Want to see South Florida’s wildlife in their element? Stretching across 173,000 acres with 95% of it underwater, Biscayne National Park is the largest ocean sanctuary in the National Park system. Within its boundaries, you’ll find a showcase of biodiverse ecosystems that feature the longest stretch of mangrove-forested coastline in Florida, the clear shallow waters of Biscayne Bay, more than 40 of the northernmost Florida Keys and a section of the largest reef tract in the US. These four habitats are home to thousands of species of flora and fauna. Whether its frolicking bottlenose dolphins, a passing flock of stunning roseate spoonbills or manatees surfacing for breath, you can count on a wondrous show of wildlife.

Need tips on where to go and how to explore the park? A good place to start is the Dante Fascell Visitor’s Center where you’ll find a wealth of resources from its museum-cum-nature center to knowledgeable park rangers ready to answer your questions.

Kayaking is another way to view the wildlife
Kayaking is another way to view the wildlife

Big Cypress National Preserve

Dreamy cypress strands, labyrinthine mangrove tunnels and expanses of wet prairies are some of the captivating scenery you’ll encounter at this 729,000-acre Everglades preserve. But that’s not all, other surprises like rare orchids and epic stargazing under a dark sky are also waiting to be discovered and experienced.

Boasting five biodiverse habitats, one thing Big Cypress isn’t short on is wildlife. The Florida panther, one of the most elusive as well as endangered mammals, makes its home at the preserve along with alligators, black bears, river otters, and over 200 species of birds. For those that kayak or canoe, its meandering waterways, Turner River and Halfway Creek, offer prime wildlife viewing. Planning a weekend getaway? Marked hiking trails, plenty of paddling trails and abundant campgrounds make it an ideal nature escape.

Ready to visit Big Cypress? Whether you want to delve deeper into the preserve’s natural history or inquire about a ranger-led swamp-walking tour, the Oasis Visitor Center should be your first stop. And before you leave the visitor’s center, take a stroll on the boardwalk where alligators can always be found casually basking nearby.

Read More:

Guided Tours In The Florida Everglades
The Best Everglades Watersports and Boating
Best Places to Eat in the Everglades
Getting to The Miccosukee Indian Village

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