Highly recommend a visit to Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park in Florida

Tips and highlights for the Everglades

Are you planning a trip to Florida? Visiting Miami, Orlando or Key West? You should definitely plan a visit to the Everglades National Park.

On my 14-day Florida tour was allowed to stay with driving through the Everglades (by the way, Florida's largest national park) are not missing. The plan was to paddle through the mangroves in a kayak to meet the many animals in a quiet way. Ultimately, I experienced a lot more and realized how diverse the Everglades are. I'm excited!

Here are some articles you should check out for Florida:

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Everglades National Park

Fascinating variety of landscapes

Everglades National Park is often referred to as a wetland. In fact, it is a large river, the flow of which is so slow that we cannot see it with our eyes. Therefore, the area is often referred to as a swamp area.

The Indians therefore called the river "Pahayokee" which means something like river made of grass. To protect the many animal and plant species, Everglades National Park was established in 1974 and recognized as a biosphere reserve, world heritage site and protected wetland.

In the Everglades you will find the largest subtropical wilderness in the USA: The landscape consists not only of a huge swamp area and mangrove forests, but also of grasslands (sawgrass means sedge and Everglades means "land of grass") and savannas, which somehow remind me of my Africa Remember travel.

The diversity of flora and fauna is enormous: alligators live next to the endangered American crocodile, turtles, manatees, snakes, raccoons, panthers, game, herons, pelicans, cormorants, ibises, storks and herons.

Bald cypresses, seagrass steppes, ferns, orchids, bromeliads, mahogany trees, palms, oaks, magnolias and mangrove forests. There are numerous hiking trails and rivers that can be discovered in different ways.

Even so, many of the plants and animals are threatened with extinction today. Due to the fact that the city of Miami is growing too fast and the resulting increasing demand for water, more and more water is being withdrawn from the Everglades. The construction of canals, dykes and dams accelerates this process. In addition, there are non-native plants that have invaded the Everglades ecosystem.

These plants are now being removed and other drastic protective measures are being taken. It remains to be seen whether the ecosystem can be saved, as water will continue to be diverted through the canal to supply the city of Miami.

Places to visit along the Tamiami Trail through the Everglades

The Tamiami Trail runs through Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Park. You can add a few stops along the way. Signs show the way and tell you where you can hike, fish or have a picnic. I have summarized which stops are worthwhile and which are not:

Shark River Valley

About 65 km after Miami you will come to the first stop on the Tamiami Trail: The Shark River Valley. In Shark River Valley there is three hiking trailsthat you can explore on foot, by bike or by the Shark Valley Tram.

The longest of the trails (20 km long) ends at the 22 m high Shark River Tower. According to friends, from here you have a great and unique view over the Everglades. We were in the Shark River Valley during the midday heat, so we only walked the two front trails "Bobcat Boardwalk" (0.2 miles) and the "Otter Cave Trail" (0.3 miles) expired. Again, you should keep your eyes open. Alligators and turtles were everywhere.

This specimen was still asleep when we passed before it rose and wandered across the path. Since alligators can be fast, we had great respect.

Incidentally, we saw a total of four alligators and two small baby alligators here.

More information about the Shark River Valley:

  • Opening times: 8.30 a.m. - 6 p.m.
  • Park entry: $ 20 park entry
  • Shark Valley Tram costs $ 20 (in European winter in high season, be sure to reserve your ticket in advance)
  • Bike rentals $ 8.50 per hour

Big Cypress Gallery

A stop that I recommend to you and that I would not have thought it would be worth stopping here is the Big Cypress Gallery. Here the photographer Clyde Butcher exhibits his impressive black and white photographs. These are mainly landscape shots of the Everglades and Florida. But you can also purchase impressive photographs from Cuba here as postcards, calendars, large formats or illustrated books.

Ochopee Post Office - the smallest post office in the United States

The smallest post office in the USA can be found in the middle of the Everglades National Park in Ochopee: The little house is located on Tamiami Trat and offers space for exactly one person. We almost drove past it on our trip to the Swamp Buggy Tour, so small and inconspicuous was this little house on the roadside. It is more like a tourist attraction than a post office.

Everglades City

Everglades City with its around 600 inhabitants is a small, sleepy nest on the northwestern border of the Everglades. In the tropical heat, time seems to have stood still here. I felt very comfortable here.

The city serves as a perfect starting point for activities, which usually take place in the early morning. Therefore, the city is often referred to as the "Gateway to the Ten Thousand Islands". The 16,000 islands are south of the city.

In addition, Everglades City is the world capital for stone crabs, the national dish of Florida and therefore a delicacy that you should definitely try.

There are a few restaurants, bars, cafes and a gas station here.

You will find a quaint atmosphere in Miller’s World. Besides tourists, locals also get lost in the restaurant. Locations close here relatively early, because the rhythm here is different.

If I had more time in Everglades National Park:

  • Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve
  • You can spot many birds and alligators from the Big Cypress Bend Walk. At the very end of the path you will find a great vantage point! There you should just enjoy the moment!

Miccosukee Indian Village tourist trap

I would continue here on my next Everglades visit!

Friends recommended that we stop at the Miccosukee Indian Village. I was skeptical from the start and this skepticism should be confirmed: The “village” is more of a museum with a shop, jewelry and handicraft souvenirs. There is also a casino hotel and allogator wrestling is on offer. I have a clear stance on activities like this: it doesn't work at all.

If you still want to do that to yourself, but are not doing the animals a favor, you can find more information about the Miccosukee Indian Village here: www.miccosukee.com.

Activities and tours in Everglades National Park

There are several ways to explore the Everglades National Park, which I would like to introduce to you here.

Kayak tour of the Everglades

On a kayak tour, I guarantee you the direct proximity to the dreaded alligators and other creatures. It's also the quietest way to explore the landscape. For me a unique and the best way to discover the nature and wildlife of the Everglades. You can't get any closer to real animals.

The canoe trails have different lengths and can be discussed directly with the ranger or tour operator. Of course, that also depends on how fast you paddle.

Admittedly, I had great respect on this tour, as the recommended minimum distance of 5 meters for alligators in the narrow water paths could not be maintained in most cases. Often we were no more than 1 meter away from the lurking or dozing animal.

With Regis, a real southerner with camouflage clothing, a long white beard and crooked teeth, we had a great guide who always paddled ahead, warned us about alligators and spoke calmly and gently (almost funny) to the animals. Sometimes the animals actually swam away and made room for us.

During the 3-hour tour on the Turner River, we not only saw alligators but also many other animals and plants. The calm gliding through the water does not disturb animals and nature. So this is my ultimate tip for exploring the Everglades and seeing alligators.

Information about the kayak tour:

  • Tour guide Regis Good can be booked through our accommodation gladeshaven.com. Unfortunately, direct booking no longer works.
  • 3-hour tour on the Turner River

Swamp buggy tour of the Everglades

We started our swamp buggy tour with Captain Steve with a queasy feeling. In advance we had read about the fact that tours with the swamp buggies would drive deep ruts into the national park and thus the Naur would be damaged.

We could see that Captain Steve always drove on the official paths that are no different than in any national park in Africa.

Captain Steve is particularly proud that National Geographics is highlighting him and officially offering him as a “must see” tour in the Everglades. I found the landscape sensational on the almost 4-hour tour and he was a real original!

Information about the Swamp Buggy Tour

Airboat tour of the Everglades

One thing first: on an airboat tour, you don't get any of the wonderful nature and tranquility of kayaking. Because the propeller-driven hovercraft are incredibly loud. You should definitely use the headphones provided.

Along the Tamiami Trail you will find numerous providers where you can take an airboat tour. Besides the 30-minute airboat ride, there is usually a nature park and an alligator show that you can visit. These additional activities are either included or can be booked for an additional charge.

But to be honest: These alligator shows are pure animal cruelty. I do not believe in these activities. But everyone should make up their own mind and decide for themselves.

So is an airboat tour worth it?

I found the airboat tour entertaining for 5 minutes and the fun factor was briefly present, since the way you move across the water is of course different from normal boat trips. I found these boats to be way too loud and I wasn't surprised that we didn't see a single alligator with this noise. Of course, there were children on board who, as soon as they got on board, answered their question: “And when do we see an Alligator?”, The sobering answer “The water is to swallow we won’t see an Alligator here”.

Friends of mine reported that they saw alligators on one of these tours, but I still recommend that you keep your distance from these airboat tours. But make your own picture.

If you really want to go on an airboat tour, I advise you to do this airboat tour or with the quaint Captain Steve (with him we went on the swamp buggy tour)

Other ways to discover the Everglades:

  • Fishing in the Everglades: Numerous species of fish live in the waters of the Everglades. Above all, you will often come across the tarpon here. If fishing is your passion, you can practice it in some parts of the Everglades.
  • Ten Thousand Islands: At the southern end of the Everglades are the Ten Thousand Islands. You can also go on kayak tours here. Unfortunately not in every season and for all experts. Here you can also go on multi-day tours and spend the night in a tent on one of these islands.

Accommodation tips for the Everglades

Many companies take a day trip from Miami, Florida City or Naples to the Everglades. We lived in Everglades City, a small, sleepy town. Why? We saved ourselves the daily driving back and forth and preferred to stay where the tours started.

We lived in the rustic huts from Miller’s World in Everglades City. The huts were very nice and even if the place is in the absolute dead zone, we enjoyed the two nights here. (Price for 1 night approx. 64 euros)

You can find more accommodations near Everglades National Park at booking.com

Getting to Everglades National Park

There are a total of four entrances to Everglades National Park: Shark Valley Visitor Center (from Miami), Gulf Coast Visitor Center (Everglades City), Ernest Coe Visitor Center and Chekika (between Miami and Homestead, only open during the day between December and March). Most of them start their trip to the Everglades from Miami or Naples. From either location, you can be in the Everglades in less than 30 minutes.

There are actually only two main roads leading through the Everglades: The eight-lane Everglades Parkway 75, also called Alligator Alley, which is subject to a fee (fast variant, not very scenic, duration approx. 2 hours)

If you have a little more time, you should definitely drive the Tamiami Trail (Highway 41). This runs 50 km further south of the toll road and north of the park. Therefore, you don't have to pay an entrance fee for the national park as long as you don't turn south.

There are interesting stops along the Tamiami Trail where you can take a break. On the dead straight and not very varied landscape, it is more important to see dead alligator carcasses lying on the roadside.

Although the Everglades is a popular travel destination, the road is surprisingly empty.

Useful information on the side: The name Tamiami Trail does not come from Native American but simply comes from the cities of Tampa and Miami, which the road connects. The full name is: Tamiami Trail - Windows to the Gulf Coast Waters Scenic Highway.

By car to the Everglades

From Fort Myers International Airport, you can be in the western part of the national park in 1.5 hours by car. From Miami International Airport, you can be in the eastern part of Everglades National Park in just one hour.

Best travel time for the Everglades

The Everglades are a year-round destination, the park is open all year round. In general, the Everglades are characterized by high humidity, which of course attracts mosquitos. Therefore, it is generally advised to visit the national park in the cooler and drier months of November to April.

From May the temperatures rise and it becomes very humid and hot. Since it then rains more, mosquitoes can literally attack you. The water level is then higher, which on the one hand makes it easier to paddle a kayak through the mangroves, on the other hand it becomes more difficult to see animals because the water play area is higher. Between June and November is hurricane season, which can also occur in the Everglades.

I found my visit in May to be the perfect time to travel. There weren't very many tourists around and the mosquitoes held back, so that I didn't have to over-spray clothes or over-spray myself with mosquito repellent.

There was very little water in the rivers because the rain stayed out longer.

Packing list for the Everglades

For the Everglades National Park you need one thing above all else: Mosquito spray! The animals here are very persistent and abundant. Especially in the swamp they can be a real nuisance (depending on the travel time).

I advise you rain protection to pack. In Florida it rains often and suddenly. A is suitable for camera and smartphone Backpack with rain cover or a Drybag which is waterproof is. A drybag is also an advantage on a kayak tour.

If you are traveling by rental car, you should also fill up the tank before entering the park. There are no gas stations in the Everglades.

View my full printable vacation checklist here.

My conclusion:

A visit to the Everglades National Park is definitely worth it. The variety of landscapes is impressive. The two days offered enough but not enough time to discover everything. On my next visit, I would skip the airboat tour and the stop at the Miccosukee Indian Village. For that I would want to spend at least a day at Big Cypres Preserve.

More information about Everglades National Park:

Here you will find a lot of useful information about Everglades National Park.

Florida itinerary, distances, accommodations and activities as PDF

A detailed list of my Florida round trip can be found here in the free PDF as a download with all distances, travel times, accommodations and activities taken:Florida round trip by rental car: route, accommodations, activities as PDF for download

More information about a Florida trip

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