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The Best Guide to Everglades National Park

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As the third largest National Park in the United States, the Everglades are a vast and fascinating wilderness. Located at the bottom of Florida, the Everglades encompass 1.5 million acres of wetlands filled with millions of alligators and turtles. The park is also home to the endangered and elusive Florida panther.

There are so many things to do in this interesting park, use this guide to Everglades National Park to get ideas for your trip.

Everglades National Park

Best Time to Visit the Everglades

There are typically two main seasons in the Everglades: wet and dry. Visiting the park between April and October during the wet season is risky. The summer months in southern Florida tend to be incredibly hot and humid making even short excursions exhausting.

The dry season in the Everglades typically runs from November through March. This time of year is ideal and mild, but you’ll have to contend with more visitors during the dry season.

Keep in mind that the Atlantic hurricane season is something to consider when planning a trip to Everglades National Park. Hurricane season begins in June and ends in November. Visiting Florida during this time can be risky, and peak hurricane months are August through October.

Getting to the Everglades

This is an incredibly expansive National Park and there are 7 airports that are within close proximity. None of the airports listed are longer than a 4 hour drive.

Your options in terms of air travel are Orlando, Tampa, Miami, Sarasota, Fort Myers, Naples and Key West.

Park Entrances and Visitor Centers

Everglades National Park has 3 main entrances and 4 visitor centers.

Gulf Coast Visitor Center

Located in Everglade City, the southernmost city of Florida’s west coast, this visitor center is a temporary structure after the original was destroyed by a hurricane. This is also the access point for Ten Thousand Islands, a network of mangrove islands. Boat rides from the visitor center will allow you to spot wading birds, dolphins and if you’re lucky West Indian manatee. You are not very likely to see alligators on this side of the park.

Shark Valley Visitor Center

Located on the northern edge of the “River Of Grass,” a vast freshwater prairie, you’ll find the Shark Valley Visitor Center. It’s about 73 miles from Naples and 40 miles from Miami and is by far the park’s most popular access point. You can walk or bike the 15 mile loop road directly from the visitor center.

Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center

This is the largest and most comprehensive visitor center at Everglades National Park and is located about 50 miles south of Miami. This is also park headquarters. The area is surrounded by dense forest and wet prairies making it a great spot for spotting wildlife. There are several walking trails from this visitor center, as well as the nearby Royal Palm Nature Center.

Flamingo Visitor Center

You’ll find the Flamingo Visitor Center sitting at the very edge of the park at Florida Bay. At the edge of the water you may be able to spot dolphins, manatee and wild flamingos. This visitor center is more developed than it first appears. It’s equipped with a snack bar, boat rentals and even has boat tours available.

Things to Do at Everglades National Park

Hiking

Much of the Everglades is underwater and a lot of the backcountry is inaccessible. There are several short and easy grails that you can hike from the visitors centers including:

Gumbo Limbo Trail – A .4 mile easy trail that passes through the shade palm and gumbo limbo hammock. This trail is accessible from the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center.

Anhinga Trail – This .8 mile easy loop trail is accessible from Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center. This is one of the most popular trails in the park.

West Lake Trail – A .5 mile easy trail features a boardwalk that suspends you over a beautiful mangrove swamp. This trail is accessible from the Flamingo Visitor Center.

Snake Bight Trail – This unpaved 1.6 mile easy trail is prime terrain for wildlife spotting and is accessible from the Flamingo Visitor Center.

Park Loop Trail – Known as the centerpiece of the Shark Valley, this trail is accessible from the Shark Valley Visitor Center. This 15 mile paved loop has an abundance of wildlife and can be either walked or cycled.

Bobcat Boardwalk – A .5 mile easy raised boardwalk that crosses over a sawgrass slough and is accessible from the Shark Valley Visitor Center.

For those feeling a little more adventurous check out this trail accessible from the Flamingo Visitor Center.

The Coastal Prairie Trail – Distance: 17 miles – Rating: Easy – Elevation Gain: 16 ft

Shark Valley

If you’re wanting to spot more alligators then you can count then head to Shark Valley. Although this area doesn’t have much to do, you’ll be blown away by the sheer number of alligators and the natural beauty of the Everglades. Take the 15 mile loop from the visitor center and whatever you do, don’t skip the Shark Valley Observation Tower for unparalleled views of the park.

Paddling

There are many paddling opportunities at Everglades National Park. You can launch your canoe and kayak at either the Flamingo or Gulf Coast Visitor Centers. From here you can do day trips or a full 2 week excursion. If you choose the 2 week excursion there are 100 miles of inter-connected backcountry campsites between the 2 points.

A favorite for day trippers is the Nine Mile Pond, this route takes you through 5.2 miles of grass marsh and mangrove islands. Touring The Glades is highly recommended if you are looking for a guided tour of the area.

Birdwatching

The Everglades are home to more than 300 species of birds including pelicans and wild flamingos. You can birdwatch from anywhere in the park but there are a few hot spots. If you want to spot larger birds the best places are the ponds. A few favorites are Paurotis Pond, Mrazek Pond, Eco Pond and Nine Mile Pond.

Fishing

Fishing in the Everglades is possible at Gulf Coast, Flamingo and Ernest F. Coe Visitor Centers. You’ll need a Florida fishing license but if you are just visiting you can also grab a non-resident or one day license.

There are more than 70 types of fish in the Everglades waterways. These fish include black line snooks, sheephead and snapper. You can even land a tarpon while in the Everglades!

Everglades City is known as the fishing paradise of the area and there are several fishing guide services available there.

Ranger Led Programs

The Everglades has some pretty epic ranger led programs. This is a great way to fully experience this area of Florida. You’ll have the opportunity to slog through wetlands, bike, kayak or boat with a knowledgeable Ranger. Many of the ranger led programs at the Everglades require reservations in advance. Some of the best programs include the Royal Palms and Guide Coast regions of the park, find out more here.

Airboat Tours

If you’re visiting the Everglades you’ve probably already imagined yourself riding in an airboat. This is a fast way to see all that the Everglades has to offer. Airboat Tours are incredibly popular, but also controversial as some believe that the airboats disrupt the wildlife and peaceful nature landscape of the region. It is a unique and fun way to experience the park and one that you won’t soon forget.

If you do choose to take an airboat tour it’s best to go with a company that is authorized by the National Park Service. There are 3: Everglades Safari Park, Coopertown and Gator Park.

Tips for Your Visit to Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park has an entrance fee of $30 that is good for 7 consecutive days. No matter what time of year you visit Everglades be sure to bring bug spray, sunblock, a hat and water. Cameras and binoculars are also highly recommended for wildlife viewing.

Do not get close to alligators. Although they may seem lethargic, they can move very quickly when provoked. Do not feed or touch any wildlife in the park.

Leashed pets are only allowed on paved areas in the park so it may be a good idea to leave them at home for your Everglades visit.

Everglades National Park is a special combination of beautiful wilderness and wildlife viewing. It’s the perfect destination for nature lovers who want to experience the Everglades fully by hiking, biking, fishing and paddling this stunning National Park.