Everglades City Florida is home to the Northwest outpost at Everglades National Park, the Gulf Coast Visitor Center, which is some 80 miles from Miami, so naturally you are probably wondering if it's worth the trek all the way to the other end of the State.
We can only tell you why we enjoy doing "the trek" ourselves, and why we keep coming back, and yes, if you love the Everglades, it is very much worth it. It really is about the journey and everything you will encounter along the way.
Due to its location on the west side of the State on the Gulf Coast, this area is convenient to visitors coming from the Naples and Ft. Myers area, but it can also be easily reached from Miami either via I-75, (the faster route) or US Highway 41 (the slow but scenic route).
Even if a bit further than the other park entrances, it still can be done as a day trip, although you really need a couple of days to do the area justice.
There is a lot to enjoy in this area, starting with the road that brings you here and the many activities available at the Gulf Coast Visitor Center and individual operators at Everglades City:
Besides the Gulf Coast Visitor Center, another good starting point for exploring the area is the Everglades Area Chamber Of Commerce Welcome Center where they can point you in the right direction regarding accomodations, dining, and many more activities in the area:
Also nearby and can be combined during your visit are:
If you are coming from Miami, you should take Highway US 41, also known as the Tamiami Trail, 8th Street or Calle Ocho, this road is full of wildlife viewing opportunities all along.
And if you haven't visited Big Cypress National Preserve, it is just on the way and definitely worth several detours. You can spend easily a few hours just getting to the Gulf Coast from Miami on US 41.
The portions along Big Cypress are the most scenic specially during the dry season. We have seen alligator galore along the canal that runs parallel to the road and many many kinds of birds, egrets, herons, storks, anhingas and even roseate spoonbills flying overhead one time!
One drawback to this amazing drive though, is that as scenic and beautiful as it is, there are few places where you can safely pull up and enjoy it. Traffic is heavy with cars and trucks speeding by and to top it, there is a lot of construction work going on.
Your best bet are the boardwalks and trails you find along the road as you drive through Big Cypress where you can safely stop, park, have a picnic, observe wildlife, take photographs and enjoy it. Here's more on the Tamiami Trail and our favorite stops.
The Gulf Coast Visitor Center is on State Road 29, just south of US 41. This is a small visitor center but definitely less congested than the other visitor centers.
Here you can get trail maps and brochures and inquire about the many scheduled ranger-led walks and canoe trips.
This is also where you get backcountry permits.
The Gulf Coast is great for water expeditions, and you find some of the activities can be arranged next door through the Park's concessionaire who provides boat tours and canoe and kayak rentals.
There are two boat tours offered to explore this wonderful region. They are scheduled year-round and depart from the docks next to the Visitor Center.
The boat tours cover two distinct ecosystems, the coastal mangrove jungles and the coastal estuaries of the Ten Thousand Islands.
Here you head inland the Turner River to the mangrove jungles in small 6-passenger boats which allow you to get an extremely closer look. As you go through the windy waterways, guides are great at explaining about the mangrove habitat and the wildlife you encounter: alligators, raccoons, bobcats if you're very very lucky and a great variety of birds.
Tours last approximately one hour and forty-five minutes.
Rates including tax are: Adults $42.40, children under 12 $21.20
You head out to the estuarine waters and wind along the waterways through the heart of the Ten Thousand Islands. This salt water section of the park can only be accessed by boat.
The shallow waters are home to abundant wildlife and make great feeding and nesting grounds for birds. Sightings of dolphins and manatees are also a treat.
We took the very last one of the day which gave us wonderful views as the sun was setting, a great way to end our visit.
Tours run every half-hour, from 9:00 to 4:00, during the high season mid-November to mid-April later cruises are added.
Rates including tax: Adults $31.80, Children 5 to 12 $15.90.
More Tour info and schedules: Everglades National Park Boat Tours - Gulf Coast
In our opinion, some of the best canoeing and kayaking in the Everglades and in South Florida for that matter is in this area. The serenity of the pristine Mangrove Tunnels that envelop you and the richness of wildlife they harbor are just amazing... It really is a world apart.
There are numerous canoe and kayak trails that can take you on short outings easy for any beginner to enjoy along the mangrove swamps and there are also multi-day treks for the real enthusiasts.
Canoe and Kayak rentals are easily available from the Park's concessionaire as well as the many operators in Everglades City and the nearby Chokoloskee Marina.
Self-guided and guided tours are also available for all levels and even multi-day arrangements can be made.
At the park's concessionaire, there are single and tandem kayaks as well as double canoes (will hold up to 3 adults).
Rentals start at $24 per day for canoe rentals, $45 per day for kayaks. There is a $575 and $675 credit card deposit for canoes and kayaks respectively.
Alternatively, check out the outfits at Everglades City and nearby who also offer water and land shuttles to the different launch sites in the area.
For more info I highly recommend a stop at the Everglades City Chamber of Commerce where you can sort out all the options available. (This is the triangular-shaped building on US 41 on the left if heading west, as you approach the intersection of State Road 29 towards Everglades City, not far from the Big Cypress Welcome Center)
When canoeing and kayaking in the Gulf Coast you must have a whistle, otherwise you get fined. You can get one at the Gift shop at the Gulf Coast center.
And of course there is also the Wilderness Waterway, the 99-mile trail that brings you through the 10,000 Islands and all the way to Flamingo in Florida Bay in the south.
A Wilderness adventure will require some planning and a permit which you can get at the Visitor Center.
Some useful links:
Where?: The Gulf Coast Visitor Center is 5 miles south of US 41 on State Road 29 at 815 Oyster Bar Lane, Everglades City, Florida 34139
See the Florida Everglades Map here.
Visitor Center Hours: 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. mid-November to mid-April
9:00 am to 4:30 pm. mid-April to mid-November
Park Entrance Fee: There is no Park Entrance Fee at the Gulf Coast
Other Ammenities: Restrooms, Gift Shop
At Everglades City you find accomodations, campgrounds, restaurants, etc.
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