The Everglades National Park in Florida is the main gateway to the "River of Grass", with over 1.5 million acres teeming with a diversity of wildlife and many endangered species, it is a unique and special place, and certainly one of the most amazing National Parks we have, and all within close proximity to major metropolitan areas.
The park itself encompasses a very large area with three main entrances and four main Visitor Centers that are quite enough apart offering totally different ecosystems and a variety of ways to explore them.
Because of the many landscapes such as marshes, hardwood hammocks, the shallows of Florida Bay, the mangrove swamps, etc. there are many fun ways to discover them, and so there is a variety of recreation options available at the park for everyone to enjoy: canoe and kayak rides, bicycle trails, boat tours, nature walks, tram tours...
The one thing that you won't find at the park is Airboat rides, these are conducted outside the park boundaries by the many private operators.
Although there are many ranger-led programs and activities, many of the concessions and tours offered within the park are run by individual outfits and tour companies, NOT part of the National Park system.
These are all regular commercial outfits and the degree of service and reliability also varies, so it pays to do a little homework.
The three main entrances to the park are:
View the Everglades National Park Florida in a larger map.
The main Visitor Centers will be near the Park Entrances and in the Southern end at Flamingo, which is accessed via the Florida City Entrance.
There is no road from Flamingo to the Gulf Coast, the only way to do a "loop" of all Visitor Centers is via the Wilderness Waterway that runs along the west shore and connects Flamingo and the Gulf Coast center in Everglades City and takes 7 to 10 days by canoe/kayak.
If you are driving from Miami, the easiest to get to are the Shark Valley and Florida City entrances, they both will take about one hour.
There is lots to do at both locations whether you only have half a day or want to extend it a full day to explore.
And just outside the park boundaries around these two entrances you will find many of the Airboat Tour operators if you wish to combine that with your Everglades Park visit.
The Everglades National Park Visitor Centers are the best jumping off point to start exploring the Everglades.
This is where you find out about the many kinds of activities available at each of the different areas which are many and varied depending on the location.
Visitor Centers also provide useful and timely information about:
Many of the staff at the Visitor Centers are volunteers, these people are a wealth of information and very passionate about the Everglades and the wildlife that surrounds them. If you have a chance to take one of their guided walks or programs you won't be dissapointed.
These are the main Visitor Centers at Everglades National Park, the highlights and facilities available in the area:
Roughly an hour away from Miami, this is where the park's headquarters are located and one of our favorite short walks that offer some of the best wildlife viewing opportunities, the Anhinga Trail at Royal Palm.
Highlights around this area:
For those with more time, you can continue on the main road to Flamingo, where you find an endless variety of environments and landscapes as well as many trails with more viewing opportunities.
And just outside the park entrance you will find many Airboat Tour operators, which can be combined with your visit to this section of the Everglades.
Here's more on the Park's Main Entrance and the surrounding area, pictures, and directions.
This is one of our favorite spots, also an hour's drive from Miami. It is quite unique, you see the alligators roaming around freely throughout the area, there is no fence between you and the critters, really! Just sitting there... right in the middle of the path...
Shark Valley is great for biking, either bring your own or rent there. The highlights, besides the alligators that welcome you on the trails:
Specially during the dry season, watch out for alligators, otters, turtles, many many kinds of birds!
The Airboat Tour operators are all along this road, US41, so you can easily combine an airboat tour with a visit to Shark Valley.
Here's more on Shark Valley: pictures, wildlife, and activities.
Flamingo is a bit off the beaten path and literally at the end of the road. It's about 35 miles from the Main Entrance and Visitor Center at Ernest Coe and the jumping off point for exploring Florida Bay. This area is best seen from the water and there are plenty of facilities here to make that possible:
Watch out for salt water crocodiles, manatees, dolphins, alligators, wading birds.
The road to Flamingo is full of walking and hiking trails as well as paddling routes. Because of its remoteness, not all of the facilities are open in the low season May through November.
Here's more on the Everglades at Flamingo.
The North-West entrance to the Park is located in the small town of Everglades City, which provides infrastructure for accomodations, restaurants, shops, etc.
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 though 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.
The Gulf Coast is the gateway to the 10,000 Islands National Wildlife Refuge and the Wilderness Waterway that extends all the way to Flamingo and Florida Bay.
This area is best explored from the water.
Here you will find:
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:
Here's more on Everglades City Florida and the Gulf Coast Visitor Center
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