Here are some Everglades tips to help you plan your adventure as well as some of your most frequently asked questions:
- When is the best time to visit the Everglades?
- What are the main areas of the Everglades worth visiting?
- What if I don't have much time? Where should I go?
- Where are the best places to see alligators?
- What should I bring?
- Are there hotels or accomodations in Everglades National Park?
What are the main areas of the Everglades worth visiting?
The Everglades are huge, and you can't go wrong starting off with any of the Visitor Centers at the Everglades National Park.
Check out the map and highlights of each area here. It will give you an idea of what's available. They are all different and offer different activities.
The Gulf Coast and Flamingo at Florida Bay for example are best seen from the water, and most water-based activities like canoeing and kayaking will be in these areas.
Walking trails and boardwalks are at all locations, habitats and vegetation will be different. Biking with alligators crossing the road is great at Shark Valley.
If you are staying in Miami, both Shark Valley and the Main Entrance are about an hour's drive. From Shark Valley you can continue on through the Big Cypress National Preserve and on to the Gulf Coast if you have more time, and from the Main Entrance you can go further to Flamingo, both ending on the coast which has different habitats and you can choose between the mangrove backcountry or the open waters of the Bay.
Airboat Tours are offered by many services operating within and outside park boundaries and near the park entrances so you can easily combine an airboat ride with a visit to the park, a great fun way to explore, specially with kids.
What if I don't have much time?
You don't need a whole day. If you only have half-a-day, here are some suggestions.
Go for an Airboat Ride
If you only have a couple of hours to spare, this is a fun and popular way to see some alligators and enjoy some of the different landscapes and wildlife of the area.
Driving to one of the many Airboat Tour operators is easy along US 41 (the red area in the map), also known as Tamiami Trail where many of the operators concentrate near the Park Entrance. Normally there are airboat tours leaving continuously.
If you are pressed for time, it is a good idea to make reservations to avoid having to wait for the "next available" which could be right away or in a couple of hours.
Here's more on Everglades Airboat Tours including options if you don't have your own transportation.
Hit the Boardwalks and Trails
If the airboat ride is not for you, perhaps spending a couple of hours walking along the boardwalks and trails or taking a tram tour and enjoying the wildlife will be in order.
Our favorite short walks are:
- Anhinga Trail (pictured here) at Royal Palms near the Main Park Entrance at Florida City by Homestead
- The The Loop Road at Shark Valley
These two trails are always full of activity and are very easy to get to. Should you decide to extend your stay, there is plenty more to cover at both locations.
A two-hour tram tour is offered at Shark Valley, also a great introduction to the heart of the Everglades that covers a lot of ground. Normally a knowledgeable park ranger will accompany on the tour, they are a wealth of information about the area and the wildlife.
Where to See the Alligators?
This is Gator country and you will find them all over the wetlands, especially close to bodies of water as they need it to regulate their body temperature.
The question is rather when to see them, the best chances to see alligators as well as other wildlife is during the dry season from end of November to April, when water levels are low, wildlife becomes more visible as they concentrate near the water holes. As water levels rise in the rainy season, the wildlife disperses and it becomes more difficult to spot them.
Look around in ponds, lakes, edges of rivers, and even man-made canals.
If you are driving on Tamiami Trail, there is a canal that runs along the north side of it, there is always some sort of construction and delays along this road, so check out the canal while you wait and you will very likely spot some there.
The section of Tamiami Trail or US Highway 41 that crosses through Big Cypress National Preserve is always teeming with wildlife (in the dry season) and is a very scenic drive. You will certainly see alligators along the canal here.
One of our favorite places for alligators is Shark Valley. You will find them all along the 15-mile Loop, by the side of the road, look around puddles of water. And from the lookout tower, check out the nearby water-holes, you see them sunning themselves close to the pond.
Another fail-proof place is at Anhinga Trail at Royal Palm, as you enter the trail, walk straight without turning into any of the loops, right at the end is Gator Grand Central, this is where they congregate and enjoy a few rays:
And of course you find them all over the Anhinga Trail as well.
And not far at the Big Cypress Preserve, the first stop if you are coming from Miami is the Oasis Visitor Center, which is the preserve's alligator grand central (and it's FREE!) They hang out by the boardwalk running along the canal, this is a great place to spend some time and take in all the action below:
What to Bring?
- Sun protection: sunscreen, hat/cap
- Drinking water
- Picnic/ lunch / refreshments
- Mosquito repellent
- If renting equipment (bikes, kayaks, etc.) you will need ID and a credit card for deposit
Are there any accomodations within the Park?
At the moment, there are no hotels/motels/lodges at Everglades National Park. The Flamingo Lodge in the southern part of the Park was the only major facility which was closed in 2005 after the aftermath of Hurricanes Wilma and Katrina. The Lodge is being rebuilt and the new complex will consist of a small hotel and a handful of individual cabins and eco-tents. If it all goes according to plan, they should be ready by May 2019, just in time for the 2019/2020 season.
For now, if you wish to stay within the park, the only options available are the campgrounds.
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