Perhaps one of the most iconic destinations in Florida, the Everglades National Park is definitely something not to be missed for nature lovers.
The national park is the third largest in the United States and the the first created to protect a fragile eco-system as opposed to unique geographic features as most other national parks do.
In fact, it was the first stop on our recent road trip from Miami to Key West.
The Everglades is the largest continuous stand of sawgrass prairie in North America and the most significant breeding grounds for tropical wading birds in the country. It is also well known throughout the world for being home to a very large number of alligators: over 200,000 alligators live in the Everglades to be precise!
Everglades National Park Visitor Centers
The best place to start your Everglades trip: if you want to make a day trip to the Everglades National Park it is advisable to visit one of the National Park’s visitor centers.
The cost to access the Everglades National Park is $25 USD per vehicle. There are four main visitor centers in the Everglades:
The Flamingo Visitor Centre
This visitor centre, located roughly 38 miles south of the park main entrance, is staffed from 8am – 4:30pm mid-November through mid-April with irregular staffed hours during the off season. The Flamingo Visitor Centre is a fantastic visitor centre for bird watching enthusiasts. If you wish to camp directly within the Everglades you can also do so within this area. The visitor centre provides boat & canoe for those wishing to see the Everglades by water. Alternatively, nine hikes can be completed from the Flamingo Visitor Centre including:
- West Lake Trail – A 1/2 mile round boardwalk hike through a forest of mangroves and buttonwood trees to the edge of West Lake.
- Snake Bite Trail – A 1.6 mile trail hike through a ‘tropical hardwood hammock with dozens of tropical tree species’. A good trail for bird watching enthusiasts.
- Rowdy Bend Trail – A 2.6 mile (one way) hike through shady buttonwoods and open coastal prairie.
This visitor centre is open mid December to Mid April 8am – 5pm with slightly reduced hours for the remainder of the year. One of the most popular trails of the Everglades National Park, the Anhinga Trail, starts four miles from the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center at the Royal Palm Visitor Center. The Anhinga Trail is a 0.8 mile round trip hike through sawgrass marsh, where alligators, turtles, anhingas, herons, egrets, and many other birds are prevalent, especially during the winter. This trail is one of the most popular in the Everglades due to the abundance of wildlife present.
Gulf Coast Visitor Center
The Gulf Coast Visitor Center is located 5 miles south of Highway 41 on State Road 29, in Everglades City. The opening hours are 8:00 am to 4:30 pm mid November with slightly reduced hours for the remainder of the year. This visitor centre is best for exploring the Everglades Ten Thousand Islands, a maze of mangrove islands and waterways that extends to Flamingo and Florida Bay. In order to access the Ten Thousand Islands, boat tours and canoe rentals are available at the visitor centre. This is a particularly popular option to view dolphins & manatees in the Everglades.
This visitor centre is open 8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m mid-December – mid-April with slightly reduced hours for the rest of the year. The Shark Valley Visitor Centre is particularly popular for its 15 mile trail which can also be accessed on foot, by bike or via a tram tour. There are also two smaller trails that are accessible from the Shark Valley Visitor Centre – Bobcat Boardwalk, a short 0.5 mile one way boardwalk trail through sawgrass slough and tropical hardwood forests and the Otter Cave trail, a 0.25 miles one way trail through a tropical hardwood forest with small footbridges over a small stream. The Otter Cave trail can sometimes be flooded in the summer months.
We chose to visit the Shark Valley Visitor Centre due to its close and easy proximity to Miami. The Shark Valley Visitor Centre is approximately 1 hour from Miami and can easily be visited in a day trip from Miami by car. There is no public transportation available to the visitor centre and people have been previously stranded at the Visitor Centre by attempting to take ubers there. We usually use Sixt Car Rental in Miami or scan for the best car rental price on AutoEurope. There is ample free parking available at the Shark Valley Visitor Centre
Upon entering the Shark Valley Visitor Centre, there is a small area of educational displays about the Everglades National Park. Rangers are also available to answer any questions that you have about the area.
As indicated above, you have three choices to explore this area: by bike, tram tour or on foot. The visitor centre hires bikes for $9 per hour. It takes approximately 2-3 hours to complete the 15 mile round trip journey by bike. Alternatively, if you like a bit of comfort & information as you enjoy the scenery, the tram tour is a good option & costs $24 USD pp, running daily until around 4pm.
We chose to walk the pathway leisurely & explore the surroundings by foot. We spent about 3 hours on our first trip to Shark Valley Visitor Center and completed about 6 miles of the 15 mile main trail. This was an adequate amount of time to get a good feel for the Everglades. It was an extremely hot day when we visited so I would highly recommend bringing along with you a big hat, sunscreen & an umbrella to protect yourself if you don’t want to get extremely sunburnt as there is little to no protection from the elements! The other thing that I would recommend is bringing some Mosquito bracelets & Mosquito spray as the Everglades is well known for its mosquitoes.
We completed the Bobcat Boardwalk first and intended to also complete the Otter Cave trail but unfortunately it was flooded and inaccessible when we visited. During this journey we spotted many different species of birds, 2 snakes and 1 alligator. You need a good eye to spot the wildlife as they are camouflaged very well!
Best Everglades Trails
Make sure to check out these incredible Everglades hikes (well, some are more like easy strolls – so no problem there)!
- Shark Valley Trail: from Shark Valley Visitor Center is the longest walk in the Everglades.
- Gumbo Limbo Trail: from the Royal Palm Visitor Center – the perfect Everglades walk on a sunny day because it’s shaded!
- Anhinga Trail: from the Royal Palm Visitor Center. Just 0.8 miles (1200 meters) round trip which you can easily do in an hour making it perfect for a quick afternoon activity.
Everglades Airboat Tours
One of the very best ways to see the Everglades is by airboat tour as much of the National Park is covered by water.
See here for the best 11 airboat tours in the Everglades and what we think of airboat tours!
Have you been to the Everglades National Park? Let us know in the comments below.