Everglades National Park is a mosaic of sawgrass, cypress hammocks, sloshing swamps, and waxy mangroves. It all stretches for as far as the eye can see, forming the greatest protected wilderness east of the Mississippi River near the southern tip of Florida. The Everglades make up for their lack of lofty mountain peaks with biodiversity, boardwalk hikes, and bird music. This unusual national park offers everything from turtle-spotting excursions to scuba diving in Biscayne Bay — but watch out for the gators!
The Everglades National Park was established in 1947. The preserve was created to safeguard some of Florida’s few remaining wetlands in the south. Once home to Seminole Indians and saber-toothed tigers, these lands were suddenly threatened by human invasion and industrialisation. Today, the environment stretches from the Kissimmee River’s mouth to the Florida Bay keys, and it is a UNESCO biosphere that attracts an estimated one million visitors each year.
Where is Everglades National Park?
The Everglades National Park is located on Florida’s southernmost tip. You’ll have to travel beyond Orlando‘s rattling rollercoasters and Clearwater’s coral-colored beaches to where the Sunshine State meets the Gulf of Mexico. That’s where the 1.5 million acres of the reserve are located, sandwiched between Miami and fashionable Naples.
Best time to visit
When it comes to deciding when to visit the Everglades, there is only one rule: avoid the insects. And then there’s the hurricanes! In general, the Florida wet season brings bugs and large Atlantic weather systems. This corresponds to the end of summer in the United States and the beginning of autumn in the United Kingdom. As a result, most people will plan a tropical safari between December and April. Not only is it hot and dry, but declining water levels have revealed sawgrass plains and attracted many migratory birds from the north.
How to get there?
Because the Glades are so large, seven airports serve as entry points. Despite the fact that some take longer to reach than others, none are more than four hours away (and most much less). As a result, it’s best to combine your arrival city with other activities you could enjoy: Theme parks abound in Orlando; nightlife and museums abound in Tampa and Miami; exquisite dining, golf, and charter fishing abound in Sarasota, Fort Myers, and Naples; while Hemingway kitsch, history, and limitless margaritas abound in Key West.
It is simple to get here by car. U.S. Route 41 is the only way in from Tampa, Sarasota, Fort Myers, or Naples on the west side. The main points of entrance from Miami are U.S. Route 41 and Florida State Road 9336, which turns into Main Park Road. Both sides are equally accessible from Orlando. But, regardless of where you’re coming from, the best way to explore the west coast, where the river of grass meets the sea, is to bring your own canoe or kayak or rent one from the Ivey House in Everglades City. Keep in mind that the waters are shallow and the undersea habitat is delicate. You’ll have to get out of your boat and push if you get trapped in the muck, which rips up the underwater seagrass environment. Use of depth finders is recommended, as is understanding of tides and nautical maps, as well as awareness of sensitive manatees.
The park is open at all times. You should be able to visit the vine-strewn cypress hammocks and sawgrass plains at any time of year, regardless of the weather. The Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center, located in Homestead on the park’s eastern outskirts, is only open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the wet season and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the dry season. Due to COVID-19, Everglades National Park is currently operating at a reduced capacity. It’s possible that some facilities won’t be available, and staffing may be limited.
Park Entrance Fee
You won’t have to spend a lot of money to see ancient alligators and graceful snow geese. A full year’s pass to Everglades National Park costs only $40. Week-long tickets are also available for $20 per vehicle, $15 for a bike, and $8 for an individual walking. The Everglades also have an e-ticket system, which allows you to store the full thing on your smartphone — out of reach of the crocs!
Things to do
On the wheelchair-accessible Anhinga Trail and the two-hour Shark Valley Tram Tour, look for animals (reservations recommended). The Shark Valley Tram Road loop is 15 miles long and can be biked or hiked. The 65-foot observation tower at Shark Valley offers panoramic views of the “river of grass.” Take a guided boat tour from the Flamingo Marina or Gulf Coast, which are both about 0.5 miles south of the Everglades City Ranger Station. Join a ranger-led tour of the park’s Cold War–era Nike Missile Base from December to April. In response to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the now-decommissioned antiaircraft missile installation was created.
Everglades National Park Landmarks
Shark Valley Observation Tower
Ernest Coe Visitor Center
Ten Thousand Islands
Flamingo Visitor Center
Everglades National Park Hiking Trails
Gumbo Limbo Trail
Shark Valley Trail
Snake Bight Trail
Eco Pond Trail
Mahogany Hammock Trail
Bobcat Boardwalk Trail
Everglades Coastal Prairie Trail
Where to stay?
The nearest hotels are at Homestead (on the park’s eastern side) and Everglades City (western edge). Long Pine Key Campground, six miles from the Ernest Coe Visitor Center (open November to May; first come, first served), or Flamingo Campground on Florida Bay are both good options for camping inside the park (open year-round; reservations highly recommended from December to April). Backcountry camping on ground, beach, or “chickees” is also an option (elevated camping platforms). The majority of backcountry locations can only be reached by boat and require permits and reservations.