Also known as the legendary River of Grass, Everglades National Park is one of the wonders of the world.
The vast subtropical wetland sprawls between the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Okeechobee in South Florida.
Besides preserving the swamp, Everglades National Park also offers a variable scope for outdoor adventures.
About Everglades National Park
Everglades National Park – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – is the third-largest national park in the lower 48 states, covering over 1.5 million acres.
Its waters come from Lake Okeechobee, making it an ideal home for the American crocodiles, turtles, manatees, an array of birds and panthers.
Due to human encroachment, the park has been undergoing enormous restoration for the last two decades. Today, the bird and wildlife populations are increasing.
In fact, the fragile ecosystem is now an International Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site.
What to expect before you go the Everglades
When planning a trip to the Everglades, here is what you have to keep in mind:
The weather – from November to April, the Everglades are mild and pleasant, with clear skies, low humidity, and rare cases of severe colds.
The winter temperatures range from 53°F to 77°F, while summers have excessive heat (about 90°F) and humidity (over 90%). Hurricane season runs from June through to November, while the rainy season is June through October.
Admission cost – admission is $35 per car valid for seven days. For $80, people over 62 years can get the senior pass, which is a lifetime admission to all national parks. You can also take advantage of the free days in national parks. These are January 20, April 18, August 25, September 26, and November 11 in 2020.
Cell phones – do not rely on your cell phone services for crucial communication while visiting this park. Since the park is a vast wilderness area, most cell phones will not have service, even when you are along the main roads.
Camping – the park offers both back-country and front country camping. The campgrounds offer picnic tables, drinking water, restrooms, and tents. Showers and electric hookups are available at some camping sites.
How to get to Everglades National Park
You can access the Glades using its three entrances in three different cities.
Homestead is the main entrance of the park, with Royal Palm, Flamingo, and Ernest F. Coe Visitor Centers located here. When coming from Miami, take the Florida Turnpike south until it merges with the U.S. 1 at Florida City.
At the first traffic light, turn right onto Palm Drive and follow the park signs. Tourists traveling north from the Florida Key West should turn left on Palm Drive and follow the signs.
Also known as the Shark Valley, this is the closest entrance from the Greater Miami area, Florida. When coming from Miami, get off on exit 25 (from the south) or exit 25A (from the north) of Florida Turnpike and take U.S 41 25 miles west to Shark Valley. From Naples, take the SW 8th St. about 70 miles east to Shark Valley.
Everglades City Entrance
The everglades city or Gulf coast is the entrance closest to Naples, Florida. You should take exit 80 from Interstate 75 (alligator alley), turn south and proceed 20 miles to the Everglades city, and follow the signs to the park. From Naples, you can take U.S 41 east toward Miami for about 35 miles to State Road 29 and turn right to the Everglades City.
What to bring to the park
Here is your must-carry list when going to the Everglades:
Water and snacks – several places are available within the park where you can buy snacks and bottles of water, but the distances between them can be extensive.
Sneakers or walking shoes – the Everglades hiking trails are flat and smooth. But not all are paved and hence you will need some comfortable shoes.
Sunscreen – Florida is known as the sunshine state. The sun can be harsh and so bring some sunscreen and apply it whenever you are outdoors.
Mosquito repellant – the biting flies can be a nuisance. You will undoubtedly need repellant, especially when traveling in the summer. Read more on how to avoid mosquitoes.
Binoculars and camera – they will surely come in handy when you are wildlife-watching.
Raincoat or umbrella – Florida usually receives tropical rain showers and its weather is unpredictable.
A full tank of gasoline – gas stations are sparse, so be sure to fill up first if you will be driving.
What to do in Everglades National Park
There is no shortage of adventures for individuals, groups, and families to enjoy in the Everglades.
Pedal your way through the numerous trails including the tram road, Long Pine Key, Rowdy Bend Trail, and the snake Bight trail. You can stop to catch sight of woodland birds and other wildlife whenever you choose. Besides, you can always rent a bike at the Visitors Centers if you don’t own one.
Whether you are planning a laid-back stroll of a day hike, the Everglades offers an array of trails ranging from less than a quarter-mile to 22 miles. The Anhinga Trail is the most famous for a quick and easy wildlife-watching jaunt. You can also hike through succulents and buttonwood hammocks on the coastal prairie trail.
From the tiny mosquito fish to the alligator, the Everglades is home of saltwater, freshwater, and brackish wildlife species. Bird watching is also a rewarding adventure in the Everglades. You can spot the great blue heron, Flamingos, flocks of roseate spoonbills, among others.
Since most of the park is accessible by water, boating brings you closer to the wild wonders of the park. You can also skim over the river of Grass on an airboat ride in the Shark River Slough.
Canoeing and kayaking
Gliding silently in a kayak or canoe offers a beautiful vantage point on the vegetation and wildlife of the Glades. The Wetlands Waterway is 99 miles and can take about ten days by kayak or canoe, but various well-marked shorter trails are available.
Guided tours run the gamut from guided canoe trips, wildlife-watching walks. You can also enjoy after-hour full moon biking and slough-slogging for a more immersive swamp experience.
Where to stay in the Everglades
Staying in Miami is one of the easiest ways of exploring the Everglades since it is the closest major city to the park. It also has plenty of accommodation options to offer.
Within the park, the closest hotels are in Everglades City (western edge of the park) and Homestead (eastern wedge). You can also utilize the campgrounds, including the Long Pine Key campground.
Also, the Flamingo Campground on Florida Bay and the background camps are available year-round.
Best time to visit
The Everglades is open year-round for visitors. The high season lasts from November to mid-May. The weather is sunny, breezy, and warm, which keeps the bugs away.
It is also the ideal time to visit since the low water levels usually attract the most extensive variety of birds and their predators.
The Everglades is a scenic and thrilling place to visit. From crocodiles, turtles, herons, to manatees and dolphins, the park teems with native wildlife.
Besides, there are limitless and exciting activities to indulge in the river of Grass.