It’s hard to find someone who hasn’t heard of Everglades National Park. And no wonder-at over 1.5 million acres (the third largest National Park in the continental United States), it spans approximately 4.5% of Florida’s total area and dominates the southern portion of the state. This unique ecosystem contains both wetlands and forests, which is why it is home to such a wide variety of wildlife, including alligators and an enormous selection of birdlife.
Taking an airboat in the Everglades is perhaps the most common activity thought of when people think about what to do in the area. While airboat rides are incredible, there are so many things to see and do in the Everglades that limiting your experiences to just an airboat ride would be a shame.
Here are some tips on the great opportunities that await in Everglades National Park!
Everglades National Park, including what to do, what to pack, expected weather, useful maps, ranked hiking information and useful links are covered in our extensive itinerary for Everglades National Park.
Map of the Royal Palm Area, courtesy of the National Park Service
Located only about 11 miles west of Homestead, Florida (directions), the Royal Palm Area is the most popular entrance into Everglades National Park. From the entrance there is one main road (Main Park Road, or State Highway 9336) that travels 38 miles and ends at the Flamingo Visitor Center.
While visiting the Royal Palm Area, our recommendations include:
- Scenic drives. Driving at least a portion of the 38-mile Park Road is required to get anywhere in the Royal Palm Area. This road should not be thought of as an access road, but rather something to enjoy in and of itself. Along the way you’ll find great opportunities to stop, whether it be at a walk on a raised boardwalk or just stopping alongside the road to view some of the amazing birdlife. There are also plenty of opportunities for picnicking.
- Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center. This visitor center is full of amazing visits, including great info on the local wildlife. A short video is also being shown continuously as well as a gift shop and restrooms. Rangers are also present to help give you advice on what to see and information on recent wildlife activity. There are also maps and newspapers that you’ll find useful for your journey. You can find more information about the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center here.
Hiking / Walking. Most of the trails in Everglades National Park are well maintained and quite easy, as the elevation gains are pretty much non-existent. In the Royal Palm Area (and northern part of the Park Road) there are several trails to choose from, and all of them are quite easy and quick to walk. We recommend the following (others are covered in our Everglades National Park itinerary):
- The Anhinga Trail is an easy 0.8-mile walk and has no elevation gain. The trailhead starts from the Royal Palm Visitor Center. This boardwalk is one of the most popular trails in Everglades National Park and therefore can be quite crowded. However, this is a fantastic spot to see alligators (which commonly cross parts of the trail!), turtles, birds and other wildlife. Be advised that if you are coming in the winter, it’s common for vultures to pick away at rubber on cars (the seals around windshields are particularly interesting to them). Tarps (with strapping) will help protect your car and are available in the parking area for free.
Tarps on cars in the parking lot for the Ahninga Trail prevent vultures from snacking on the car rubber
- The Pa-hay-okee Overlook Trail is a quick jaunt to an overlook, only 0.1 miles away from the parking area. This raised walk offers views of the grasslands.
- The Gumbo Limbo Trail is an easy 0.5-mile round-trip walk without any elevation gain. Starting near the Anhinga Trail, this trail is completely different with shaded hardwood trees. This is a great place to learn about the local flora, as plaques help provide detailed information.
- The Mahogany Hammock Trail starts around 20 miles from the main park entrance and winds through hardwood after crossing grassland. This is a great place to see wildlife and is very popular.
Map of the Flamingo Area, courtesy of the National Park Service
Located at the end of the 38-mile Park Road, the Flamingo Area is worth driving to. Be prepared, though, as the bugs down here can be especially aggressive, and a good bug spray is a must. While the Flamingo area is great, make sure you also take the time to get out of your car as you make the 75-minute drive.
When visiting (and traveling down to) the Flamingo Area, things to do include:
- Flamingo Visitor Center. This is a great place to see manatees and potentially American crocodiles, which are rarer than the usual alligators in the park. You can also speak to the rangers in the Visitor Center, as they’ll be a great resource for where to go for the best wildlife viewing.
- Kayak and Canoe Rentals. Renting a personal watercraft is a great way to experience the Everglades. Trips can range from a couple hours to multi-day journeys through the many miles of water trails. We recommend the book “A Paddler’s Guide to Everglades National Park” if you are really interested at seeing the park from the water.
Hiking / Walking. There are a variety of trails in the Flamingo Area, and several of them are quite a bit longer than those offered in other parts of the park. Make sure you are prepared with plenty of bug spray and water, as well as protection from the sun and rain (both of which are common here!). The top recommended hikes include (others are covered in our Everglades National Park itinerary):
- The Guy Bradley Trail is an easy 1-mile walk. Starting at the Flamingo Visitor Center, this flat walkway runs along the water and provides some nice views.
- The Eco Pond Trail starts across from the Flamingo Visitor Center and travels a 0.5-mile loop around a pond. This is a great place for birding.
- The Snake Bight Trail is an easy 3.7-mile hike. Starting from the Main Park Road about 4 miles north of Flamingo, this flat, out-and-back trail leads straight out through thick mangrove forest with occasional grassland views on the way to Florida Bay. This trail is known for having an extreme number of mosquitoes, so just be prepared!
- The Rowdy Bend Trail is a moderate 5.2-mile hike. The trailhead starts from the Main Park Road just three miles north of Flamingo. This flat trail heads through a shaded buttonwood forest and open prairies on its way to the coast. This trail is not crowded and can be a peaceful break from the more easily accessible boardwalk trails.
GULF COAST AREA
Map of the Gulf Coast Area, courtesy of the National Park Service
Located near Everglades City (on the western side of the park), the Gulf Coast Area is mainly a hub for boat tours. Be advised, though, that due to hurricane damage, boat tours and services are limited in this area. Directions from Homestead, FL can be found here.
When visiting the Gulf Coast Area, some ideas on what to see include:
- Gulf Coast Visitor Center. As of this writing, there is only a temporary visitor center that has been erected after hurricane damage. While small, a ranger is on staff to be able to help you out with information on what to do in the area.
- Boat Tours. Tours of the mangroves and the 10,000 islands are available. The tours are operated by Everglades National Park Boat Tours. Reservations are available online and recommended. Kayak and canoe rentals are also available. For the latest tours that are available, check out the reservations page.
SHARK VALLEY AREA
Map of the Shark Valley Area, courtesy of the National Park Service
Shark Valley is located on the Tamiami Trail (Highway 41), about 25 miles west of the Florida Turnpike and 70 miles east of Naples. While here, the 15-mile (out and back) trip is only accessible via tram, walking or by bicycle. Halfway through the loop is a 45-foot observation tower that allows you to see sweeping vistas of the surrounding Everglades.
When visiting the Shark Valley Area, some ideas on what to see include:
- Shark Valley Visitor Center. The Shark Valley Visitor Center contains exhibits, a short video and rangers, who will be able to assist you with your visit.
- Tram Tours. Tram tours depart hourly (during peak times) for the 15-mile journey to the Shark Valley observation tower, where you can see for many miles. The tours last about two hours, and along the way you’ll have the opportunity to see plenty of wildlife! If you want to go, make sure you book reservations in advance. During the busiest times of year, tours leave every two hours, so even without a reservation you have a good chance of getting a spot if you so choose. When you do visit, make sure you bring plenty of water and sunblock, as you will likely be exposed to the sun for at least part of the way there or back if you sit on the outside seat.
- Biking. A popular way of seeing this area is to ride a bike out on the tram trail. Since the road is flat and the distance if relatively short, this is a great way to get exercise while seeing wildlife. You can bring your own bike or rent a bike from the visitor center. The ride is not for the faint of heart, though. Wind here is not rare, and it’s likely that you’ll encounter a headwind either on the way to the tower or coming back. We chose to bike with our family and loved it, though it wasn’t the easiest thing we’ve ever done! Still, choosing to bike to be away from the crowds on the tram was quite nice.
- Hiking / Walking. Aside from walking on the tram tail, there are only a couple of short walks to go on.
- The Bobcat Boardwalk Trail is a 0.4-mile, easy path that starts right from the Shark Valley Visitor Center. The walk traverses through lush growth with the opportunities to see wildlife.
- Near the Observation Tower is the Borrow Pit Trail. This 0.3-mile (round-trip), out-and-back trail has no elevation gain and is completely shaded. This is a great place to go to before heading back on the tram or bike.
WHERE TO STAY IN AND AROUND EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK
- There is no lodging inside of Everglades National Park.
- Outside of the park, there are a couple of places to stay that are really convenient. Homestead, FL is only about 20 minutes from the eastern entrance to the park and has a ton of great options as well as many different services. Everglades City, FL is quite small, but Naples, FL also has great lodging options on the western side of the park.
- Two campgrounds are located inside Everglades National Park. Reservations are accepted at the Flamingo Campground. Usually, though, there is plenty of room. Backcountry camping is also available.
HOW TO GET TO EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK, WHEN TO GO AND WHAT TO EXPECT
There are a few options for airports near Everglades National Park. The closest airport is in Miami, which is just about one hour away. Nearly two hours away is Fort Lauderdale, FL. Both are good options, and many carriers offer non-stop flights. For those of you who are combining a trip to Disneyworld, Everglades is about 3.5 hours from the park.
Everglades is open year-round, with attendance peaking in the winter months. Crowds are lightest in the summertime, and some of the facilities are closed or with limited staffing.
Temperatures in Everglades are warm all year round. Nights get down to the 50’s in the winter, and highs get close to 80, even in the “coldest” winter months. Late spring and summer bring oppressive humidity at times, and the temperatures get well above 90 frequently.
Rainstorms in the Everglades are common and can frequently come with little or no warning.
Storm clouds coming in fast in Everglades National Park-be ready!
FURTHER INFORMATION ON EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK FROM JUST GO TRAVEL STUDIOS
- What to do in Everglades National Park, what to pack, things to do nearby and much more detailed information on the park is included in our itinerary for Everglades National Park.
- About 3 hours to the south of Everglades National Park is Dry Tortugas National Park. This island park off the coast of Key West is totally worth exploring, and you can find out more in our blog, What to See and Do in Dry Tortugas National Park.
- We’d love to work with you to take one of your photos and turn them into one of our unique, custom, vintage-style travel posters. If you haven’t tried this yet, we guarantee you won’t be disappointed!
OTHER USEFUL INFORMATION ON EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK
- The National Park Service’s website on Everglades National Park is very thorough. Be sure to investigate it before you get to the park, though, as the internet service is poor in the park.
- Mary (from “The World is a Book”) has some fantastic tips on how best to enjoy Everglades National Park with kids.
- Ashlea (from “A Globe Well Traveled”) provides an overview of Everglades National Park, but also provides some fantastic info on what to bring to the park. She also has a bit of a surprise in there-info on the smallest post office in the US!
- Lori and Angelo (from “Travlinmad”) have a fantastic blog on Awesome things to do in the Everglades. Not only do they cover information on the park, they also cover great places to eat nearby and some activities that you also might want to couple with your trip. This includes nearby museums and galleries, some unique stores and great places to stay.
Most people think of sand beaches and Disneyworld when heading to Florida, but the natural wonders of the Everglades are definitely worth visiting.
If you have been to Everglades National Park and have great places that we didn’t include in this post, please leave a comment or email us directly. We’re also happy to answer any questions that you might have!