Why you should visit the Everglades National Park
The Everglades National Park includes one fifth of the original southern Everglades and is also the largest tropical wilderness in the United States. After Death Valley (California) and Yellowstone (Wyoming) it is also the third largest national park in the country. It is therefore not surprising that (since 1979) it is part of the UNESCO World Heritage.
But what makes this park so special? Unlike many other national parks that aim to protect unique geographic features (eg a volcanic lake), the Everglades National Park was created to protect a fragile ecosystem. The park consists of wetland and forests that are ‘fed’ by a river coming from Lake Okeechobee. So, in fact the Everglades are one big river, where the water constantly moves from the north to the south.
It contains the largest mangrove ecosystem of the western half-front. 36 endangered or protected species have their home here, such as the florida panther, the American crocodile and the West Indian manatee. In addition there are 350 bird species, 300 different fish, 40 species of mammals and 50 species of reptiles. The perfect place for an adventurous boat trip, I would dare say!
From where can you visit the Everglades?
When you have arrived in sunny Florida the Everglades National Park isn’t located that far anymore.
The first decision you have to make when you visit the Everglades National Park is through which entrance you want to enter the park. In total there are three entrances and they are hours apart. If you want to admire the heart of the Everglades it is best to go via Shark Valley in Miami or take the main entrance in Homestead. However, if you want to visit the Gulf Coast, you must be in Everglades City. Below is a brief explanation of each access point.
Shark Valley (Miami)
This place owes its name because these water flows southwest towards the Shark River. This is also the place where most guided tours from Miami take you.
You can walk, cycle and even take a tram that follows a loop of 24 km. From the observation platform you have a 360° view on the Everglades. You also have an observation deck where you can see alligators, turtles, fish and birds. From Miami it is just an hour’s drive to the visitor center.
Gulf Coast (Everglades City)
You only have to be here if you want to visit the mangrove forests or the Ten Thousand Islands by boat. From Miami it takes about an hour and forty-five minutes by car to get here.
Royal Palm (Homestead)
Two nice walks depart from the main entrance: one that follows the Anhinga Path and then also the Gumbo Limbo path. At the first path you’re almost guaranteed to see a lot of animals. The second one is a paved path, making it accessible to wheelchair users.
South of the main entrance you can find the Flamingo visitor center, which is considered the gateway to Florida Bay. In this bay you have a maze of mangrove waterways in which thousands of birds and a lot of fish, crabs and other maritime life resides. This is the ideal starting point for a kayak or canoe trip. There are also many hiking and cycling trails and you can also camp here.
Everglades National Park boat tours: all possibilites
Many tourists want to explore the Everglades with an airboat. First of all you should know that although they are legal, these boat trips are not approved by the national park. They are incredibly loud and disturb the wild animals. That is why every single one of these are owned by private companies.
So if you are an environmentally conscious and animal-loving traveler, I can only advise (and recommend) not to visit the Everglades with an airboat. There are plenty of other ways to enjoy the beauty of nature without harming the local fauna.
I have to admit that it is tempting to crawl into one of these spectacular boats… But still: try to think a bit about nature. Online there are numerous organizations where you can book such an airboat. Along the way you will be taken into the relative wilderness and stop at places where you can see alligators and other animals. In most cased they will also give you quite some facts and information so that all visitors understand how unique this ecosystem is.
Nevertheless, I recommend to take another kind of boat trip. This way you’ll give nature some peace and quiet, but on the other hand it’s so much more fun too. Sailing through nature with a quiet boat is much more spectacular, believe me! It feel just as if you’re an explorer!
Moreover, you have a much greater chance of spotting wildlife if you just pass by quietly. Sometimes alligators or other animals swim so close that you will get quite afraid. And isn’t that the perfect way to meet these animals?!
As far as the Everglades boat tour is concerned, you can choose between a trip through the mangrove or one through the grasslands. The first takes up about an hour and the second one will take up one and a half hours. During this boat tour, the captain tells a lot of stories and facts.
A number of companies also offer alligator shows (whether or not included in the tour). As you can expect, this is not the most animal-friendly attraction, so animal lovers should also avoid these.
So, if you want to visit the Everglades in an animal-friendly way, you can best do this by kayak. However, if you don’t feel at ease between the alligators, an ecotour with a guide is an excellent idea as well.
Spending the night in the Everglades
An even better idea is to camp in the Everglades! This can be done all year round, but during the rainy season (from June to November) it can be less pleasant. The Long Pine Key Campground and the Flamingo Campground are both accessible by car (and camper).
On top of that, the real adventurers can camp out in the wilderness as well! You only need to register in the Flamingo or Gulf Coast visitor center. During the winter months (mid-November to mid-April) you have to pay fifteen dollars for a license and two dollars per day that you camp. During the summer months (mid April to mid November) a permit is also necessary, but free! This way you can jump into your canoe or kayak at any time you want!
Entrance fee Everglades
If you drive into the park by car, you pay $25 for a pass and you can visit the Everglades for seven days. Motorcyclists pay $20, pedestrians and cyclists $8.
If you only visit the Everglades as a day tour from Miami or elsewhere in Florida, the prices are not that different, but of course there is transport, a guided tour and lunch included.
- From Miami an excursion costs between €30 and €70 depending on how long you stay and what you will see.
- From Orlando it can be from €25 to €70 per person.
For tickets, excursions and day trips you can also take a look here:
Best time to visit the Everglades
What you should know when you visit the Everglades National Park is that there are two seasons: the dry season (from November to March) and the rainy season (from April to November). During the dry season there are of course the most visitors, partly due to the warm winters that attract a lot of birds (and their predators). During the rainy season there are a lot of insects and many tours under the guidance of the park rangers are no longer offered.
Is it safe to visit the Everglades?
If you are afraid of being killed by an alligator, you should know that there is barely one chance in 3.2 million that you are even injured by an unprovoked alligator. From 1948 to 2017, only 401 cases were noted where people were bitten by an alligator, 24 of whom had a fatal outcome.
Ten facts about the Everglades
- The national park has a surface area of no less than 6,105 square kilometers.
- Yet the park has shrunk in half during the past hundred years, due to agricultural and residential developments. This process has been accelerated in the last 30 years by the sugar industry and the rapid development of the east coast of Florida.
- It is the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles live together.
- Incidentally, there are not only alligators and crocodiles living in the Everglades! Other animals that you can find here include otters, manatees, deer, raccoons, panthers, more than fifty species of reptiles and more than three hundred species of saltwater and freshwater fish. Of course there are also a lot of birds (more than 350) of which there are many on stilts (yes, there are also flamingos!)
- In total there are one and a half million alligators in Florida, of which 200,000 live in the Everglades.
- The average depth of the water is barely 1.2 to 1.5 meters! The deepest point is 2.7 meters.
- The Indians who lived in the area called it Pahayokee, which means “grassy waters”.
- Most of the water is fresh water, which is why the Everglades provide drinking water for 7 million Florida residents (1 in 3).
Unfortunately, the fish in the park contain the highest zinc content in the whole of Florida. Because zinc contains estrogenic properties, the average male florida panther has higher estrogen levels than the females. The zinc comes from coal-fired power plants and cement factories.
- You may have heard of a “po boy” sandwich. Originally, this sandwich comes from Lousiana and contains roast beef or fried seafood. In Florida, however, you can eat a po boy with fried alligator!
During a road trip through Florida, the Everglades can certainly not be missed on your program. Try to visit this as ecologically as possible, so that the fragile ecosystem remains protected. This way the next generations can also enjoy this overwhelming natural beauty.
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Hi, I'm Sam Van den Haute. The last three years I've been traveling the world almost constantly. Heading out for an adventure and visiting the most beautiful places are what I love to do! Let me inspire you with great stories, beautiful pictures and handy tips from my adventures and travels. On my facebook page and instagram account you'll get to see the latest updates and photos to inspire you for your next vacation.