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While I was probably looking forward to time on a beach the most on our South Florida road trip, I was also pretty excited about finally visiting Everglades National Park. I knew we weren’t doing any kind of boat tour or renting kayaks at all, so it was going to be a visit on foot.
After a few days camping in Big Cypress National Preserve nearby, I was ready to see another new park. We started at the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center before working our way back to the Flamingo Visitor Venter.
We did the Pa-Hay-Okee Boardwalk and a couple of the other short boardwalks on our way in. We admired the views of the cypress strands and prairie grasses.
It has such a different feel from what I’m used to in Utah. It’s flat and grassy, but full of boardwalks, paddling trails, and awesome wildlife.
Down by the marina store in Flamingo, we were walking along the shore looking for crocodiles with no luck at first. Then we went right behind the store and saw one relaxing in the trees with a manatee enjoying some seagrass nearby.
By this time it was getting late in the day and we were heading out of the park. We decided to check out the Anhinga Trail since we knew it was short and boy am I glad we did!
We saw quite a few gators swimming around, tons of birds as usual, and one pretty good-sized gator right on the trail. There was another one laying in the grass right next to it on the other side of the railing thing.
We stopped and hung out with the trail gator for a while, taking his picture, just admiring him in general. I loved being able to see it so close and on the same level, not from above on a boardwalk.
Unfortunately, the camera battery died not too long after we saw the trail gator so we headed to our hotel in Florida City for the night.
The next day, we went back to do the rest of the Anhinga Trail since we only saw some of it the night before. We did see a really pretty red, blue, and green bird, but no more trail gators. There were a few swimming around that we saw, which I still always enjoy.
After that, we looked for a couple of Geocaches in the park, which was fun as always. We did another short boardwalk or two before heading over to Biscayne National Park for a couple of hours, and that’s the story of our trip to the Everglades.
I would love to go back (hopefully this year) to do some kayaking and even more boardwalking. I really liked it in this area and can’t wait to see more of it.
Plus, there’s no such thing as too many gators. While one or two days in the park are great, four days in the Everglades would be perfect so you could see all the different areas.
If you’re planning on visiting multiple parks (3 or more) on this trip or within the year, I would highly recommend getting a national park pass. It’s $80 but will pay for itself in about three trips to parks. It’s so worth it and I buy one every year! They’re also great for gifts for the park lovers in your life.
Where is Everglades National Park?
Everglades National Park is in South Florida, just a short drive from Miami and Naples, depending on which side you visit.
How to get to Everglades National Park
As usual, I’ve included directions to Everglades National Park from a few popular places that are nearby. All directions will be to the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center at the entrance to the park. From there it’s a straight shot in to the Flamingo Visitor Center and the rest of the park.
How to get to Everglades National Park from Miami – 1 hour 49 minutes – hotels in Miami Beach
How to get to Everglades National Park from Key Largo – 56 minutes – hotels in Key Largo
How to get to Everglades National Park from Naples – 2 hours 31 minutes – hotels in Naples
How to get to Everglades National Park from Homestead – 20 minutes – hotels in Homestead
How much is Everglades National Park
$30 per vehicle, but I would recommend a national parks pass if you’re going to more than one national park site in a year
The best time to visit Everglades National Park
January and February will be the best time to visit Everglades National Park, but they are also the busiest. The crowds will be bigger, but there a lot fewer mosquitos and the humidity is a lot lower. Summer is going to be super buggy and hot, but much less busy.
What to pack for Everglades National Park
This includes some things for camping in Everglades National Park, but also just if you’re visiting for the day and doing some boating or hiking in the Everglades.
Bug net hat – This is a must if you visit in the summer. It’s not totally necessary in January and February, but it might be good if oyu plan on doing a lot of hiking or paddling.
Good hiking shoes – If you’re sticking to boardwalks and other dry trails, Chacos will be good. If you want to go in the water or flooded areas, you’ll want closed toe shoes so you don’t get cut by sawgrass.
Long sleeve shirt – A long sleeve shirt will help protect you from mosquitos. This is a must for a summer visit, but not 100% necessary for January and February, but it would be helpful.
Camp blanket – If you’re camping this will be way better than a sleeping bag. I got so hot in my sleeping bag, but a camp quilt was perfect for keeping me warm but not too warm. I used a camp wrap blanket poncho thing, but I can’t find it anymore. It’s basically a blanket with a hood.
Hiking poles – These will help keep you steady if you’re walking through water. They’re not totally necessary, but will be helpful.
Dry bag – This is a must if you’re kayaking or canoeing. You’ll want to keep your phone and camera dry while you’re on the water. This small dry bag is perfect for little electronics. Here is a bigger one if you want to keep everything in it.
Pants – If you’re walking through water, you’ll want to wear pants so your legs don’t get cut up by the sawgrass.
There are a few options for camping in Everglades National Park, but if the campgrounds are full for your visit, which they may be in January and February, Big Cypress National Preserve is nearby and a great alternative.
The Long Pine Key Camoground is just a few miles from the Anhinga Trail in Royal Palm. All tent sites are $30 and first come, first served. It has a bathroom, cold showers, dump station, and water fill-up. Group and RV sites can be booked ahead since they are more limited.
The Flamingo campground has 234 sites for RVs and tents. Some have RV hookups, others don’t and some are tent specific. They can be booked ahead of time. The campground is in an open field that gets a refreshing breeze from Florida Bay.
Permits are needed for all backcountry camping and can be picked up at the Flamingo and Gulf Coast visitor centers up to one day beofre your trip. There a quite a few ground sites, beach sites, and elevated sites (Chickees) available for backcountry camping in Everglades National Park. Most are reached by canoe, kayak, or motorboat, but a few are accessible to hikers.
There is so much wildlife in the Everglades, I won’t list all of it, but some of the most common animals. Here is a complete bird list becaise there are SO MANY. Some of the other wildlife you can see in the Everglades include:
- American crocodile
- West Indian Manatee
- White tailed deer
- Florida Panther
- Everglades Mink
- Pilot Whale
- Bottlenose Dolphin
- Nine-banded Armadillo
- Florida Cottonmouth
- Common Iguana
- Eastern Coral Snake
- Burmese Python
Since the park is best seen by some sort of watercraft, there aren’t too many hiking trails in the Everglades. There are quite a few short interpretive trails and boardwalks, though, so even if you have no plans to get on the water, it’s still worth visiting and you’ll be able to stay busy.
If you can only do one trail, do the Anhinga Trail. It’s a 0.8-mile paved trail/boardwalk. This is the best trail to see wildlive in the Everglades. The gator in the header picture was just on the trail there. Here are some of the other short trails:
Pine Island Hiking Trails
- Gumbo Limbo
- Anhinga – If you can only do one Everglades hike, do this. It’s short, but the chances of seeing wildlife are high.
- Pa-hay-okee – This is a graet Everglades hike becuse you get up a little higheer on the boardwalk and can overlook the prairie. The drive out to it is really pretty, too.
- Mahogany Hammock
Flamingo Hiking Trails
- West Lake
- Snake Bight
- Rowdy Bend
- Christian Point
- Bear Lake
- Eco Pond
- Guy Bradley
- Coastal Prairie
Shark Valley Hiking Trails
- Otter Cave Hammock
- Bobcat Boardwalk
- They also have a bike trail
There are no hiking trails, but there are plenty of paddling trails in the area. Big Cypress has quite a few paddle trails as well.
Boat tours in Everglades National Park
There are quite a few different types of guided tours in Everglades National Park. At the Flamingo Visitor Center you can do guided Florida Bay or Whitewater Bay boat tours.
You can also rent kayaks in Flamingo to explore the area a little on your own. Tickets can be purchased at the marina store. This is a great way to get around if you won’t be hiking in the Everglades.
There are tons of airboat tours in Everglades National Park, but we didn’t do any. Coopertown, Gator Park, and Everglades Safari Park are the only three professional airboat tours allowed in Everglades National Park.
While these companies are allowed there, I still wouldn’t recommend them because they either offer alligator shows, alligator wrestling, or alligator handling.
If you know of a great boat tour that doesn’t offer this or know something I don’t, I would love to hear it.
I know a lot of the other tour companies have gator shows and let you hold baby gators, too, which I feel very weird about and uncomfortable with, so I don’t have a company to recommend.
Alligators don’t need to be held. They don’t need to be in shows. And they definitely don’t need to be wrestled by anything for entertainment.
The best way to see them is in the wild and there are tons of places to do this in Florida like the Anhinga Trail, the visitor centers at Big Cypress National Preserve, Fakahatchee Hilton in Fakahatchee Strand State Park, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, and Paynes Prairie State Park in Gainesville.
If you found a tour company that doesn’t offer these activities, please let me know! I would love to check them out. Here is some further reading on why interacting with animals as tourist attractions isn’t good.
- Visitors can’t tell if a tourist attraction is bad for animals
- The sad truth about the use of animals in tourist attractions
- Why wee neeed to stop letting animals be abused for tourism (and how you can help!)
- This is why ethical animal tourism is important to me
- Animal friendly tourism: When is it OK?
- 10 travel experiences with animals you should skip
- How to avoid animal abuse in tourism
- Wildlife tourism: Good or bad?
I would definitely recommend a trip to Everglades National Park if you’ll be in the area or even just thinking about doing a South Florida road trip.
Even though the window of good weather for visiting isn’t too huge and it will be busier, it’s still totally worth it.
Plus, the park is really big and it doesn’t feel all that busy. It’s not my number one park yet, but I will definitely be back sooner than later. Whether you only have one day in Everglades National park our four, it’s a great park to visit
Have you visited Everglades National Park? Did you like it? What is your favorite thing to do there? What about your favorite Everglades hike?