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Ahh, Florida. I love it and a lot of people are surprised when I say that. I love South Florida, especially Big Cypress, but that’s not what we’re here for today. Today it’s all about the Everglades and what to do there that isn’t hiking! It’s a must-see on any Florida road trip.
**Shark Valley is open again but some things remain closed for visitor safety.. You can find more updates on the park website.**
There are actually tons of things to do in the Everglades that aren’t hiking since 70% of the park is water! That’s right, 70%. While most of the park is pretty inaccessible, you are still able to get to enough of it to have an awesome visit without (or with minimal) hiking.
As usual, any walking included on here is under one mile round-trip and considered easy. Thankfully Everglades National Park is extremely flat and will naturally have very little elevation gain. It may not rival the parks out west, but it’s amazing in it’s own way.
If you do decide to travel right now, please do so safely and at your own risk. Wear a mask, wash and sanitize regularly, check any government regulations before going, and book accommodations with flexible cancellation policies, just in case.
Hotels in Fort Lauderdale
Whether you want to stay downtown or on the beach, there are tons of hotels in Fort Lauderdale so you can have the perfect experience between your Everglade adventures. If you want to stay near the beach, consider the Elita Hotel, The Drift Hotel, or the Fala Hotel.
Some other great options throughout Fort Lauderdale are the Riverside Hotel in downtown, Hyatt Centric Las Olas in Riverwalk, Mariott Harbor Beach Resort in Barrier Island, Victoria Park Hotel in Victoria Park, Oasis Hotel in Harbordale, The Lauderdale Boutique Hotel in Poinciana Park, and Galt Villas Hotel in Galt Mile.
Take a Flamingo boat tour
A great way to get on the water without powering a vessel yourself is by taking one of the boat tours in Flamingo! This is a good way to get up close to the flora and fauna of the park with a guide to tell you all about what you’re seeing. There are two boat tours you can take in Flamingo:
- Backcountry Boat Tour – This is a 90-minute tour taking you up Buttonwood Canal, through Coot Bay and Tarpon Creek, to the mouth of Whitewater Bay. This is perfect for learning about the wildlife and plant life in the park as well as the history of Flamingo and the rest of the park.
- Florida Bay Boat Tour – This 90-minute tour takes you out into the Florida Bay where you’ll learn about the birds and sea life of the area as well as the history of Flamingo and the surrounding keys with great views from the tour vessel. You could possibly see manatees, osprey, sea turtles, dolphins, and wonderful sunsets.
Kayak in Flamingo
If you’re short on time and want to paddle without going way over to the Gulf Coast, there are two great trails in Flamingo that you can do. Kayaks are available for rent in Flamingo.
- Nine Mile Pond – This is a popular paddle trail on the main road of the park just before entering the Flamingo District.
- Hell’s Bay – This is a popular but challenging trail that will take you through the mangroves. It’s also along the main park road south of the Homestead entrance.
Do some birdwatching
Florida is a bird watching haven. It’s probably one of the best places in the country for it, especially in the winter which also happens to be the best time to visit. There are over 300 species of birds in the park so I won’t be naming them all.
Birdwatching and general wildlife viewing is definitely a national park bucket list experience in this park. Aside from Wyoming, Montana, and Alaska, I would argue it’s one of the best places to see wildlife in the country! Of course it’s different wildlife but still amazing.
They are also not all here year-round or at all times of day, so you may need to plan a bit depending on what you want to see, if there is anything specific you do want to see. Here are some of the best places for birdwatching in the Everglades and what you can see there:
- Anhinga Trail (0.8 miles) – Wading birds, cormorants, Purple Gallinules, anhingas, and more (the colorful bird above was on this trail)
- Mahogany Hammock area (0.5 miles) – Cape Sable Seaside Sparrows, Bald Eagles, warblers, barred owls, and more.
- Paurotis Pond (24 miles in) – Roseate spoonbills (my favorite), wading birds, wood stork, and more.
- Nine Mile Pond (27 miles in) – Snail kites, wood storks, roseate spoonbills, limpkins, and white crowned pigeons. Canoe in the morning is the best way to see these.
- Snake Bight Trail (1.6 miles round-trip) – Warblers, mangrove cuckoos, wading birds, shorebirds, flamingos (!), and more.
- Eco Pond ( 0.5 miles) – Wading birds, American coots, Osprey, White-crowned pigeons, warblers, red-shouldered hawks, anhingas, rails, painted buntings, and more, best viewed in the morning.
- Shark Valley – Wood storks, limpkins, snail kite, anhingas, wading birds and more.
- Gulf Coast – wading birds, cormorants, osprey, Bald Eagles, pelicans, shorebirds, peregrine falcons, swallow-tailed kites, wood storks, skimmers, warblers, and more.
Bike the Long Pine Key Nature Trail
If you want a human-powered adventure that isn’t walking an want to stay on dry land, consider doing some biking! The long Pine Key Nature Trail is 14 miles round-trip.
It’s a dirt path that winds from the Long Pine Key Campground through the Pinelands, ending at Pine Glades Lake. Keep an eye out for wildlife along the way and alligators at the lake.
Bike the Shark Valley Tram Road
This is a nice easy bike right along the Shark Valley Tram Road. It’s 15 miles round-trip with plenty of wildlife spotting opportunities. Alligators, birds, turtles, and snakes are all seen in the area.
At the halfway point you can take a break and climb the Shark Valley Observation Tower. On a clear day you can see for miles! This is the highest elevation accessible by foot in the park. Bikes are available for rent at $9 an hour, first-come, first-served.
Bike the L-67 Canal Road
Another good biking option in Shark Valley is the L-67 Canal Road. This is a shorter option, a 6.4 mile round-trip gravel and grass road alongside a canal that is great for spotting alligators, snakes, turtles, fish, and birds in the winter.
Bike Rowdy Bend Trail
This is an even shorter bike trail in the Everglades clocking in at 5.2 miles round-trip along an overgrown former road. It’s great for spotting woodland bird species. It can be very buggy here, though.
Bike Snake Bight
Wee have one more bike path and it’s even shorter than the others! Snake Bight is just 3.2 miles round-trip in Flamingo. A Bight is a bay within a bay, so Snake Bight is in Florida Bay and bikes are allowed on the whole trail except for the boardwalk at the end. You can see tons of tree species, multiple ecosystems, and great birdwatching at the right time of year.
Paddle the Gulf Coast area of the park
If you really want to get away from the crowds, paddling in the Gulf Coast are of the park near Big Cypress is the way to go. These trails are accessible from Everglades City. You can either join a ranger guided tour or you can do one of the paddle trails on your own. There are two trails to choose from:
- Sandly Island Loop – This is a 5ish mile strenuous loop (difficulty can be affected by tides and wind) taking you across Chokoloskee Bay to Sandfly Island where you can hike to a Calusa Indian shell mound.
- Turner River Canoe Trail – I’m not sure how long this trail is, but it’s a fan favorite and can take a whole day to paddle starting from near Chokoloskee or Big Cypress. You’ll get to go through mangrove tunnels, which is a highlight of the trail.
Join a Shark Valley Tram tour
If you want to learn about Shark Valley and see it not on a bike, a tram tour is a great option! These two hour narrated tours take you along the 15 mile loop trail. They leave from the Shark Valley Visitor Center. You can learn more about them and they can be booked here.
Look for wildlife on the Anhinga Boardwalk
This is my favorite thing to do in Everglades National Park so far and it’s one of the best (and most accessible) places to see wildlife in the park!
This is a 0.8 mile flat boardwalk that is great for looking for alligators and birds. We saw pretty much all of the alligators from the pictures in this post on this trail.
Walk to the Pa-hay-okee Overlook
This is another short boardwalk (0.16 miles) that is wheelchair accessible with great views of the “River of Grass.” It’s a great stop to stretch your legs along the main park road, 13 miles from the main entrance to be exact.
Do the Ten Thousand Islands Cruise in the Gulf Coast
This is a great way to get away from the crowds in the main area of the park and to see an area not many people go to. Over by Everglades City you can join a tour into the 10,000 Islands for a 90-minute excursion across Chokoloskee Bay, into Indian Pass, and through the mangrove islands of Everglades National Park.
Do an airboat tour
I haven’t done one of these but know they are very popular not just in the park, but in this whole area. Coopertown Airboats, Everglades Safari Park, and Gator Park are the only three authorized airboat businesses that can give tours in the national park. There are plenty of others that offer them outside of the park, too.
Walk one of the many short interpretive trails
Pretty much all of the hiking available in the park that is an official trail is short. Here are some of these short trails that are all one mile or less and easy:
- Anhinga Trail
- Gumbo Limbo Trail
- Pinelands Trail
- Pa-hay-okee Overlook
- Mahogany Hammock Trail
- West Lake Trail
- Eco Pond Trail
- Guy Bradley Trail
Have you been to Everglades National Park? What do you think of it? What is your favorite thing to do there?