Visiting the Everglades National Park

The Everglades cover a large area of southern Florida and is a very unique ecosystem. Mostly made up of marshland and coastal mangroves, the environment attracts over 300 species of aquatic birds. Both alligators and crocodiles can also be found in the Everglades making it one of the only places in the world where these two species cohabit. The Everglades are thriving with wildlife and fortunately a large part of this expanse is protected as a national park.

The colder temperatures of the winter months are best to visit the Everglades National Park as the chances of spotting alligators increases as the temperature drops. This is because these cold-blooded creatures need to exit the colder water to warm up in the sun. Another benefit of visiting at that time of the year is that there are fewer mosquitoes! We have visited the park multiple times and have noticed that in the heat of the day (June to August) the gators stay submerged in the warmer water, as this is sufficient to maintain their body temperature. You can still see them, but they are harder to spot, and you don’t get such a close view. Perhaps they are also avoiding the scorching sun to avoid getting alligator skin?

During the colder months we often find alligators sunning themselves in the grass. They seem so inoffensive in this restful state but they are wild animals and keeping a respectful distance is well advised. We have witnessed folks turning their backs to them for photo opts and selfies—some even place their baby next to them for a picture! These animal are quick, strong and unpredictable, so please don’t put yourself or your child at risk for a photo! Not even for a once in a lifetime opportunity!

Note also that Alligators usually mate in the early summer and babies are born in a 65-day gestation period. You may be lucky to see babies in the winter months also, which is kind of cool. Even these little guys can be dangerous however, so keep your distance and know that mama is probably close by too. Mothers usually stay with their young for up to a year, but sometimes as long as three.

Perhaps the gators are more difficult to spot during the summer months but this isn’t the case for this very colorful but toxic Lubber grasshopper—keep your distance and don’t touch it unless you want to be spayed by an irritating foul-smelling and toxic spray.

Lubber grasshopper

We usually go to the Shark Valley Visitor Center as this is the closest entrance from Miami and it’s very easy to get to—just drive west on US-41 for approximately one hour. It’s not unusual to get there and see that the parking is full. Many people come and go and a spot will quickly become available so there’s no need to go park along the road. Once parked you can choose to get tickets (a bit pricy, but interesting) for the scenic tram tour, rent a bike for a self-guided tour or simply walk up the path (wheelchair accessible).

While walking along the path it’s not usual to spot alligators and various species of birds including the amazing anhinga. This aquatic bird swims underwater in search of a meal and if you stay and look long enough you will eventually see it swim. The water is so clear that it’s easy to observe it while it’s doing its thing. Pretty cool.

Anhinga

For an overview of the Everglades the 2-hour tram ride is an easy way to see the park, some prefer a bike ride but be aware that the path can sometimes be flooded and that the tram has priority (as do the alligators). The guides are knowledgeable and they share facts about this unique ecosystem. They explain the history around diverting the waters along with historical facts and ecological implications (and a sprinkling of jokes). They also discuss the ongoing efforts by the park and recreational team.

The guide hops off the tram and gives information while standing in the water.

Very informative and entertaining! The tram also stops for a few minutes at the observation tower and from that vantage point you’ll have a bird’s eye view of the Everglades. Impressive and awe-inspiring!

The Everglades from the top of the observation tower.

Tip: The Everglades National Park is located less than an hour away from Miami and is definitely worth visiting. Be sure to get there early enough to take the leisurely 2-hour tram ride through the Everglades. You can purchase your time-slot tram tickets at the Shark Valley Visitor Center.

Other entrances include the Gulf Coast Visitor Center, an hour away from Naples; the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center, located an hour’s drive from Key Largo; and the Flamingo Visitor Center to the south (please be advised that at the time of writing part of the area remains closed due to damage from Hurricane Irma).

When we bring our out-of-town guests to the Everglades National Park, we often stop at one of the different establishments providing airboat rides though the Everglades before heading back to Miami. It’s fast and noisy and probably scares the wildlife away as we rarely see alligators, except maybe for a few babies.

Sometimes the weather turns and the ride becomes a totally different experience. The last time sheets of rain came down on us and there was nothing we could do about it but laugh and laugh. Everyone was soaked, drenched through whatever clothes we had. Strange how once you accept it, it’s really only water!

Once we even saw a funnel cloud form in the sky and the driver opted to quickly return and end the tour. Probably best for everyone, better safe than sorry!

We visit the Everglades National Park regularly for its unique beauty. It’s really in a class by itself (of its own??). It’s also an excellent place to encounter wildlife and practice our photography skills. We even bought a yearly pass, which gives us access to other national parks and we made good use of it at the Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion and Dry Tortugas national parks.

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