TravelInsider's Guide

A Park Ranger's Guide to Everglades

Conservation photographer and National Geographic Explorer Carlton Ward, Jr., has been captivated by Florida’s Everglades National Park since he was a child, so much so that he’s made protecting it—and the amazing wildlife that lives there—his life’s work.

He has been exploring and documenting the park with his camera since college, a labor of love that led him to launch the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition in 2012 to increase public awareness of the importance of protecting vital habitat in the Everglades.

Here’s a look at the ecological wonderland through his unique lens.

Follow Carlton’s story on Instagram and Twitter @CarltonWard. See more of his photographic work on Facebook.

Everglades National Park Is My Park 

Winter is the best time to visit my park because there are fewer mosquitos. But planning a trip in summer is the best time to see the most beautiful light and powerful cloud formations.

My park’s biggest attraction is the Anhinga Trail, but a visit isn’t complete without seeing Pahayokee Overlook.

If I could offer one practical tip for optimizing your visit, it would be to allow sufficient time to slow down and take in the vastness and intricacies of the park.

My favorite “park secret” is getting off the boardwalk and wading through the sawgrass. It’s a powerful experience to immerse yourself in the “River of Grass.”

Watch out for sunburn and be sure to bring a good hat when you come to the park.

Head to the Anhinga Trail if you want to see wildlife. If you’re really lucky, you’ll spot a snail kite. Florida panthers can be seen elsewhere in the park.

For the best view, head to Pahayokee Overlook or Shark Valley Tower.

The Everglades Wilderness Waterway is the best trail in the park and the main park road, State Highway 9336, is the most scenic drive.

If you’re up for an adventure/physical challenge, try paddling or poling through the heart of the Shark River Slough.

To experience the park’s cultural side, visit with the Miccosukee Indians.

The Everglades City Rod & Gun Club or the Ivey House bed and breakfast are the best places to stay while you’re visiting and Triad Seafood is the best place to eat.

If you only have one day to spend in the park, make sure to hit the Anhinga Trail, Mahogany Hammock Trail, and Pahayokee Overlook.

If you’re interested in a guided tour, I recommend ranger-led programs, most of which are available December through March.

The most peaceful place in the park has to be amidst the sawgrass in the middle of the Shark River Slough.

Franklin Adams is an “unsung hero” of my park because he helped save Big Cypress National Preserve and its vast wildlife habitat to the west.

American alligators and American crocodiles sharing the same waters could only happen in my park.

If you have kids (or are a kid at heart), you won’t want to miss the stacks of alligators near the Shark Valley Visitor Center.

Just outside park boundaries, you can visit the Miccosukee Indian Village and museum.

If my park had a mascot it would be the ubiquitous American alligator or the mysterious Florida panther.

The biggest threat to this park’s future is failing to restore the water flow and overdevelopment of the Everglades Headwaters.

In 140 characters or less, the world should heart my park because the watery wilderness envelops you and gives hope that we can still save the planet.

Before you visit (or when you arrive), make sure to check out these great resources: