To get the most out of your visit to Everglades National Park, consider signing up for a ranger program. Park rangers offer a variety of programs at the park's Flamingo, Royal Palm, Gulf Coast, and Shark Valley centers. The instructors will tell you about the history of the Everglades as you tour on trails, in canoes, or on trams. If you are interested in spotting wildlife, the rangers are your best tour guides. To learn more about the ranger programs, visit: www.nps.gov/ever/planyourvisit/rangerprograms.htm.
To explore the most untouched areas of the park, rent a canoe or kayak for the day or overnight. Boats can be rented at the Flamingo and Gulf Coast sites. At the Gulf Coast site you can explore the expansive waters of Ten Thousand Islands. At Flamingo you can travel through the backcountry waters of the Florida Bay. Both locations offer views of wildlife and a variety of difficulty levels. It is always best to ask the advice of a park ranger before setting out on your tour. To rent a boat at Flamingo, call +1 239 695 3101. To rent a boat at the Gulf Coast site, call +1 239 695 2591.
Royal Palm to Flamingo, a 76-mile round-trip. This scenic drive along Main Park Road passes through prairies, rare pinelands, Mahogany Hammock, and ends at Florida Bay. The trip will last all day if you take the opportunity to stop at the overlooks, trails, and backcountry waters. The main road is an excellent place to spot wildlife.
Shark Valley to Everglades City is a 49-mile one-way trip along the Tamiami Trail (U.S. 41). This tour across the northern part of the park offers unobstructed views of the natural wilderness of the Everglades. The Shark Valley visitors center, Miccosukee Cultural Center, and Big Cypress National Preserve are just a few of the must-sees on this drive.
There are four groups of trails in Everglades National Park: Pine Island Trails, Flamingo Trails, Shark Valley Trails, and the Gulf Coast Trails. Each of the trails offers a unique perspective on the park's diverse ecosystem. The Anhinga Trail, a half-mile, wheelchair-accessible trail in the Pine Island Trails group, offers one of the best routes for viewing the park's abundant wildlife.
On the short Mahogany Hammock Trail (0.5 miles), you can get a good look at the largest living mahogany tree in the country.
Some of the most popular routes in the park are water trails. For an on-the-water look at distinctive wetlands scenery, rent a canoe or kayak in the Ten Thousand Islands area of the park.
The diverse ecosystem of the Everglades hosts more than 750 animal species. Habitats range from Caribbean tropical to temperate North American, making it possible for a range of creatures to co-exist in the park. The Everglades are also home to 14 threatened or endangered species, including the Florida panther and the West Indian manatee.
More than 1,000 plant species can be found in the park. The sawgrass that makes up most of the prairies in the Everglades is one of the oldest green plants in the world. The roots of the plant are adaptable, allowing it to survive during wet and dry seasons. The park's ecosystem is distressed because of several non-native plant species, including the Brazilian pepper and seaside mahoe.
To capture the natural beauty of the Everglades, take your camera to Pahayokee overlook. Standing on the platform will give you excellent views of the vast sawgrass prairies and unique bird species. On the Mahogany Hammock Trail you can capture the park's rare, jungle-like hammocks—tree islands—and the largest living mahogany tree in the country. But the best place to photograph the Everglades may be on the water trails at Flamingo and the Gulf Coast, where you can find an abundance of wildlife. Remember, some of the best photographic conditions occur in early morning and at dusk, when the lighting is soft. Taking your photographs at these times is also a great way to beat the heat.
Smart Traveler Strategies
Upon arrival, ask for advice from a park ranger. They are there to help and can offer great insider tips. For example, if you are interested in seeing West Indian manatees, the rangers will be able to direct you to the spots they prefer. Rangers can also tell you about any changes or obstacles on land or water trails before you have to find out for yourself.
To get a better understanding of the park, take a guided tour. The information you learn will enrich your experience. Guided tours are offered at various locations across the park. You can tour by boat or land. For tour information, go to www.nps.gov/ever/planyourvisit/guidedtours.htm.