Known as an international treasure and an adventure of a lifetime, the Everglades is the 3rd largest national park after Death Valley and Yellowstone. Whether you are going for the first time or fifth, here is a guide to help you make the most out of your trip. With the park only an hour to an hour and a half away from Miami (depending on which entrance you choose), you have the option of just staying in Miami and making a day trip or spending more time in the Everglades, so here is everything you need to plan for any length of visit.
- Established: 1934
- Area: 1.5 million acres wetland (20,202 km2)
- Time Zone: EST
- Visitors: 1.1 million in 2019
- Opening hours: 24 hrs a day, 365 days per year. The Shark Valley Area entrance is only open from 8:30 AM to 6 PM daily. The main entrance and Everglades City/Naples entrance are open 24hrs a day.
When to Visit
The park is open year-round and has two major seasons: the summer wet season and the winter dry season. The best time to visit is during the winter dry season because there are more ranger-led programs and you will have a variety of tour options to choose from. During the wet/summer season, there are a lot more restrictions, from closed facilities to limited opening hours… and more mosquitoes!
The climate in Florida is known to be mild and sunny. Average annual temperatures for South Florida, including the Everglades ranges from 74° to 77° (23° to 25°C).
All park visitors are required to pay an entrance fee. You can purchase pre-paid digital passes online or at the park entrances. A 7-day vehicle pass is ($30), Individual Entrance ($15), Motorcycle Entrance ($25), and the Everglades National Park Annual Pass ($55).
Where in the world
This largest remaining subtropical wilderness in the country is located in South Florida, with one of its entrances being just an hour away from Miami.
A Bit of History
Early colonial settlers and developers saw the Everglades as potential farmland and a place to grow their communities. By the early 1900s, they got as far as beginning the drainage process to transform the wetland to land. Established in 1947 with the support of scientists, conservationists and other advocates, the Everglades National Guard was founded to conserve the natural landscape.
Today, the Everglades National Park is a World Heritage Site, International Biosphere Reserve, and a protected area under the Cartagena Treaty.
Accessing the park
There are three main entrances to the park – The North Entrance at Shark Valley, the South Entrance or Main Park Entrance at Florida City, and the North West Entrance (Gulf Coast) by Everglade City. There are visitor centers near each park entrance and at the Southern end at Flamingo. The Northern entrance through Shark Valley tends to be the most convenient – about an hour drive from Miami, the 15-mile paved loop road overlooks the heart of the Everglades. Note that all these entrances do not interconnect within the park so you really need to pick what you want to do while there and plan accordingly.
Where to Stay
Being only an hour to an hour and a half away from Miami (depending on which entrance you choose), you won’t lack options when deciding where to stay. You can just stay in Miami to enjoy the city, and plan a day trip to the Everglades. If you want to stay closer, one option is the Port of the Islands Everglades Adventure Resort (https://www.poiresort.com), where you can relax in one of their cottage suites or studios featuring warm wood floors and French doors opening to a shared balcony that boasts spectacular scenery.
What to Do
From hiking and bird watching to paddling and boat tours, there is something for everyone. Just make sure you research each base camp and what they offer before planning your trip. Activities at the Everglades can be broken down into two main categories:
If you love National Parks, this is the option for you. Just head over to the Flamingo area of the park and the first stop you will want is the Royal Farm. This is where the Anhinga Trail (a short 0.8 miles loop) will take you on a path through wetlands where you can see wildlife – alligators included. If you love history, stop by the Nike Missile Base too. This is where you can see the base, a missile and get a touch of Cold War history. The Mahogany Hammock (0.5 miles) is another great loop with lots to see. Once you reach the Flamingo Center, you’ll be able to spot more alligators and manatees. This is also where you can take boat trips or launch your canoe or kayak into an adventure of a lifetime. The canoe trails range from beginner to advanced – the Nine Mile Pond trail is a favorite canoe/kayak location that is easily accessible off the main park road just before you enter the Flamingo district of the park. The Hell’s Bay trail allows you to paddle through the mangroves.
If you are visiting for the first time, this may be the best option for you. Located closer to Miami, you can begin your day by the Shark Valley entrance and hop onboard one of the many popular airboat tours. All airboat tours start outside of the National Park entrance and will either bring you into the swamps of the Everglades National Park or the conservation area to the north. Tigertail Airboat Tours (https://www.tigertailairboattours.com/) in particular tends to include a spot where you can see baby alligators and even get off the boat. Most airboat tours offer 1 to 2 hour long or private tours of the area. Plan to arrive early for parking, especially during the busy dry/winter season. At Shark Valley, after you enter the National Park, you can also walk, bike, or ride the tram around the 15-mile loop. For first time visitors I would recommend the tram, where you can relax and fully focus on enjoying the scenery.
Know before you go
Whether you visit Everglades National Park during the summer or winter, don’t forget to bring mosquito repellent, and do keep in mind that they are far worse during wet months. Yet another great reason to visit during the dry months, when they become virtually non-existent. Also bring a light jacket and sunglasses for the airboat tour as it can get super windy!!
During your visit you may see an alligator or a crocodile basking in the sun and appearing lethargic but know that they can be quick to defend themselves. Visitors are recommended not to harass or feed wildlife and to keep a safe distance when viewing wildlife in the park (15 to 20 feet; 4.5 to 6 meters) and do .
There are some food options closer to the park entrances and along the road by the Shark Valley entrance (where you can try frog legs, gator tail, and catfish). However, it is recommended that you bring your own food and beverages, especially if you are planning to explore further into the park.