Florida has some of the best national parks in the country, but do you know about all the cool things to do in the Everglades? If you’ve never braved the swamps, mangrove forests, and trails of the Everglades, you’re in luck.
With over two million acres to explore, the Everglades provide endless recreation in Florida’s most beautiful ecological feature. So grab your bug spray, we’re here to help you take on one of the best national parks in Florida!
What Are The Everglades?
A subtropical ecosystem that spans over two million acres, the Everglades are an expansive set of wetlands and sawgrass marshes. During the wet season, Lake Okeechobee overflows, which releases water into a shallow river known as the “river of grass.”
As the water passes southward, it passes through several habitats. The slow trickle of water moves through cypress swamps, wet praries, and mangroves down to the Florida Bay.
Experiencing a wide range of weather patterns, the Everglades sees frequent flooding in the wet season as well as drought in the dry season. As the largest remaining subtropical wilderness in the country, the area is unmatched in its beauty.
Human life dates back to 15,000 years ago when Native American tribes inhabited the swampland. Its main inhabitants were the Seminoles as well as fugitive slaves. After the First Seminole War, exploration began in the area, as well as construction and maintaining passable trails.
Home to hundreds of animal species, you can find many of Florida’s native animals in the Everglades today. It is not uncommon to see the endangered leatherback turtle, Florida panther, and Burmese pythons. The Everglades are also home to Florida’s alligators and manatees as well!
Where Are The Everglades Located?
You can find the Florida Everglades at the southern tip of the state. Taking up the entire southern third of the peninsula, the area is largely depopulated. Instead of residents, you’ll find three national parks.
Originating just south of Orlando, the Everglades extends down the Kissimmee River all the way to the Florida Bay at the tip of the peninsula. Also technically included in the Everglades are the Ten Thousand Islands near Naples and parts of the Florida Keys!
How To Get From Miami To The Everglades
There are three entrances to the Everglades: the north entrance at Shark Valley, the south entrance at Florida City near Homestead, or the northwest entrance at Everglades City on the Gulf Coast.
If you’re traveling from downtown Miami, you can expect only a forty-minute drive! You’ll want to go to the Shark Valley entrance! For the quickest route, simply take I-95 North to exit 3A (FL-836 W to FL-825). From there, turn right onto US-41 West until you hit swamp!
For a more scenic route, you can actually just take SW 8th Street through downtown Miami! You’ll pass through Little Havana and see all of the best Miami attractions. While this route takes longer, it is more scenic. This is perfect if you don’t want to take the expressway.
How To Get Around The Everglades
The easiest way to get around the Everglades is definitely by car. In a vehicle, you can cover the most ground in the least amount of time. Most drivers can explore the entire park in one to two days!
Before you go, make sure to pick up a national park pass. It only costs $25 dollars per vehicle for an entire consecutive week!
Many people will tell you boating is the best way to explore the beauty of the ecosystem, but if you’re not an experienced boater, you might run into problems.
Only the most prepared boaters should attempt to navigate the waterways as a recreational activity. It can be easy to become lost or run aground in park waters! If you don’t use navigational aids and marked channels, you can do a lot of damage to your boat and the ecosystem itself.
How Long To Spend In The Everglades
Of course, any stay in the Everglades will depend on how much of the park you want to see. For a quick pass just to see everything, a driver could easily accomplish this feat in one to two days.
However many locals will tell you that simply will not cut it! Especially if you want to tackle the hiking trails, experience an airboat tour, or paddle through the waterways on a kayak, you will need more time.
If you really want to fully explore the park, we recommend a full week to see everything. Depending on your activities planned, you can easily spend three to four days on each coast of the park.
Best Everglades Tours
The Everglades are a big place, and it’s very easy to get overwhelmed. If you’re having trouble deciding what to do in the Everglades, consider checking out a tour, whether it be by foot, by car, or by boat!
Now you don’t have to do any planning of your own! The best part? You’ll still see the best of the beauty of the park in a timely, organized fashion! Taking a tour is certainly one of the best things to do in the Everglades if the idea of going it alone seems daunting.
Everglades Holiday Park
An hour-long narrated boat tour, you’ll learn about the variety of wildlife that inhabits Florida’s famous wetlands. In addition to the boat ride, you will also see a live alligator show and have the opportunity to hold a baby gator!
This is a great comprehensive option, but we recommend attending early in the day, as crowds can dampen the experience! One of the best Everglades tours from Miami, your guide will cover a lot of ground.
Tours operate seven days a week! Boats leave from the park every 20 minutes from 9 AM – 4 PM. Adult tickets cost $35, children’s tickets cost $20, and kids two years and under ride for free!
Shurr Adventures Everglades
If you really want to get the blood pumping, then this three-hour kayak tour of the mangroves of the Everglades is for you! You can spot orchids, birds, and of course alligators as you paddle your way through the mangrove tunnels!
You’ll be led by patient, experienced guides who take the time to educate guests about the ecosystem. Tours depart every day at sunrise, 7:30 and 8:30 AM, 1:30 PM, and sunset. Tickets are $109 for adults and $99 for children.
Shurr Adventures Everglades also offers full-day tours of the mangrove tunnels. You can also take a motorboat tour through the Ten Thousand Islands, among other options.
11 Best Things To Do In The Everglades
Lucky Cole’s Speakeasy
The last thing you think about in the Everglades is a bar or restaurant. But for weary travelers willing to do into the depths of the swamps, Lucky Cole is waiting to greet you with open arms.
One of the best things to do in the Everglades, stop by Lucky Cole’s personal home. Off of US 41, about 40 miles from Miami, you’ll eventually see a red mailbox next to old motorcycles and a Lucky Strike sign. You have arrived.
A famed Florida photographer, Cole photographs women with the Everglades as the exotic backdrop. All shoots are directed by his loving wife of many years, Maureen. Together, they advocate women’s empowerment by creating glamorous and sensual photographs of everyday women in various states of undress.
When you visit Lucky Cole and Maureen, expect to be greeted with a smile. You’ll be welcomed with astonishing hospitality, serving cheep beer and homemade venison chili.
Their guests range from locals, Everglades lifers, and anybody that dares to venture this deep into the swamps. Be warned, Lucky only welcomes guests on the weekends. Check his Facebook page to make sure he and Maureen aren’t out on a photoshoot!
Off of the Tamiami Trail, Shark Valley is one of the best things to do in the Everglades! In the very heart of the Everglades freshwater marks, this is one of the best places to observe Florida wildlife in its natural habitat.
To get there, start at the Shark Valley Visitor Center. Here you’ll find educational displays, a park video, and you can pick up an informational brochure. Inside you’ll find what plants and animals you’re most likely to see!
Next door, you will also find a gift shop where you can pick up essentials and souvenirs. We recommend grabbing bug spray before you head to Shark Valley, and then visiting upon your return. That way you don’t have to lug your souvenirs as you hike!
From the Visitor Center, you can walk or bike along a 15-mile loop trail that leads into Shark River Slough. Halfway up the loop trail is a 65-foot high observation tower!
From the concrete observation tower, you will be rewarded with a panoramic view of the sawgrass marsh. See the untouched grounds as it appeared to natives over 300 years ago.
Make sure to bring your binoculars. If you look down, you’ll be sure to see baby alligators learning to walk as well as Red-bellied Turtles! Keep your eyes to the skies to catch glimpses of Red-winged Blackbirds and Double Crested Cormorants.
Calling all kayakers! If you want a paddling challenge, then the Wilderness Waterway is for you, one of the best things to do in the Everglades!
Over 99 miles long, in Wilderness Waterway, you’ll find a navigable recreational waterway, also known as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Wilderness. With many interconnecting creeks, rivers, lakes, and inner bays, only the most experienced paddlers should tread these waters.
There are many shallow waterways that are only passable at high tide. One pass known as “the Nightmare” is especially difficult to navigate without damaging submerged natural features.
While difficult, the Wilderness Waterway has its merits. You can see shell mounds build by the Calusa people! You can also see Nauti Buoy Chickee, the last remaining private property within the park.
A full trip along the Wilderness Waterway takes an experienced paddler around eight days to complete. Travelers can however use additional route options to extend or shorten their trip.
Around the banks of the waterway, you’ll find beach, ground, and chickee campsites. Permits are required and may be obtained at the Gulf Coast Visitor Center.
Because many hurricanes have passed through the Everglades in recent years, you should always talk with an experienced ranger before embarking on a trip. They will have the most up-to-date information about best routes for your paddling skill level!
Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center
When you first arrive at the Everglades, you may become overwhelmed by your options. Instead of embarking blindly into the park, make your first stop at the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center, one of the best things to do in the Everglades to orient yourself.
Here you’ll get an overview of the extensive offerings in the park. Check the map to get a detailed look at what to do and where to go! A wildlife chronology details the native Florida animals you may see that day.
Inside you’ll find educational displays and informational brochures. Special collections by local artists are usually on display. Don’t forget to stay for River of Life, a 15-minute documentary detailing the ecosystems of the park.
Next door you’ll find the bookstore and a small gift shop to pick up essentials and souvenirs! Here you can buy books, guides, camera film, postcards, and of course, insect repellent.
The Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center also provides guided tours by park rangers. Your guides will have a deep understanding of science and a love of the South Florida area. A ranger’s expertise of the animals, birds, and trees will become the highlight of your trip!
For most visitors, the Anhinga Trail is one of the first glimpses they’ll get of the Everglades National Park. Very close to the Royal Palm Visitor Center, the Anhinga Trail is one of the Everglades’ best attractions.
Just short of a mile, the Anhinga Trail is one of the most accessible in the Everglades, even for novice hikers. Children and dogs are permitted, but parents are encouraged to keep a close eye as predators are nearby.
The Anhinga Trail is one of the best places to see wild alligators. A haven for all Everglades wildlife, you’ll find cormorants, egrets, herons, and roseate spoonbills along the stone wall and trees.
Look for odd-looking clusters of trees! These are pond apple trees that bear fruit. Don’t eat the apples though. They taste like turpentine. If you visit during the summer months, you might see sprays of orchids in the branches.
The path will eventually turn into a boardwalk and later into a larger observation area over the slough. You’ll see alligators drifting through the inky water as well as miles of sawgrass prairies.
Flamingo Visitor Center
At the southern tip of the Everglades, you’ll find a wide asymmetrical building featuring a long breezeway. This breezeway connects two buildings that overlook the Florida Bay.
This is the Flamingo Visitor Center, one of the best things to do when traveling from Miami to the Everglades. Next door, you’ll find a marina. Here you’ll find a great place to see wild manatees playing and sleeping in the water.
If you’re more of the adventurous sort, you can also rent kayaks and boats here. Spray on your bug spray and take to the water!
Open daily from mid-November through mid-April, you can find rangers to provide you with maps and advice should you need it. This is also where you can obtain camping permits as well.
The center itself is currently under construction due to extensive hurricane damage. When the Flamingo Visitor Center reopens completely, you’ll find updated exhibits and even a new restaurant and lodging!
Ten Thousand Islands
Here you’ll find over 230 square miles at the northwest-most corner of the Everglades National Park. With endless swimming and kayaking, a visit to the Ten Thousand Islands is one of the best things to do in the Everglades.
One of the world’s largest mangrove systems, this national wildlife refuge is a paradise for those seeking some peace and quiet. Perfect for experienced paddlers and easy-going tourists, there’s something to do for everyone!
Take a narrated boat tour at the Gulf Coast Visitor Center to learn the islands’ unique environment. The guides will direct your attention to wildlife like bald eagles, hawks, and dolphins playing in the water.
If you love the great outdoors, plan an overnight kayak trip. Choose between Tiger Key or Picnic Key for a view of the brilliant night sky from your own private beach! Sites at the island are limited and must be reserved in advance.
For a more relaxed approach, check out Tigertail Beach on Marco Island, one of the best beaches in Naples. From here, you’ll get a great view of Sand Dollar Island to spy on terns, black skimmers, and sand pipers.
Eat Stone Crabs at Everglades City
At the northwest tip of Everglades National Park, you’ll find a small town of only 500 people. Congratulations, you’ve stumbled across Everglades City, one of the great Florida oddities.
Everglades City was once a popular hub in the late 1970s as part of the marijuana trade. Over the years, after nearly the entire town was indicted in court, the town has found a new item to peddle.
Everglades City is proudly now the Stone Crab Fishing Capital of the world, a much more legitimate way to make a living. Instead of spending a pretty penny on Claws at expensive restaurants in Miami, head to Everglades City for a more casual and authentic experience.
At Grimm’s Stone Crab or Triad Seafood Market, you’ll get stone crabs freshly-fished out of the water. As you dine with the waterfront views of the Everglades, strike up a conversation with a local. We promise you’ll get a great old Florida story.
Especially if you’re visiting the Everglades from the northwest part of Florida, stop off at Everglades City. This is one of the best things to do in the Everglades, especially if you want an authentic meal!
Big Cypress National Preserve
During the rainy season, an expansive canopy of Big Cypress trees covers the Tamiami Trail. This will be the most scenic highlight of your drive through the park! The Big Cypress National Preserve is one of the best things to do in the Everglades.
For those that don’t want to get hot and sticky in the swamp and avoid mosquito bites, you’re in luck. The Big Cypress National Preserve is one of the best places to see the Everglades National Park from the comfort of your own vehicle.
As you drive, you’re likely to see egrets and herons soaring through the sky. Completely untouched, you’ll drive through an old Florida wonderland, seeing firsthand what indigenous people who made there home here once saw.
To get a closer look at the flora and fauna, stop at the Big Cypress Visitor Center. On a boardwalk along a large canal, you’ll see gators sunning and birds flying overhead. Remember never to feed the alligators, lest you want to lose a limb!
Snake Bight Trail
For a true walk on the wild side, brave the Snake Bight Trail. Don’t let the name fool you, while snakes like Burmese pythons and poisonous trees are found in this area, you will be safe as long as you stick to the trail.
We’re warning you now, the five mile trip from Main Park Road to Snake Bight has the worst mosquitos in the park. So make sure to wear lots of bug spray. We warned you!
But no risk, no reward, right? To get there drive north from the Flamingo Visitor Center to park on the grass after the “Rowdy Bend Road” sign. Start at the trailhead to walk or bike through a lush tropical forest.
The trail is very tight as it travels through a tunnel of Cypress trees. Don’t veer from the path as there are poisonous manchineel trees and Burmese pythons lurking in the forest nearby.
The air smells salty from the coast as the path changes into a boardwalk. Look out for the Bromeliads clinging to the buttonwoods!
After two miles, you’ll have reached your destination and reward. At the observation platform, you’ll have a sweeping view of all of Snake Bight and the Florida Bay. If you look closely, you’ll see flamingos perching in the mud if you visit during winter.
Pa-Hay-Okee Lookout Tower
To truly get up close and personal with the marshy ecosystem, try the very accessible trail at Pa-Hay-Okee. Named after the Seminole word for River of Grass, you’ll find a short boardwalk leading to a tall observation tower.
To get there, follow Main Park Road from the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center for 21 miles. Enjoy the scenic drive before turning right at the sign for Mahogany Hammock to reach the trailhead.
Because the entire trail is aboardwalk, Pa-Hay-Okee is very kid-friendly. While the mosquito situation isn’t as bad as other areas like Snake Bight, you’re still going to want to protect yourself. As you walk down the boardwalk, you’ll walk over the gorgeous sawgrass prarie.
When you climb the staircase to the Observation Tower, you’ll ascend past Cypress trees on a small island. From your shaded perch, you will be able to see the incredible vistas across the prarie.
If you look down, you’ll see the only water source for much of the wildlife in the dry season. To get back to your car, simply follow the boardwalk ramp through the Cypress canopy down to the forest floor.
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