When it comes to experiencing the diverse and captivating landscapes of the United States, Everglades National Park stands as a unique gem that should be on every traveler’s bucket list. Spanning across 1.5 million acres in South Florida, it’s often referred to as the “River of Grass.” In this travel guide from Southern Living, you can embark on a journey through this subtropical wilderness, highlighting entry points, when to visit, where to stay, what to eat, and the best ways to explore both by land and water.
Entry Points and Visitor Centers
When starting your adventure in Everglades National Park, you have three entry points to choose from:
- Everglades City: Located in the northwest, this entry point is ideal for water-based exploration with its Gulf Coast Visitor Center. Note that it’s currently operating from temporary structures due to Hurricane Ian.
- Miami: The Miami entrance boasts the Shark Valley Visitor Center, accessible with a 45-minute drive from the Miami airport. This region is perfect for those wanting to explore on foot or bicycle.
- Homestead: In the southeast, the Homestead entrance hosts both the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center and the Guy Bradley Visitor Center. This region offers opportunities for both water and land exploration.
Explore by Water
With much of the park consisting of water, getting on the water is an excellent way to experience its unique landscape. The Everglades City end provides access to Chokoloskee Bay and the Ten Thousand Islands. Paddling trails like the Sandfly Loop and Halfway Creek offer a close-up view of the park’s natural beauty. On the Homestead side, you can explore Florida Bay, the Buttonwood Canal, and Whitewater Bay through paddling routes like Nine Mile Pond and Hell’s Bay. If you’re new to the area, consider guided tours and rentals from outfitters near the entrances for a safe and enriching experience.
Explore by Land
For those who prefer to stay on solid ground, Everglades National Park offers hiking, biking, and tram tours. The Shark Valley Visitor Center provides a 15-mile paved trail for biking, hiking, or tram rides, all excellent for wildlife viewing. The Homestead entrance boasts boardwalks and hiking trails, including the Gumbo Limbo Trail and Anhinga Trail, both rich in wildlife sightings.
To enhance your experience, consider visiting the HM69 Nike Missile Base, a preserved Cold War relic, between December and March.
When to Visit
Everglades National Park has two distinct seasons: wet and dry. The dry season, from December through April, offers pleasant weather with less rainfall, lower humidity, and fewer insects. This is the best time for birdwatching and hiking, as flooded trails tend to dry up. However, it can be crowded. On the other hand, the wet season, from May to November, brings rain, thunderstorms, and more insects. While it may not be as comfortable, it offers fewer crowds and stunning scenery during storms. Both seasons have their pros and cons, so choose the one that suits your preferences.
Where to Stay
Whether you prefer camping or more comfortable lodging, Everglades National Park has options to accommodate your needs. For campers, there are frontcountry campgrounds such as Long Pine Key and Flamingo, with amenities like bathhouses and dump stations. Backcountry campers can explore the park’s wilderness sites. If you’re seeking a more comfortable stay, the Flamingo Lodge is set to reopen in November 2023, offering private balconies, guided activities, and stunning views of Florida Bay. Traditional lodging options can also be found in nearby towns.
For More Information
To plan your trip effectively, download the National Park Service mobile app for interactive maps and on-the-ground accessibility information. Additionally, stay updated on the latest hours, services, and conditions through the Everglades National Park website. Now, you’re ready to embark on an unforgettable journey through Everglades National Park, exploring its diverse ecosystems and immersing yourself in the “River of Grass.”
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