Everglades National Park, Florida

The Everglades is a place like no other. Everglades National Park is only an hour drive from the hustle and bustle of Miami. It protects 1.5 million acres of Florida’s southern tip and hence was established in 1947 to preserve the biological diversity and resources of the Everglades ecosystems. There are three main entry points to this National park: the Gulf Coast Visitor Center, which is closest to Naples and south of Everglades city; the Shark Valley area that can be accessed by US 41; and the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center, the park’s main headquarters.

The Everglades are home to a diverse array of wildlife within the park’s five different habitats: the Hammock, Mangrove, Pineland, Sawgrass, and Slough. Tree frogs, alligators, the American crocodile, manatee, Key deer, otters, and the Florida panther are some of the Everglades’ animals.

There are two primary seasons in the Florida Everglades: wet and dry. From December to April, the dry season brings low humidity and mild temperatures from 53°F to 77°F. This is peak tourist season because the water levels are lower and the animals congregate in central water locations. The wet season lasts from May through November. Temperatures during this time of year can exceed 90°F. Humidity levels are higher and it rains the majority of the time.

(Image source: wikimedia.org)

Four miles after entering the park you come to the one “must do” of the Everglades visit — the Anhinga Trail at Royal Palm. The trail is named after the Anhinga, a really spectacular bird. You will certainly see them on the trail perched on trees drying their wings. It is probably one of the most popular and frequented at Everglades National Park because it is easy to get to, it is home to tons of wildlife, the boardwalks and pathways that traverse the area get you close to the action and you can enjoy the many landscapes surrounding this spot.

The trail begins with the Royal Palm Visitor Center, it is a short trail. It manages to deliver an unbelievable display and a variety of ecosystems as you go on the paved paths and elevated boardwalks that traverse the terrain.

The boardwalks are just wonderful for wildlife viewing; the alligators swim in and out of view, go under the boardwalk to reappear on the other side. This is a great spot not only for sighting alligators, but all kinds of birds as well. Besides anhingas, you find cormorants, white egrets, ibis, green herons, little blue herons, and the gorgeous great blue heron.

Best times for wildlife viewing is in the dry season in the winter and early spring.  

(Image source: visitflorida.com)

Shark Valley is a geological depression at the head of the Shark River Slough in far western Miami-Dade County, Florida, United States. Shark Valley characteristically includes Sawgrass prairie that floods during the rainy season, hence the name “river of grass”—Pa-Hay-Okee, from the Mikasuki language—for such marshes in the Everglades. The entrance to Shark Valley is located along the Tamiami Trail (US 41). Wildlife seen in Shark Valley includes alligators, ibis, wood storks, roseate spoonbills, raccoons, white-tailed deer, and various amphibians. The name of Shark Valley does cause some confusion because there are no sharks here. The Shark reference comes from the Shark River. The mouth of this river is on the Gulf of Mexico, and the Shark River Slough is the main source of fresh water for this part of the Everglades. If you were to venture along the river far enough towards the gulf, you would encounter sharks, which just never make it to the Everglades.

Those wishing to explore alone can walk the short trails and portions of the tram road, or bike.

  1. Bobcat Broadwalk (Walk): This self-guided boardwalk trail meanders through the Sawgrass slough and tropical hardwood forests.
  2. Otter Cave Hammock Trail (Walk): Trail goes through a tropical hardwood forest with small foot-bridge over a small stream.
  3. Tram Road (Hike, Bike or Tram): This flat, paved road is used for tram rides, bicycling, and walking. Along the road you may see alligators, herons, egrets, deer, turtles, and snail kites. An observation tower at the halfway point provides panoramic views.
(image source: wikimedia.org)

It is located to the right of the Royal Palm visitor center. The trail is named for the tropical tree with the distinctive red bark; some park rangers call it the “tourist tree” in honor of sunburned visitors. A short, 1/3-mile walk, the dirt path winds through a hardwood hammock that is truly jungle-like. The dense foliage of the Gumbo Limbo Trail is a reliable place to locate the Liguus tree snails that graze on the algae, fungi and lichen growing on tree bark. The effects of past storms on some of the gumbo limbo trees will be demonstrated here for years to come. The winds toppled a number of the trees but did not destroy them. Native to a part of the world where hurricanes frequently occur, gumbo limbo trees survive—even if toppled sideways—by sending out a new root system.

The gumbo limbo is a true survivor, and the hurricane’s destructive effects graphically demonstrate this.

(image source: scenicusa.net)

The Pa-hay-okee Overlook Trail is a short walk along a raised boardwalk which offers sweeping vistas of the Everglades river of grass. Pa-hay-okee is a Seminole word meaning grassy waters and this land has long been inhabited by American Indians. The trail starts off on a boardwalk lined with Magnolia trees. As the boardwalk cuts through a hardwood hammock, the landscape quickly opens up to reveal a Bald Cypress forest. These coniferous Bald Cypress trees lose their needle-like leaves in winter due to the seasonal drought. It continues past the Bald Cypress forest and onto the overlook. Here, interpretive signs explain the ecology of the Shark River Slough. The slough is an 8-mile wide sheet of slowly moving water. It flows southwest towards the Gulf of Mexico and is the central support system of the Everglades.

(Image source: tripadvisor.com)

Flamingo is the southernmost headquarters of Everglades National Park, in Monroe County, Florida, Unites States. Flamingo is located at the end of the 99-mile Wilderness Waterway known as the Ten Thousand Islands, and the southern end of the only road ] through the park from Florida City. It all began as a small coastal settlement on the eastern end of Cape Sable, on the southern tip of the Florida peninsula, facing Florida Bay

Flamingo was first settled around 1892, although Tequesta Indians had lived in the area prior to that. The settlers made a living by providing fish, fresh vegetables and charcoal to Key West

The Flamingo Visitor Center is the pink building located at the end of Florida State Road 9335 overlooking the Florida Bay. The visitor center offers many services, which includes backcountry camping permits, trip planning for Wilderness Waterway as well as the trail maps, educational displays and informational brochures. Flamingo is one of the interpretive centers of the Everglades National Park. The hiking trails such as the Snake Bight Trail, Christian Point Trail, Rowdy Bend Trail and Coastal Prairie Trail allow visitors to experience the buttonwood, mangrove and coastal prairie ecosystems. The Coastal Prairie trail leads to the former town of Flamingo. Eco Pond is man-made and is part of the Flamingo’s sewage treatment system. As the largest body of fresh water in the saltwater area of the Everglades it attracts birds in abundance. It had been surrounded by invasive, non-native Brazilian pepper bushes before the National Park Service recently removed this alien weed and replaced it with native vegetation.

In addition to hiking, the national park offers many paddling opportunities to traveler to explore the wilderness through the mangrove mazes, Sawgrass prairies and open waters of Florida Bay. A guided boat tour, narrated by the boat captains, is also available at the Flamingo. Some enthusiasts take advantage of canoe or kayak rentals available from Everglades National Park Boat Tour next to the marina store. Flamingo’s Canoe Trails range from half mile short distance to 99 mile long Wilderness Waterway trail and most of them can be accessed from launch areas in Flamingo.

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