Exploring the real wild side of Miami: The Everglades

Sarah Fay next to the Everglades National Park Entrance in South Florida! #VisitFlorida #Everglades

Not too far away from the glitz and glamour of Miami, is a rugged and ecologically rich terrain- The Everglades National Park. 

In honor of National Public Lands Day on September 28, 2019. I decided to recount the best of the Everglades by sharing my experience during my recent trip to the Everglades National Park from Miami. I have been to the Everglades and surrounding area multiple times, but every time it has always been a new adventure! From a Miami Everglade’s airboat tour, to eating gator bites once you exit the city your in for a journey in swamp country. 

National Public Lands Day falls on the 4th Saturday every September. It is a day for enjoyment and volunteer conservation of public lands in the USA. This also means that the park is FREE! 

Where is Everglades National Park? 

Well the Everglades is located in South Florida. The Everglades in Florida consists of 7800 square miles of some of the richest biodiverse lands in the USA. It covers the majority of South Florida. The Everglades from Miami is just a short 45-minute drive to Shark Valley Visitor Center the main entrance of the Everglades National Park. There are two entrances the North entrance (Shark Valley Visitor Center) and the South Entrance (Flamingo Visitor Center). 

The most popular of the two is the closest to Miami, the Shark Valley Visitor center. 

About Everglades National Park

Maybe you never heard of the Everglades. Or if you heard of the Everglades what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Swampland, mosquitos, and alligators, while there are more than plenty of dangerous things that could bite or kill you the Everglades is made up of much more than the hot sticky and swampy images that pop into your head. 

The Everglades is the 3rdlargest national park in the entire USA. A UNESCO World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve, the Everglades offers a refuge for an array of birds, manatees, alligators, and the only place in the USA you can find the American Crocodile! 

The “river of grass” is fed by the huge Lake Okeechobee that creates a constant slow-moving stream of water through the basin of saw grass marsh in the Everglades. Currently there are major restoration works going on to correct for the water diversions that occurred that had caused a lot of destruction to the Everglades due to urban sprawl and human development. 

Before Marjory Stoneman Douglas called attention for the nation to protect the Everglades in her 1947 book “Everglades: River of Grass”. The threat of extinction loomed for much of the Everglade’s ecosystem. The Everglades actually used to stretch all the way to Orlando, Florida! 

How to get to the Everglades from Miami?

The easiest and most rewarding way to visit the Everglades is by car from Miami. While there are day tours offered from Miami, including a hop on hop off bus stop to an airboat adventure, the only way to see the entirety of the National Park is by car. 

Coming from Miami you can get on the Tamiami trail, aptly named for the highway that connects Tampa to Miami. 

The Everglades is massive, but easily accessible from either coast. There are three main visitors centers and they can be reached by Route 41 the Tamiami Trail that offers many swampy adventures for your Miami or Florida Itinerary. 

Best time to go to the Everglades 

December through March is the best time to go to the Everglades in my opinion. Temperatures are low, there are less mosquitos at this time, and it is dry season. I have been in the winter, summer, and during the mating season. I definitely recommend going when the weather is not so hot you have to peel your clothes off at the end of the day. 

Everglades Visitors Centers

Sarah Fay just outside of the Army base where missiles were stored during the Cuban Missile Crisis. #everglades #nationalparks
Old Army Base in Everglades National Park

The Everglades are huge, but accessing them is fairly easy. From Naples and Southwest Florida, follow Tamiami Trail (Route 41) toward Everglades City and Chokoloskee. If you’re spending a few days on the east coast, the Everglades should definitely be part of your Ft. Lauderdale or Miami itinerary. You can easily get to the Glades from here as well. Here are the closest entrances to both:

  • The Shark Valley Visitor Centeris the entrance closest to the Greater Miami Area, Florida: 36000 SW 8th Street, Miami, FL 33194
Sarah Fay standing on top of Shark Loop Overlook in Everglades National Park overlooking the vastness of the Everglades. #visiteverglades #visitflorida
Sarah Fay at Shark Loop Overlook!
  • The Gulf Coast Visitor Centeris the entrance closest to Naples, Florida: 815 Oyster Bar Lane, Everglades City, FL 34139 One of the lesser known entrances and the furthest from Miami, but a great jumping off point if you are coming from the Gulf Coast.
  • The Flamingo Visitor Centeris the southern most visitor center in Everglades National Park. It is at the end of a long road that goes by many lakes, campgrounds, and is the main park road and is accessible from the Main Park (Homestead) entrance: 1 Flamingo Lodge Highway, Flamingo, FL 33034
Sarah Fay in front of the Flamingo Visitor Center in Everglades National Park. Here you can see manatees, crocodiles, and alligators. #visiteverglades #visitflorida
Sarah Fay at the Flamingo Center in the Everglades National Park.

Things to do in the Everglades

Everglades Airboat Tours

One of the best most thrilling experiences I had in the Everglades, was being whipped around the swampy grass lands in an airboat ride. While technically not in the National Park, the airboat excursions sit just outside of the Everglades National Park and offer a thrilling way to experience the swampy surroundings. 

Everglades airboat tours Miami half day trips are also great if you don’t have access to a car. 

Pole Boat Tours

Travel through the Everglades as the Seminoles did, and take an eco-friendly pole boat tour. Offered by Everglades Adventure Tours, the Pole boating practice has been used for centuries in the Everglades by Gladesmen and indigenous tribes to fish, frog, and travel the Everglades.  

Shark Valley Overlook and Shark Valley Loop ‘

The Shark Valley Overlook is at the end of the Shark Valley Loop and offers the best aerial views of the Everglades. To me, it is where you can truly experience the vastness of the Everglades National Park. 

The scenic loop is 15 miles long (24 km). The Shark Valley Visitor Center offers bike rentals, or a tram tour that takes you on a informative eco-tour of the Everglades. I highly recommend you take the tour in order to understand what you are looking at and for the best gator/ wildlife spotters I have ever seen!

Funny story, when I went to use a porter potty and was trying to choose between two on this loop road I barely noticed the alligator that was sunning itself inbetween the stalls. Definitely caught me off guard!  

Shark Loop tram in the Everglades that covers 15 miles and allows you to get the most information on the Everglades. #visitflorida #everglades
Riding the Shark Loop tram with my mom! Great way to see the Everglades.

Canoe or Kayak from the Flamingo Visitor Center 

A great way to get active and enmeshed in the Everglades ecosystem is by kayaking or canoeing through the mangroves, marshes, lakes, and see the Everglades from the water. 

The National Park Service actually offers FREE canoe trips from the Flamingo Visitor Center!  Be sure to book in advance as they do fill up. They also offer other ranger guided tours that can be found on the NPS Everglades calendar HERE. There is also canoe and kayak rentals offered at the Flamingo Visitor Center. 

Tour an Old Army Base in the Everglades

The National Park Service Rangers will bring you on a tour ranging from nature walks, to touring an old army base. This base in particular was key during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Missiles were always ready here in order to counter the threat of Cuba.

National Park Service Ranger gives a tour of an old army base used for missile launch and defense during the Cuban missile crisis. #visitflorida #everglades
National Park Ranger gives tour of an old army base missile launch and defense during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Everglades Camping 

If you are feeling adventurous and wish to go off on your own in the wilderness there is always the opportunity to camp in the Everglades! 

Not only is there traditional camping, but there also is Back Country Camping offered on one of 10,000 islands off the coast of the southern tip of Florida Everglades. To rent a kayak or canoe check out this website the local vendor of the National Park Service that operates the camping and rentals HERE

I think it is a unique way to see nature and be surrounded by water on your own remote island. By renting a kayak or canoe you can paddle up to an island that has raised areas that you can pitch a tent!

A great resource for wilderness trip planning is the NPS’s Wilderness Trip Planner

Fishing in the Everglades 

Everglades fishing is exceptional. Both fresh and saltwater fishing is available; with a variety of inshore species including redfish, snapper, and sea trout along the coast and around the 10,000 islands. Be sure to check out the guidelines for licensingand seasonal requirements as a license is necessary to fish.  

Clyde Butcher Big Cypress Gallery

Sarah Fay travel blogger, just outside the Clyde Butcher Big Cypress Art Gallery. #visitflorida #everglades
Sarah Fay just outside the Clyde Butcher Big Cyprus Art Gallery.

The Clyde Butcher Big Cypress Gallery is located midway on the Tamiami trail (Route 41). Clyde Butcher has been praised as the next Ansel Adams, and the best artist and gallery of Florida. It is definitely worth a stop on your road trip exploring the Everglades and South Florida. The black and white photos show the dramatic beauty of the Everglades. 

If you don’t mind getting wet and seeing how the artist captured the photos of the surrounding swamp take a swamp walk tour offered by the gallery October – March. Also, the gallery offers cottage rentals to fully immerse yourself in the Everglades. Check it out HERE

The Smallest Post Office in the USA

The smallest post office in the USA is somewhere in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the Tamiami trail on Route 41.  Definitely worth a picture for the gram. It is still functional so maybe mail a postcard home? 

The smallest post office in the USA is located on the Tamiami Trail. #visitflorida #everglades
USA’s smallest post office!

Museum of the Everglades 

In a quaint town called Everglades City, is the Museum of the Everglades. Not only can you learn about the history of the Everglades, but you can see a place on the U.S. National Register of Historical Places. The museum is located in an old community laundry building built in 1928. It was once the home of the Everglades Women’s Club in 1965. 

Birding and Hikes in the Everglades

Sarah Fay on boarded walkway great for hikes in the Everglades. #visitflorida #everglades
Everglades boardwalks great for hikes and amazing photos!

Hiking and the trails that you may try depend on what season you visit. There are some paths that are dirt and some can get pretty muddy during the wet season. But for a for sure bet for nature walks are one of the many walking paths on boardwalks through the Everglades. Check out the National Park Service’s site HERE for more information on hiking in the Everglades. 

With over 300 bird species, the Everglades is one of the best places to go birding not only in Florida, but the whole USA. 

The Ahinga Trail is 0.08 miles of paved trail and boardwalk that allows for the best chance of seeing the Ahinga birds and tons of gators!

Manatees, Alligators, and Crocodiles!

Huge alligator resting in the sun in the grass of the Everglades! #visitflorida #alligators
Big alligator!

My top three things to see in the Everglades to me has to be the biggest animals you can see in the wild there. 1. American Crocodile 2. Alligators 3. Manatees 

Important thing to note is that the American Crocodile and Manatees can only be found near the Flamingo Visitors Center. So if you are want to see the unique phenomenon of all three in nature this spot is perfect! There are also Panthers. However, I have never seen one, probably due to the fact they are endangered.

Panther crossing sign in Everglades National Park
Panther crossing sign in Everglades!

Where to stay in the Florida Everglades?

While you can see the Everglades for a day trip from Miami, there is so much to see you may want to stay longer. Want to go to the Everglades for multiple days and don’t feel like camping? Then you can stay in the nearby Homestead, Florida. Here are my top three places to stay in Homestead, Florida!

Courtyard by Marriot Miami Homestead

Hampton Inn and Suites in Homestead, Florida 

Townplace Suites by MarriotHomestead, Florida  

Where to eat in the Florida Everglades? 

There are few choices for food along the Tamiami trail close to the Everglades for a bite to eat. If you don’t want to drive all the way back to Homestead, Florida here are some great food options in the Everglades.

Robert is Here, Fruit Stand and Farm– On the way into the Everglades why not pick up some fruit?Robert’s famous fruit and smoothies stand is iconic. Also, not to miss are all of Robert’s animals roaming the place! 

The Gator Grill is just a short 10-minute drive from the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center right off the Tamiami trail. Here you can get gator bites and other swampy delicacies.

Havana Café of the Everglades– 191 Smallwood Dr, Chokoloskee, Fl. A little off the beaten path, but worth it for its’ Key West vibes and ambiance. The Havana Café is the best Cuban food you will find in the Everglades!

Triad Seafood Café – This offers the best seafood and local Florida food. It is located in Everglades, City. Triad is open October through the beginning of June.

Cute baby alligator resting on a branch in the sun in the Everglades #visiteverglades #visitflorida
Baby Alligator!

A trip to Everglades from Miami is definitely an adventure no matter how down and dirty you want to get. If you love getting lost in the wild or camping this is the place for you. However, if you just want to see wildlife from the safety an airconditioned car the Everglades is also for you! There is something for all comfort levels and people in order for everyone to enjoy the Everglades. If you liked this pin it for later and share with a friend. Cannot wait to take you on more wild adventures! 

If you want to check out other outdoor adventures in Florida, check out my blog post on the Top 10 Florida Beaches that rival the Caribbean HERE!

Pin this for later to see the real wild side of Miami the Everglades. A short drive away you can get up close with alligators, crocodiles, and do fun activities such as airboat rides! #visitflorida #everglades

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