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A Complete Guide to Everglades National Park

The Everglades National Park is the third largest national park in the United States. It is a huge, diverse, and fascinating area that ends up taking about most of the bottom tip of the Florida peninsula. The park stretches across 1.5 million acres of land across 3 counties: Monroe, Miami-Dade, and Collier. These wetlands are filled with alligators, turtles, birds, fish, and several endangered species including the rare Panther. Let’s take a deeper look into the Everglades National Park and find out what makes it so special.

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Things to Do

In total, four park visitor centers can be accessed from three park entrances. There are high probabilities of animal sightseeing, and each has different activities available.

  • Gulf Coast Visitor Center – It is situated in Everglades City and even though a hurricane destroyed the visitor center in 2017, a temporary one has been built. It is the entry point to the Ten Thousand Islands which is a network of mangrove islands starting at Marco Island and going all the way to the rest of the west coast. Although there isn’t any food or drinks available, there are bathroom services present. Through boat rides, you can spot a variety of birds including white pelicans and West Indian manatees. Some of the activities and services available at the Gulf Coast Visitor Center include – birdwatching, backcountry permits, ranger talks, and canoe rentals. Remember that camping in Ten Thousand Islands is possible only with a backcountry permit
  • Shark Valley Visitor Center – It is located about 73 miles from Naples, on the west coast, and 40 miles from Miami, making it an easy drive from either place. Shark Valley is one of the most popular entry points and offers easy access to animal sightseeing which includes alligators. It does have a bathroom, food and drinks. You can walk, bike, or take a train along the trail to spot alligators, crocodiles, turtles, fish, birdlife, tortoises, and even white-tailed deer. You can get bicycle rental maps and brochures at the visitor
  • Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center – This is the largest visitor center in Everglades National Park and the park’s headquarters. It is situated in the ‘swampier’ section of the Everglades and is surrounded by dense forests that are a prime location for animal sightseeing. There are bathroom services and a gift shop that sells snacks drinks and mosquito repellant. You can find walking trails, wildlife-viewing platforms, and Royal Palm Nature Center all close to the visitor Activities included at the visitor center are walking trails, campgrounds, and ranger talks.
  • Flamingo Visitor Center – It is just 38 miles from Ernest F. Coe Visitor Here you can spot manatees, dolphins, and wild flamingos. It has a snack bar, a marina store, bathrooms, boat rentals and tours, and a gas station. Other additional activities available at the visitor center are narrated boat tours, interpretive displays, and a developed campground.
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Hikes & Trails at Everglades National Park

As most of Everglades National Park is underwater and many of the backcountry is inaccessible, there are only a few hiking trails available at the visitor centers and most of them are short walking trails with no elevation. Some of the top trails are listed below

  • Anhinga Trail – It can be accessed from the Royal Palm Nature Center and is a 0.8–mile trail that passes through a marsh and offers a close view of birds and alligators.
  • Gumbo-Limbo Trail – It is a 0.4-mile trail that is in the shade of palm and gumbo limbo hammock and is a great viewing area for orchids and bromeliads.
  • West Lake Trail – It is suspended over a mangrove swamp and stretches into Florida Bay. It is half a mile long.
  • Snake Bright Trail – It is an unpaved 1.6-mile trail and section of boardwalk that is the prime terrain for viewing white tailed-deer and raptors.
  • Park Loop Trail – This is a 15-mile-long trail that has plenty of wildlife viewing that can be walked or biked to.
  • Bobcat Boardwalk – it crosses over sawgrass slough and hardwood hammock and offers a close-up view of the park’s ecosystem.

There are also Christian Point Trail, Rowdy Bend Trail and Coastal Prairie Trail all allow for view of shorebirds among the mangroves.

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Other Activities

  • You can go fishing at the Gulf Coast, Flamingo, and Ernest F. Coe Visitor Although there is a fishing license that is required for Florida residents and non-residents, short-term licenses are available.
  • At Gulf Coast and Flamingo Visitor Centers, Canoe and Kayak rentals are available.
  • Biking and bike rentals are present at Shark Valley, Flamingo, and Ernest F. Coe visitor
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How to get there

The Everglades National Park is located at the southernmost tip of Florida, just before the Florida Keys. It is the largest sub-tropical wilderness in the United States and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

There are several airports near the park. Fort Lauderdale –Hollywood International Airport is 45 miles north of Miami and 48 miles from the park. It provides a wide variety of flights to make a journey to the Everglades. Miami International Airport is the closest to the Everglades National Park as it is only 34 miles from the main entrance of the park. It is serviced by every major airline in the United States. Southwest Florida International Airport is situated just 74 miles north of the Gulf Coast Visitor Center.

You can take a road trip to the Everglades National Park, and it is bound to be filled with thrills and excitement. There is no public transportation available directly to the park and therefore taking a car there is necessary. There are 3 entrances to the park in 3 different cities.

  • Homestead Entrance
  • Miami Entrance
  • Everglades City Entrance (near Naples)
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Hotels and Camping

There are many campgrounds inside the parks with electric hookups at Flamingo and Ernest F. Coe visitor centers. The closest recommended hotel and motels near the visitor centers are: –

  • The Everglades Rod & Gun Club has country cottages and an iconic bar and restaurant. It is in Everglades City which is one mile from Gulf Coast Visitor
  • Those wishing to stay near the Shark Valley Visitor Center should look at Comfort Suites Miami-Kendall (26 miles away) or Miccosukee Resort & Gaming, which is a casino and hotel 18 miles away.
  • Close to the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center are located many mid-ranges to budget hotels in Florida City, which is 9 miles away. Florida City is also the last stop before the Florida Keys, which makes it a convenient and must-see place for exploring the park and the Keys.
  • Flamingo Adventures rents houseboats and eco-tents and is currently also developing a 24-room hotel which is to include a restaurant soon to open in late 2024. It is located at Flamingo Visitor
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  • No matter what time of the year you decide to access the park, make sure you bring sunglasses, a hat, water, sunscreen, and mosquito repellant.
  • Do not get too close to the alligators, no matter how lazy or lethargic they might look. Never attempt to pick up baby alligators because their mum is never far away.
  • Please do not attempt to feed or touch any wildlife including birds or raccoons that are used to getting food from humans.
  • You can bring your leashed pets on campgrounds and paved roads, but they are not allowed on hikes, biking trails, or any wilderness areas.
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