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Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park is a large National Park, the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States, in south Florida that protects approximately 20% of the original Everglades.  As water was diverted to fuel development in south Florida, local residents worked to protect this unique environment.  The park was established in 1934 and dedicated in 1947.  Local journalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas was instrumental in protecting the Everglades, with her famous book River of Grass.  Much of the park is now a federally-designated wilderness named in her honor.  The park is now a critical habitat for many wildlife species, including alligators, manatees, and migratory birds.

Contact Information:

40001 State Road 9336 
HomesteadFL 33034

Phone: (305) 242-7700

Map:

Here's a map I made of the places that we visited in the Everglades.

Areas of the Park:

At over 1.5 million acres, Everglades National Park is quite large and most of area is completely inaccessible wilderness.  The main park access areas are described below.

Flamingo:

Flamingo is located on Florida Bay at the southern end of the park.  Enter the park at the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center west of Homestead and follow the park road about 35 miles to the end at Flamingo.

Gulf Coast Visitor Center:

The Gulf Coast Visitor Center is located on the western side of the park in Everglades City, close to Naples.  This area provides boating access to the Ten Thousand Islands.  We camped for two nights on Picnic Key; here's a video of our adventures paddling and camping.

YouTube Video

Royal Palm:

Royal Palm is located west of Homestead just past the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center at the main entrance to the park.

Shark Valley:

Shark Valley is located on the Shark River Slough, just west of Miami.  The entrance is along Tamiami Trail (US-41).  There is a 15-mile tram trail that is also available for hiking and bicycling in addition to tram tours.  This is a great area for viewing wildlife.  The tram trail runs along old canals just full of alligators and wading birds.  It's a popular area so be sure to arrive early to get a parking space and reserve a bike.

At roughly the half-way point of the loop, there is an observation tower.  Since the Everglades is so flat, the tower provides great views of the river of grass.


Here's a video I made of bicycling the loop:

YouTube Video

Hiking:

Although much of the Everglades consists of impenetrable wilderness, there are a number of short trails throughout the park to experience the diverse ecosystems contained here.

Anhinga Trail:

Anhinga Trail is a half-mile boardwalk through the Taylor Slough, accessed from the Royal Palms Visitor Center.  The aptly-named trail runs through breeding areas for the anhingas, a great place to spot the beautiful birds.

Bobcat Boardwalk:

Bobcat Boardwalk is a short 0.3 mile trail accessed from near the beginning of the Shark Valley Tram Trail.  The boardwalk winds through a tropical hardwood hammock.

Gumbo Limbo Trail:

Gumbo Limbo Trail is a 0.4-mile paved trail that runs through a hardwood hammock.  Named for the iconic tree, the trail is accessed from the Royal Palms Visitor Center.  The dense forest this trail loops through is in sharp contrast to the open slough of the nearby Anhinga Trail.

Guy Bradley Trail:

Guy Bradley Trail is a half-mile paved trail that leads from the Flamingo Visitor Center to the campground.  The trail runs along the shore of Florida Bay and provides ocean views.

Pa-hay-okee Trail:

Pa-hay-okee Trail is a 0.2 mile boardwalk that leads to an elevated observation tower overlooking the Shark River Slough.  The trailhead is located about 12 miles west of the entrance gate at Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center.

Pinelands Trail:

Pinelands Trail is a short half-mile paved trail that leads through a pine rocklands, an ecosystem characterized by dense slash pine canopy and frequent fires to clear the understory.  The trailhead is located about 7 miles past the entrance gate at Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center.

Wildlife:

The Everglades is home to a tremendous amount of wildlife and wildlife viewing is one of the most popular activities in the park.  The following are some examples that I spotted while visiting the Everglades.

Alligators:

The American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) is perhaps the most iconic species in the Everglades and very easy to spot.  They are found in just about every canal and body of water you pass.  The Shark Valley area is great to see alligators.


Alligators are one of the few reptile species where the mother looks after her young.  If you are lucky, you might spot some baby alligators.  They are easily recognizable by their yellow stripes.  Just remember, that mom is probably watching, so keep a safe distance.

Invertebrates:

The warm Everglades climate is perfect for numerous insects, spiders, and other invertebrates.  Visiting during the dry season in winter minimizes encounters with pesky bugs, but they're present all year round.  Not all bugs are pests, though; some are pretty neat.  This is a golden orb weaver or banana spider (Nephila clavipes) who made a web near the Shark Valley Observation Tower.

Birds:

The shallow waters and abundant food attract a lot of wading and other water birds to the Everglades.  The anhinga (anhinga anhinga) is one of the area's most well known bird, with a popular trail named after them in Royal Palm.  The anhinga is also called a snakebird, because it's long neck resembles a snake.  Seeing one in flight, they really do look liked winged snakes.  Males have all black feathers, while the females have grayish feathers on their neck and head.


Anhingas are diving birds and there wings are not waterproof, so they are frequently seen with their wings extended drying off.  While diving for fish, they use their sharp pointed bill to spear fish.


Great Blue Herons (
Ardea herodias) are a beautiful and tall wading bird.


Another heron species is the Green Heron (Butorides virescens).


And here's a beautiful tricolored heron (Egretta tricolor).


Another common species of wading bird is the white ibis (Eudocimus albus).


As adults, these birds have all white feathers, but as juveniles, their feathers are brown.


A less common wading bird is the wood stork (Mycteria americana), which is considered a threatened species.

A common bird of prey located along the coast is the osprey (Pandion haliaetus).  Ospreys eat almost exclusively fish and build impressive nests on top of trees.

Black vultures (Coragyps atratus) are common scavengers in the park.  They have been known to attack parked cars, especially in the Royal Palm area of the park.  Sometimes you can see the vultures with their wings extended, drying them in the sun.

Trees:

The subtropical environment of the Everglades provides habitat for a large number of tree species.  I'm not very good at identifying trees, but there are a couple very iconic species that are easy to recognize.  The strangler fig (Ficus aurea) is a parasitic tree that grows down from an existing tree, eventually strangling it and taking over.

Another famous tree of the Everglades is the gumbo limbo tree (Bursera simaruba).  The tree is sometimes called the Tourist Tree, because its red, peeling bark resembles the skin of Florida tourists.

External Links:

National Park Service website: https://www.nps.gov/ever/index.htm