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Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park

Spanning the southern tip of the Florida peninsula and most of Florida Bay, Everglades National Park is the only subtropical preserve in North America. It contains both temperate and tropical plant communities, including sawgrass prairies, mangrove and cypress swamps, pinelands, and hardwood hammocks, as well as marine and estuarine environments. The park boasts rare and endangered species and is known for its rich bird life, particularly large wading birds, such as the roseate spoonbill, wood stork, great blue heron and a variety of egrets. It is also the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles exist side by side.  Everglades National Park has been designated a World Heritage Site, International Biosphere Reserve, and Wetland of International Importance, significant to all people of the world.

History

Water in south Florida once flowed freely from the Kissimmee River to Lake Okeechobee and southward over low-lying lands to the estuaries of Biscayne Bay, the Ten Thousand Islands, and Florida Bay. This shallow, slow-moving sheet of water covered almost 11,000 square miles, creating a mosaic of ponds, sloughs, sawgrass marshes, hardwood hammock, and forested uplands. For thousands of years this intricate system evolved into a finely balanced ecosystem that formed the biological infrastructure for the southern half of the state. However, to early colonial settlers and developers the Everglades were potential farm land and communities. By the early 1900s, the drainage process to transform wetland to land ready to be developed was underway. The results would be severely damaging to the ecosystem and the species it supported.

With the support of many early conservationists, scientists, and other advocates, Everglades National Park was established in 1947 to conserve the natural landscape and prevent further degradation of its land, plants, and animals. Although the captivation of the Everglades has mostly stemmed from its unique ecosystem, an alluring human story of the Everglades is deeply interwoven with its endless marshes, dense mangroves, towering palms, alligator holes, and tropical fauna. Various groups and people navigated through and wrestled with the watery landscape to make it home, and even to exploit its natural wonder at times.  On these pages you can discover more about the Native Americans that existed and thrived; the agricultural development and drainage of the Everglades; the people and groups who advocated for the conservation of the area; the Everglades’ role in United States War efforts; the preservation and restoration work that continues today; and much more.

Things to Do in Everglades National Park

Alligators in the Everglades

Alligators in the Everglades

Everglades National Park is a wonderful place to explore wilderness, waterways, and more. A vast expanse of roughly 1.5 million acres, there seems no end to the adventures that can be found in Everglades National Park. You may find yourself spending a morning photographing the birds, an afternoon spent hiking and seeing alligators take advantage of the warmth of sunny south Florida skies, or take a ranger guided tour or just spend an evening enjoying the warmth of your campfire. With so many adventures to select from it could be difficult to decide on one adventure and a multi- day stay will be the goal.  There are a number of ways to spend your day at Everglades National Park.

Hiking Trails – In many areas of the park, trails allow you to explore the diversity of habitats within south Florida.  While exploring the park, be sure to bring plenty of water and be aware of changing weather conditions.  Insects can be present year-round; with the hot, humid summer months being the most severe.  Be prepared for mosquitoes and a variety of biting flies.  A wide array of land trails offer visitors opportunities for leisurely walks, extended hikes and bicycle treks. Click on links below to download hiking and bicycling brochures.  Flamingo and Pine Island trails are accessible from the main entrance of the park in Homestead Florida, while the Shark Valley trail is closer to Miami off of U.S. 41.

Camping - Everglades National Park offers wonderful camping opportunities in both the frontcountry and backcountry.  While camping is available year-round, persons visiting during the wet season (June through November) should be aware of potentially difficult and uncomfortable conditions.  Visitors should also be well-prepared as camping equipment is not available for rent or purchase in the park.

  • Frontcountry Camping  There are two drive-in campgrounds accessible from the Homestead entrance to the park. Pine Island area and Flamingo, and both accommodate tents and RV’s with a limited number of group sites.  Please click the link above for more details on frontcountry camping.
  • Backcountry Camping  There are a number of ground sites, beach sites, and elevated camping platforms (chickees) available in various locations in the park.  Most sites are accessible by canoe, kayak, or motorboat, though a few may be reached by hikers.  A backcountry permit is required for all wilderness campsites and issued the day before or day of your trip.  Please click on link above for more details on backcountry camping.

Fishing – One third of Everglades National Park is covered by water, creating excellent boating and fishing opportunities. Snapper, sea trout, redfish, bass, and bluegill are plentiful. Saltwater fishing includes Florida Bay, Ten Thousand Islands, and elsewhere in the park’s coastal zone. Freshwater and saltwater fishing require separate Florida fishing licenses. Be aware of local fishing information.

Fishing from the shore is very limited. However, park waters provide thousands of acres of shallow water flats, channels, and mangrove keys in which to fish. Before leaving shore, think safety! Be aware of local boating information.

Also please remember that collecting plants and animals in Everglades National Park is prohibited. This includes such things as orchids, airplants, seahorses, starfish, conch, tropical fish, coral, sponges, and driftwood (except for fuel). One quart of non-occupied sea shells may be collected per person.

Everglades Airboat Ride

Everglades Airboat Ride

Boating – Visitors can explore Florida Bay, Whitewater Bay, and the Ten Thousand Islands area by boat, kayak, or canoe.  Each area has its own unique characteristics and habitats to explore.

Boating in the waters of the Everglades is a task for the skilled.  Treacherous passes cut through long banks of mud and seagrass, separating the basins of our shallow coast in Florida Bay.  Other areas, especially in the Ten Thousand Islands, have many oyster reefs and sandbars.  Safely exploring this region, while protecting the sensitive underwater habitats, requires the ability to “read the water”. Shallow areas are not always marked, especially in the area between Flamingo and Everglades City. Knowing the draft (depth) and limits of your boat is critical, as is the ability to read and utilize nautical charts.

Canoe and Kayak Trails – Everglades National Park is the third largest in the lower 48 states. Throughout the park there are many opportunities to explore the natural beauty of this park on your own or rented canoes and kayaks. Some of the canoe and kayak areas include Flamingo, Nine Mile Pond, Hell’s Bay, and Gulf Coast areas.

Guided Tours – Ranger – led programs available vary during our two seasons – “Wet SeasonMay – November and “Dry Season” December – April.  The pleasant weather in our dry season, brings with it an increase in our visitors and ranger led programs.  Some programs are still available during our wet season.  For current schedules and updated information on programs exploring the wonders of Everglades National Park through walks, talks, canoes, kayaks or bicycles, please contact the main park number directly at (305-242-7700).

In addition to ranger-led activities, there are other ways to enjoy a guided tour through the park. Concession boat captains narrate boat tours along the mangrove coast at both Flamingo and the Gulf Coast, and Tram Tour naturalists guide your explorations of the Shark Valley Slough.

  • Shark Valley Tram Tours – Guided two-hour narrated tram tours are offered along a fifteen-mile loop into the “River of Grass”.  Tours depart from the benches and provide a great opportunity to see wildlife and learn about the Freshwater ecosystem. Reservations are strongly recommended during the dry, winter season when Everglades National Park is at its busiest. For information, please call (305) 221-8455
  • Everglades National Park Boat Tours – The Gulf Coast boat tour of the Ten-Thousand Islands departs from the Gulf Coast Marina area. Tours operate everyday, year-round. For information, call (239) 695 2591
  • Everglades National Park Boat Tours II, Inc.- The Flamingo area boat tour explores the Whitewater Bay backcountry north of Florida Bay. The marina at Flamingo is open. Limited services are available including marina shop, rentals (canoe, kayak, skiff, bicycle) and fuel.  For information, call (239) 695-3101

Visitor Centers

Everglades National Park covers 1.5 million acres, so there are a number of options when visiting the park.  Everglades City offers a visitor center and boat tours and rentals, Shark Valley has Tram tours, bike tours, and great biking on your own, Homestead is the main entrance to the park with a 38 mile park road to Flamingo with many different hiking, canoeing, and biking options along the way.

The visitor centers of the park are open every day year round and have park rangers available to help you plan your visit. All visitor centers provide maps and brochures to help you prepare for some wonderful adventures in exploring Everglades National Park!

Ernest Coe Visitor Center - The Ernest Coe Visitor Center is open 365 days a year. It offers educational displays, orientation films, and informational brochures. In addition, there is often a special collection by local artists on exhibit.  Books, film, postcards, and insect repellent may be purchased in the adjoining bookstore. A series of popular walking trails begin only a short drive from the visitor center. Restrooms are available. Contact 305-242-7700 for more information.

Flamingo Visitor Center - The Flamingo Visitor Center offers educational displays, informational brochures, and backcountry permits. Campground facilities and a public boat ramp. There are several hiking and canoeing trails in the area. Contact 239-695-2945 for more information.

Sharks Valley Visitor Center - Shark Valley Visitor Center offers educational displays, a park video, an underwater camera and informational brochures. Books, postcards, and other items available for sale. Guided tram tours, bicycle rentals, snacks and soft drinks are available from Shark Valley Tram Tours, Inc. Two short walking trails (one disabled accessible) off the main trail for your enjoyment. Restrooms available. Contact number 305-221-8776.

Gulf Coast Visitor Center - The Gulf Coast Visitor Center serves as the gateway for exploring the Ten Thousand Islands, a maze of mangrove islands and waterways that extends to Flamingo and Florida Bay. The visitor center offers educational displays, orientation films, informational brochures, and backcountry permits. Boat tours and canoe rentals are available. Restrooms are available. Restaurants, stores, lodging and campgrounds are located nearby. Contact number 239-695-3311.