The Ultimate Guide To Everglades National Park

The Ultimate Guide To Everglades National Park

Florida
The Ultimate Guide To Everglades National Park | Florida

Everglades National Park, home to a very distinct and diverse ecosystem sheltering several species of plants & animals!

Everglades, with several miles of marshland covered in sawgrass and swamps, is one of the most expansive wetlands in the world and one of most the wildest regions in the US! 

The Everglades marshland, starting at Lake Okeechobee near Orlando, stretches all the way to Florida Bay, measuring about 100 miles long and 60 miles wide, and occupies approximately 7,800 square miles / 4.9 million acres on the southern end of Florida. The Everglades National Park preserves and protects the southernmost part of the Everglades, measuring about 1.5 million acres, which is merely 30 percent of the entire Everglades region.

Though Everglades National Park is just 30 percent of the entire Everglades region, it is massive in size and is the third-largest National Park in the contiguous US, Yellowstone being the second-largest and Death Valley being the largest. However, not the size but the unique and diverse ecosystem makes Everglades National Park one of the most extraordinary places in the world, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and an International Biosphere Reserve.

Everglades National Park, inhabited by alligators, crocodiles, and Florida panthers, is not an ordinary park and requires a little research and planning to get the most out of your trip to Everglades! 

Besides the extraordinary landscape and wildlife, Everglades National Park is also infamously known for its extremely hot and humid weather and plentiful flies and mosquitoes. Everglades National Park is enormous and is divided into three main areas, each having its own entrance, and are not interlinked and quite far from each other. So to visit Everglades National Park, the first thing is to decide which part of the Park you wish to explore – (1) Shark Valley, which is the northern section of the Park and pretty popular due to its proximity to Miami, (2) the southern part of Everglades located along the Florida Bay, and (3) Gulf Coast section on the northeast corner of the Park, which is the gateway to the spectacular Ten Thousand Islands.

Here is my ultimate guide to Everglades National Park, featuring essential trip-planning information, major attractions, Everglades attractions map, and recommendations on hotels and restaurants near Everglades National Park!

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Planning Your Trip To Everglades National Park

Planning Your Trip To Everglades National Park

Visiting during the Dry Season, flying into Miami or Fort Myers, and staying close to the Park is the best way to get the most out of your trip to Everglades National Park!

Best Time To Visit Everglades National Park: There’re primarily two seasons in Everglades – Dry Season, which is basically winter and spring, and the Wet Season, that’s essentially summer and fall in other parts of the Nation. Though the Park is open year-round, the Wet Season in Everglades National Park is extremely hot, humid, and buggy. The Dry Season has more pleasant temperatures and fewer flies and mosquitoes, making it the best time to explore the wetlands of the Park and is also the busiest time in Everglades National Park.

Time Required In Everglades National Park: Everglades National Park is enormous and has three main sections – North, South, and Gulf Coast, which have their own entrances and are located apart from each other without any internal connections. It takes about a day to explore each section, so if you plan on visiting all three sections of Everglades National Park, you must spend a minimum of three days in the Park. People who are pressed for time but still wish to get a glimpse of the Everglades mostly visit one section spending a day in the Park, and often go to the northern section, which is pretty close to Miami. However, if you have time, you must see all three sections of the Park, as each region is quite unique and has a distinctive appeal. 

Getting To Everglades National Park: The best and most comfortable way to get to Everglades National Park is by flying into Miami International Airport or Southwest Florida International Airport and then driving to the Park. Alternatively, you could also take an Amtrak train or Greyhound bus to Miami or Tampa and then drive to the Park.

  • Flight: Based on which section of Everglades National Park you’re visiting, you could fly into two of the major international airports in Florida – Miami International Airport (MIA), Miami, Florida, the closest and most convenient airport to get to the northern and southern section of Everglades National Park and Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW), Fort Myers, Florida, which is the best airport to get to the Gulf Coast section of Everglades.
  • Train: Amtrak offers train service to Miami, with Miami Station in downtown Miami being the closest train station to Everglades National Park.
  • Bus: Greyhound offers bus services to Miami as well as Tampa, so you can take a Greyhound bus to Miami if you’re visiting the southern or northern section of Everglades National Park or take a bus to Tampa to get to the Gulf Coast section of the Park.

Parking, Shuttles, & Tours In Everglades National Park: While there’s abundant parking and paved roads throughout the main regions of the Park, the ways to explore each section of Everglades National Park varies – The North Section / Shark Valley offers tram rides, the Southern Section is best explored by driving and walking along the wooden boardwalks and decks, and the Gulf Coast section is best explored through sightseeing boat tours. I have reviewed each section of Everglades National Park and the best ways to explore them in the later section of this post.

Lodging Options Near Everglades National Park: Given its proximity to Miami, Everglades National Park is a popular day-trip destination for many visitors who explore the Park and return to Miami, where there’re several excellent lodging choices. However, if you’re planning to spend more time in Everglades National Park, you could either stay in the Park’s campgrounds or in a hotel or in a bread and breakfast in the neighboring town of Homestead or Florida City if visiting the southern or northern part of Everglades or in Everglades City, Naples, or Marco Island if visiting the Gulf Coast.

Dining Options In Everglades National Park: While the dining options inside the Park is limited to the stores in its four visitor centers offering basic snacks and beverages, there’re a few local eateries located pretty close to Everglades National Park – Coopertown Restaurant and The Pit Bar-B-Q near Shark Valley Visitor Center in the north section of the Park, Everglades Gator Grill and White Lion Cafe close to Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center in the south, and Havana Cafe of the Everglades near the Gulf Coast section of the Park.

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Things To Do In Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park Attractions Map

Everglades National Park Attractions Map

Everglades Brief Overview

Everglades National Park is enormous and has three main sections, three separate entrances, and four visitor centers! 

Everglades National Park Visitor Centers & Entrances: There’re three entrances and four visitor centers in Everglades National Park, providing access and visitor information to visitors in its three different regions. The Southern Section is pretty large compared to the other two sections of Everglades National Park and is appropriately equipped with two visitor centers, one at the entrance and one at the southernmost point of the Southern Section. 

  • Shark Valley Visitor Center / Northern Entrance: The Shark Valley Visitor Center, located about 45 miles west of Miami, is the gateway to the Northern Section of Everglades National Park and is the closest Everglades entrance to Miami, popularly used by visitors making day trips to Everglades National Park from Miami. The Shark Valley Visitor Center is open year-round and features several exhibits, a couple of hiking trails and is the starting point of the Tram Tours. Shark Valley Visitor Center Address: Shark Valley Visitor Center, 36000 SW 8th St, Miami, FL 33194.
  • Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center / Southern Entrance: The Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center, located in Homestead, 50 miles southwest of Miami, is the gateway to the Southern Section of Everglades National Park. The Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center is open year-round and features a small museum, an informational video, a staffed information desk, and a bookstore. Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center Address: Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center, 40001 State Hwy 9336, Homestead, FL 33034.
  • Flamingo Visitor Center: The Flamingo Visitor Center, the second visitor center on the Southern Section of Everglades National Park, is located near the coast of Florida Bay, about 38 miles further inside the Park from the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center. The Flamingo Visitor Center is open year-round and features an information desk, a few exhibits, a store, campground facilities, and the starting point for several hiking / kayaking trails. Flamingo Visitor Center Address: Flamingo Visitor Center, 1 Flamingo Lodge Hwy, Homestead, FL 33034.
  • Gulf Coast Visitor Center / Gulf Coast Entrance: The Gulf Coast Visitor Center, located in Everglades City, around 80 miles west of Miami, offers access to the Gulf Coast Section of Everglades National Park and the Ten Thousand Islands. The Gulf Coast Visitor Center is open year-round and features an information desk, a few exhibits, plays a small video about the Park, and issues permits for backcountry camping. Gulf Coast Visitor Center Address: Gulf Coast Visitor Center, 815 Oyster Bar Ln, Everglades City, FL 34139.

Here’re the three sections of Everglades National Park – Northern, Southern, and Gulf Coast Section, each distinctively unique and fascinating!

Northern Section / Shark Valley

Northern Section - Shark Valley | Everglades National Park

Northern Section / Shark Valley

Shark Valley  Tram Ride  Airboat Tours

The Northern Section of Everglades National Park, located just 45 miles west of Miami, is one of the most popular and visited sections of the Everglades. The Northern Section / Shark Valley offers a very comprehensive view and experience of the Everglades and is best suited for people who’re pressed for time but still wish to get a glimpse of what Everglades has to offer. The Northern Section is home to the Shark Valley Visitor Observation Tower featuring spectacular views of the wetland and its diverse wildlife, including alligators, turtles, and birds. The Shark Valley / Northern Section also features two great ways to explore the Everglades – (1) Tram Tours of the Park offered by an authorized concessioner and (2) Airboat Tours offered by three authorized airboat tour providers. 

Visitor Center: Shark Valley Visitor Center

Tram Tour: Shark Valley / Northern Section also offers a guided Tram Tour of the Everglades, a narrated two hours sightseeing open-air tram tour offered year-round with multiple departures every day. However, the Tram Tours are very popular and are often sold out, especially during the busy Dry Season, so it’s best to reserve your Tram Tour tickets online on Shark Valley Tram Tours website.

Hiking Trails: There’re two short hiking trails starting near the Shark Valley Visitor Center – (1) Otter Cave Hammock, a 0.5-mile roundtrip nature trail, and (2) Bobcat Boardwalk, a one-mile roundtrip walking trail through sawgrass slough and forested land.

Shark Valley Observation Tower: The top of the Shark Valley Observation Tower is the highest accessible point in Everglades National Park, featuring panoramic views of the sawgrass marshland and wildlife in the Park. The Shark Valley Observation Tower is best accessed via the Shark Valley Tram Tours, departing from the Shark Valley Visitor Center, but you can also choose to hike or rent a bike and ride your bike to the Observation Tower. 

Airboat Tours: The Everglades airboat tours are a unique way to explore the marshland, onboard boats powered by giant fans, and very popular activity on the Northern section of the Park. There’re three authorized airboat tour providers on the Northern Section of the Park – CoopertownEverglades Safari Park, and Gator Park.

Southern Section / Homestead

Southern Section - Homestead | Everglades National Park

Southern Section / Homestead

Hiking  Flamingo  Scenic Drive  Florida Bay  Boat Tours  Camping

The Southern Section of Everglades National Park, located in Homestead, approximately 50 miles southwest of Miami, features the most extensive Everglades experience providing access to the interiors of the marshland and the Florida Bay. The Southern Section has two primary regions – Royal Palm and Flamingo, and given the vast area, it has two visitor centers, one located at the entrance and one on the coast of Florida Bay.

The Southern Section / Homestead offers several hiking trails and is the only place in Everglades National Park offering front-country camping. Unquestionably, the Southern Section is more prevalent amongst hikers and campers and is recommended for people seeking a more in-depth exploration of the Everglades. 

Visitor Centers: Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center (Royal Palm) & Flamingo Visitor Center (Flamingo)

Royal Palm: The first area you see upon entering the Southern Section of Everglades National Park, Royal Palm is located about 4 miles from the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center/ Southern Entrance. Royal Palm is home to the Royal Palm Information Center and two popular hiking trails featuring sawgrass marshland, swamps, and wildlife – (1) Anhinga Trail, a 0.8-mile roundtrip walking path through sawgrass marshland, which is home to various wildlife, including alligators, turtles, and many birds and (2) Gumbo Limbo Trail, a short 0.4-mile roundtrip nature trail through forested land.

Flamingo: The gateway to Florida Bay, Flamingo, is the southernmost point of the Everglade National Park’s Southern / Homestead Section, located along the coast of Florida Bay. With several mangrove islands, winding waterways, and wildlife, Flamingo features one of the most fascinating landscapes of Everglades. Flamingo is accessible via a 38 miles long scenic drive from Royal Palm, which features several trails and vista points along the way, including Pinelands Trail, Pa-hay-okee Trail, Mahogany Hammock Trail, Mrazek Pond, and Eco Pond. 

Boat Tours: Flamingo Adventures offer two great boat tours in Flamingo – (1) Back Country Boat Tour, 1 hour 30 minutes guided tour of Everglade’s Backcountry Whitewater Bay, and (2) Florida Bay Boat Tour, 1 hour 30 minutes narrated tour of Florida Bay with fair chances of spotting birds, manatees, sea turtles, and even dolphins.

Campgrounds: The Southern Section of Everglades offers front-country camping with two campgrounds – (1) Long Pine Key Campground located near Royal Palm and (2) Flamingo Campgrounds along the Florida Bay. You can find more details and reserve the campsites online on the Flamingo Everglades website.

Gulf Coast

Gulf Coast | Everglades National Park

Gulf Coast

Ten Thousand Islands  Boat Tours

The Gulf Coast, located in Everglades City, around 80 miles west of Miami, is the most remote section of Everglades National Park and features one of the most dramatic landscapes of Everglades. The Ten Thousand Islands is the most notable feature of the Gulf Coast Section of Everglades, featuring a maze of several mangrove islands, winding waterways, and home to a variety of wildlife. The Gulf Coast Section of Everglades is also a popular spot for fishing, biding, and canoeing. 

Visitor Center: Gulf Coast Visitor Center

Ten Thousand Islands: Several thousand mangrove islands and winding waterways create one of the most spectacular sights of Everglades! The Ten Thousand Islands can be explored via guided boat tours, or you could rent a kayak / boat and explore the area on your own.

Bout Tours & Rentals: Everglades Florida Adventures offers boat rentals and cruises to Ten Thousand Islands, which lasts about 1 hour 30 minutes. 

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The Ultimate Guide To Everglades National Park | FloridaI hope you enjoyed reading the post, The Ultimate Guide To Everglades National Park, and I hope this will help you plan your trip to the Everglades Alligator Farm. You can find other attractions in Florida in my Florida Travel Guide.

Happy feeding your soul!
Shreyashi

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