One of the most popular parks in Florida, the Everglades offers a unique landscape and environment that several endangered species call home. If you wonder what to do in the Everglades National Park, airboat tours are among the top things to do, but the park has so much more to offer. We visited the park in February, during our Florida trip from Miami to Key West. A couple of days we spent there were by far some of the highlights of our trip, including kayaking and camping in the swamp. Even if you are not looking for an adventurous experience in the Everglades, visiting the park is one of the top things to do in Florida.

This post is also in memory of my dad, who recently passed away. Many decades ago, he visited the Everglades and transmitted his love of nature and wildlife to me from an early age. I followed his footsteps on many international travels as well, and today’s post about the Everglades is a tribute to him. As our own journey took us to live in the US, he would mention often the famous Florida national park, reminiscing about the wildlife and unique landscape. Writing about the Everglades National Park is like retracing both our adventures, even decades apart.

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Everglades National Park

Located in the southern part of Florida, the Everglades National Park is a natural area made of tropical wetlands. The uniqueness of the region led to be designed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.

The park covers around 20% of the actual Everglades and, with 1.5 million acres, is the third biggest park in the continental US. The wetlands include one of the largest mangroves in the world. Freshwater sloughs are probably the most iconic landscape one imagines when thinking about the Everglades, like the Taylor Slough. With its high sawgrass, the area is sometimes called the River of Grass. In other areas, the conifer Cypress trees covered by Spanish moss are popular sights in the park. Also present are tropical hardwood hammocks and pine rocklands. An incredible mix that makes the Everglades ecosystem unique.

What to Do In the Everglades National Park: Airboats Tours & Top Activities // Crocodile Sunbathing in the Everglades

Crocodile Sunbathing in the Everglades

How to Visit the Everglades

The Everglades has three entrances in three different cities. And there are four different visitor centers in the Everglades NP spread through different areas of the park, some separated by swamps. All provide information brochures and displays to help you navigate the park. However, some amenities are only provided in selected centers, so make sure to know which one you need to visit if you are looking for specific information.

Given the distance and the different entrances, planning your itinerary will prevent you from spending time driving around and rather help you focus on the part of the park you want to explore. Here are the different entrances and their respective visitor centers.

  • Ernest Coe Visitor Center: By the Royal Palm, the most popular entrance point located past Homestead and Florida City south of Miami. Local artists display their art through special presentations.
  • Flamingo Visitor Center: This center is about a one-hour drive along the 40-mile (64 -km road from the Ernest Coe visitor center and reached from that same entrance. Backcountry permits, hiking, and canoeing trails, as well as a small basic store and a campsite.
  • Gulf Coast Visitor Center: Located on the northeast side of the park, that entrance is near Everglades City. Backcountry permits and access point for the Ten Thousand Islands mangrove maze, which can only be visited by boat. Store and campgrounds are available nearby. If you decide on this part of the park, you might want to consider visiting Big Cypress.
  • Shark Valley Visitor Center: Also located in the north of the park, the entrance is halfway from Miami to Everglades City off the Tamiami Trail (US 41). Tram tours (including the Shark Valley Tram Tours), guided tours, and bike rentals are available there.

What to Do in the Everglades

Everglades National Park Airboat Tours

Considered one of the best things to do in Everglades National Park, an airboat tour around the swamps, grassland, and wetlands takes you up close to the core of the park. The river of grass is a must-see in the Everglades, and you can enjoy it from either Shark Valley or Homestead entrances.

The popular Everglades Alligator Alley is known, well, you guessed it right, for its large alligator population! You might get wet while on an Everglade airboat tour, so come ready for a short, t-short, and shoes you are not afraid of getting soaked.

If you are looking for Everglades airboat tours, check these top-rated tours. Many Everglades National Park boat tours offer the ride together with other

Top Everglades National Park Activities

Besides the airboat, the Everglades National Park offers great outdoor experiences for all. Here is our list for  the best Everglades things to do:

  • Kayak through Hell’s Bay or explore part of the 99-mile (160-km) canoe trail that composes the park’s Wilderness Waterway
  • Take part in one of the ranger-led tours, like a hike or canoe tour.
  • Camp in the backcountry
  • Bike along the Long Pine Key trail or Shark Valley
  • Go birdwatching on the stunning Anhinga Trail.
  • Drive the 40-mile road to Flamingo
  • Hike one of the numerous trails

Kayaking the Everglades

Wilderness Waterway

With interconnected bays, rivers, and lakes, the 99-mile long Wilderness Waterway is the ultimate Everglade experience. Located between Flamingo and Everglades City, eight days are required to complete the kayaking trip. Due to the potential shallow waters, narrow passages, and isolated location, only experienced kayakers should undertake the trip. Moreover, it’s recommended only to take small boats to avoid getting stuck in some areas.

Camping in the Everglades is the perfect way to enjoy the park, but camping along the waterway takes you over 40 designated campsites. From secluded beaches to remote chickee campsites, appreciate the quiet nights, only surrounded by birds and soaking in incredible sunsets.

Check this Everglades National Park map of the Wilderness Waterway for camp locations.

Water-way-scheme

You can bring your own kayak or canoe, or rent them from one of the nearby outfitters. We rented our kayak out locally and fit it on the top of our rental car.

Flamingo Paddling Trails

A couple of kayaking trails are available around the Flamingo visitor center for those looking for a day adventure. Check the Nine Mile Pond, a three-hour-long journey through a tree tunnel, for a 3- or 5-mile loop perfect for beginners and first-time kayakers.

The 11-mile round-trip Hell’s Bay is another popular trail though better reserved for more advanced kayakers given the narrow paths. That’s where our kayak trip took, and we found ourselves exploring the tight passage through Hell’s Bay mangrove. We camped one night on one of these raised chickee campsites. Being by ourselves, surrounded by nature deep in the Everglades swamps was one of our most memorable Florido experiences. Granted, mosquitoes were aplenty as soon as the sun disappeared over the horizon, but the magic of the place was undeniable. Kayaking through Hell’s Bay was one of our preferred Everglades national park things to do!

What to Do In the Everglades National Park: Airboats Tours & Top Activities // Kayaking Hell's Bay Trail in Everglades National Park

Kayaking Hell’s Bay Trail in Everglades National Park

A permit is required for camping, so make sure to grab your copy from either the Flamingo Visitor Center or the Gulf Coast Visitor Contact Station. While these permits are free, you must pick them in person but no more than the day before your trip. So if you do plan for an overnight kayaking trip, schedule your Everglades itinerary accordingly. On your first day, head to the park center to get your permit, then go for a hike or a drive on that day.

With such an extensive area of mangroves, water channels, ponds, and coastline, kayakers of all levels are sure to have fun kayaking in the Everglades. Indeed, the Glades, as well as the whole of Florida, are truly a kayak paradise! And if you are looking for another incredible kayaking experience around Orlando, try a bioluminescence kayaking tour, and be prepared to be dazzled!

Everglades National Park Hiking

With over 100 miles (165 km) of trails available, there are plenty of hiking trails to choose from, depending on your fitness and eagerness to step into the wilderness. Many trails are easy, a few somewhat more challenging. Some hikes are really short, under a mile (one kilometer even). Other Everglades National Park trails stretch over 15 miles (25 km).

Short Hikes:

All the trails are less than one mile long and easy access for most visitors.

  • Pine Island Trails by Royal Palm entrance and Ernest Coe Visitor Center
    • Anhinga Trail: If you have to pick one trail in the Everglades, that’s the one to do. The short 0.5 miles (0.8 km) trail from the Royal Palm Visitor Center is packed with wildlife, from alligators, birds, turtles, and more. All visible from the paved walkway, as the animals wander the sawgrass marsh, relax under the Florida sun. This trail is popular for a reason, and while this popularity also means crowd, it’s worth it. Definitely, the best place to visit Everglades if you are short of time.
    • Gumbo Limbo Trail: A fantastic nature walk through dense tropical hardwood hammocks.
    • Pahayokee Overlook Trail: A popular stop thanks to the observation tower that lets you admire the Everglades’ vast open landscape. The trail allows you to see dwarf bald cypress trees.
  • Shark Valley
    • Bobcat Boardwalk
  • Flamingo Trails by the visitor center of the same name
    • West Lake Trail
What to Do In the Everglades National Park: Airboats Tours & Top Activities // Dry land on a hiking tour in the Everglades

Dry land on a hiking tour in the Everglades

Longer Hikes:

  • Pine Island Trails by Royal Palm entrance and Ernest Coe Visitor Center
    • Old Ingraham Highway: A 20-mile (32-km) round-trip trek from Royal Palm
    • Long Pine Key Trail: A challenging 22-mile (35-km) trek
  • Flamingo Trails by the Flamingo Visitor Center
    • Coastal Prairie Trail: A 15-mile (24-km) round-trip through buttonwood hammocks from Flamingo with permit-based backcountry camping at Clubhouse Beach.
  • Shark Valley Visitor Center trails
    • Tram Trail: hike, bike, or ride on the tram! The Shark Valley Observation Tower is located halfway on the trail, allowing you to take in the views of the surrounding grasslands, marsh, and their regular residents, including salt and freshwater animals. The tower is about 7 miles (12-km) out on the trail, so plan for a 15-mile (24-km) roundtrip hike to reach the platform.

Biking in the Everglades

Hop on a bike and start bicycling along Shark Valley Slough or Long Pine Key trail. Faster than hiking, more environmentally friendly for those looking to power their own transport, biking will let you explore at your own pace.

  • Long Pine Key: A 14 round-trip miles through rocklands
  • Rowdy Bend Trail: A 5-mile ride through a tropical hardwood hammock
  • Snake Bight Trail: A 3-mile round trip through hammocks and mangrove, great for wildlife watching
  • Shark Valley Trail: A popular 16-mile loop bike trail tends to get overcrowded in high season.

Bring your own bikes or rent a bike at either the Ernest Coe Visitors Center or the Flamingo Visitors Center.

 

What to Do In the Everglades National Park: Airboats Tours & Top Activities // Everglades Coast

Everglades Coast

Wildlife Watching

Over thirty endangered species live in the Everglades mangroves, including the American crocodile, West Indian manatee, and the elusive Florida panther. Mammals also feature the endangered green turtles and hawksbill turtles. Bottlenose dolphins are other major marine life present in Florida Bay.

Among the 350 bird species, the park is known for being the ideal breeding habitat for shorebirds (wader birds), such as the Great blue herons popular along the Anhinga Trail, and roseate spoonbills in Florida Bay.

Of course, the principal wild animal that the Everglades are famous for are the Florida alligators. Indeed, about 200,000 Florida alligators are said to live within the park. The dangerous animal can be spotted along the hiking trails like the Anhinga Trail, or along the muddy river banks visible from kayaks and canoes.

If you are into birdwatching, check this Wildlife Photography tour with a certified Naturalist.

What to Do In the Everglades National Park: Airboats Tours & Top Activities // Cormoran on the Anhiga Trail

Cormoran on the Anhinga Trail

When to Visit the Everglades National Park

The best time to visit the Everglades is during winter, but other months have their own advantages. Moreover, there are basically two main seasons in the Everglades – dry and wet – thanks to the region’s tropical climate.

  • The peak season is during the dry months, from December to March. With lower temperatures (from 50°F to 80°F) compared to the summer and fewer mosquitoes thanks to the lack of rain, the dry season is the favorite period for travelers. Trails are usually more accessible due to lower water levels, and wildlife watching is easier with animals concentrating around a couple of water spots. But canoeing might be limited.
  • The summer months – the wet season – from May to November see higher temperatures, sometimes over 90°F. Heavy rains and high humidity can make for uncomfortable travel but a lighter crowd. Note that the visitor centers and tour operators might offer fewer amenities, services, and tours.
What to Do In the Everglades National Park: Airboats Tours & Top Activities // Birdwatching while on a ranger hiking tour in the Everglades

Birdwatching while on a ranger hiking tour in the Everglades

Where to Stay in the Everglades

With such water-logged terrain, there are very few constructions to respect the fragile environment. However, it is possible to find lodging in the park, from tent glamping, houseboats, to remote “chicken” raised huts.

Everglades Camping and RV Services

There are two campsites inside the park, so make sure to book ahead during the dry season.

  • Long Pine Key Campground (by the Royal Palm Information Station): open from November to April
  • Flamingo Campground: open all year. In addition to tent and RV camping, the campground offers eco-tents and equipped houseboats.

Backcountry Campsites

Most of the Everglades National Park is open for backcountry camping, with sites accessible by boat (canoe or kayak).

  • Beach camping along the Gulf of Mexico
  • Chickee campsites, which are raised platforms nestled among the mangroves for the most secluded and peaceful nights

Given the remoteness of these sites, you must come prepared with food, water, and GPS coordinates, for your whole trip. The wandering canals, lack of noticeable sites, and potentially deadly wildlife mean it would be easy to lose your path and make unexpected encounters. Remember that a backcountry camping permit is required from the Flamingo and Gulf Coast Visitor Centers.

What to Do In the Everglades National Park: Airboats Tours & Top Activities // Camping on a Chickee Platform in Hell Bay

Camping on a Chickee Platform in Hell’s Bay

Cabins and Resorts

Head to the outskirts of the park boundaries to find accommodations and other budget to luxury hotels. Bed and breakfasts, cabins, and condos, and restaurants are available for those looking for hot showers, comfortable beds, and savory meals.

  • Everglades City Florida
    • Ivey House B&B: Rustic lodge with access to trails. Read the latest comments.
    • Rod and Gun Club Cabins: Historical lodging dated back to 1890, stay where US presidents and personalities like Ernest Hemingway stayed!
    • Captain’s Table Resort: A quiet motel right on the water
    • River Wilderness Condos: By Lake Placid, with large patios and close to wildlife. Check the latest prices.
  • Florida City / Homestead: 

How to Travel to the Everglades

Miami is the most likely airport to land and is conveniently located about a one-hour drive from Downtown Miami. However, given its massive surface and the surrounding urban development, no less than seven airports can help you reach the park. Some are close, like Fort Lauderdale on the east side of the park and Fort Myers and Naples on the west side, all within 1 hour to 1 hour 30 to their respective park entrances. Other airports like Orlando, Tampa, Sarasota, Palm Beach, and Key West will require longer drives, though all under four hours.

Compare prices on flights with Skyscanner

Once in Florida, the best way to travel around is to rent a car. A rental car will give you the freedom to organize your Everglades trip as you please. Which is particularly important is you decide to spend more time in one part of the park or another, taking your time to watch birds or soak in one of the spectacular Florida sunsets!

Book Early and Save on Your Car Rental

Another option to visit the Everglades is to travel by RV. A camping car will provide you with some amenities like a kitchen and shower and will let sleep in a more comfortable bed than camping.

Rent an RV in Florida

Everglades Travel Tips

  • Season plays an important role in how your Everglade experience will go. Make sure to check the best time to visit to plan accordingly.
  • Similarly, defining what you want to see will help you figure out which Everglades National Park entrance makes more sense for your trip.
  • Florida is regularly subject to flooding and even hurricanes. Check the forecasts and local warnings before heading to the Sunshine state.
  • There are few amenities in the park, so come ready with food and water to be self-reliant.
  • Similarly, fill your tank fuel before entering the park.
  • Don’t forget mosquito repellant and even consider buying a mosquito head net. They don’t look good; you might think you will look silly, but believe me – once the mosquitoes come attacking, you will be glad you have one, and those without will be the ones running around silly!
  • Humidity is no joke, and you might not feel dehydrated. Combined with the high summer temperatures, this humidity makes for challenging weather conditions. Take it easy in your outdoor adventures, and make sure to bring enough water to stay hydrated. For ideas on what to wear in hot weather, check out our hot climate clothing ideas.
  • Watch for the vultures! Probably one of the lesser-known Everglades facts, the park has indeed several vultures living around. They are no threats but tend to shred the rubber and seals from car windshields. Cover with a tarp to protect your car.
  • Be careful as you hike and bike, stay on trails, and be mindful that you are threading into the habitat of wild animals, whose encounter can turn fatal. Take a Florida Everglades map to plan your Everglades excursions.
  • There is little to no cell reception in the park. Make sure to let family and friends know your itinerary, especially if you plan to head into the wilderness for a few days.
  • To learn more about the Glades, grab a copy of River of Grass by Marjory Stoneman Douglas, whose conservatism back in 1947 help to preserve what is left of the Everglades today.
  • Get a copy of the Lonely Planet guide book to plan the best Florida road trip and Everglades adventure.

We hope that some of our Everglades National Park photos will make you want to pack and go right away!

Have you been to the Everglades? What was your experience or preferred thing to do in the Glades? Did you enjoy any of the Airboat rides Everglades offer? Please share with us your adventures!

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What to Do in the Everglades National Park Airboat Tours and Top Activities // Cormoran Wildlife Kayaking Horizontal

What to Do in the Everglades National Park Airboat Tours and Top Activities // Cormoran Wildlife Kayaking

What to Do in the Everglades National Park Airboat Tours and Top Activities // Kayaking

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