Everglades National Park is a place of fun and excitement for the whole family—and one of those stops you shouldn’t miss on your next RV trip to Florida. The largest tropical wilderness in the United States encompasses over 1.5 million acres at the southern tip of Florida. It’s so big that there are 3 entrances and 5 visitor centers! You might be surprised to learn that such a wild and remote area is just an hour’s drive away from the bright lights of Miami in the east or Naples in the west of Florida.
The Everglades is nicknamed the River of Grass because it is actually a huge, slow-moving river. Over 60 miles wide and 100 miles long, the waterways are filled with sawgrass marshes and cypress swamps that are home to a diverse array of wildlife. There are so many ways to explore this amazing wetland area. Here are my tips for enjoying different areas of the park by airboat, kayak, tram, boat, and walking trails.
Guest Post by Robin Buck
Everglades Airboat Ride
Who doesn’t think of the Everglades without picturing the iconic airboat ride? The airboat is a flat-bottomed vessel that is propelled by a large air fan instead of a motor. It is fun to sit up high as the boat glides across the water at really fast speeds. We wore ear protection because the airboat can be really loud, but were able to hear about the area and ask questions at many stopping points during our tour. It is amazing that the boats only need inches of water to zoom down canals and through the marsh effortlessly.
Because so much of the area is water, an airboat is a great way to experience the Everglades. We got up-close looks at numerous alligators, turtles, and birds like the white ibis and purple gallinule. There are many airboat companies on both sides of the park, so you won’t have any trouble finding a tour no matter where you camp. Although any boat would be great, we like the smaller 6-passenger boats since they can go more places and operate in less water depth, sometimes on just wet grass. We thoroughly enjoyed our 1.5-hour tour with Everglades Swamp Tours on the eastern side of the park.
Kayaking The Everglades
Another great way to enjoy seeing the beauty of the Everglades is by kayak. This is a much quieter option than the airboat ride and lets you experience the peaceful waters at your own pace. The western and southern sides of the park have lots of options for kayak rentals or tours. We loved the Manatees and Mangroves Tunnels tour near the Gulf Coast park entrance. This top selling tour includes a guided 3-hour paddle with a local naturalist. We chose a tandem kayak so I could take breaks to snap pictures while my engine (hubby) paddled.
Our small group paddled through the maze of mangrove trees whose strange roots reach down into the water like fingers forming tunnels for us to pass under. Everglades National Park has the largest protected mangrove forest in the western hemisphere. We spotted wood storks, white ibis, and herons in the saltwater marsh ecosystem as well as blue crabs, bull sharks, and even a few manatees. Of course, the ubiquitous alligators were there too! It was a relaxing way to see this beautiful area.
Riding The Tram
At the Shark Valley Visitor Center, you can take a 2-hour Everglades Tram tour. Guided by expert naturalists, this open-air tram travels a 15-mile loop in the heart of the northern portion of the Everglades freshwater marsh ecosystem. At the halfway point, the tram stops at an observation deck where you can walk up a long ramp for panoramic view of the Everglades. At 45 feet above ground, this observation area is the highest accessible point in all of Everglades National Park. Looking out over the area we could see three different habitats: sloughs (deep water channels), sawgrass marshes, and hammocks (high, dry tree islands).
You can also walk or ride bikes along the tram road. The visitor center even has bike rentals. This area had the best variety of wildlife we saw in all of the Everglades! We marveled at the many alligators, white ibis, great blue heron, wood stork, turtles, and hawks that were hanging out right next to the trail. Don’t forget to look for the crocodiles – there are several that wandered up from the south and hang around the observation deck. In all, you will not be disappointed with the wildlife viewing at Shark Valley.
Take A Boat Ride
If you are not into kayaking or riding on an airboat, you can also take a small charter boat. The easiest way to see the Ten Thousand Islands area in the western part of the park is a narrated boat tour based at the Gulf Coast visitor center in Everglades City. On this tour you can see eagles, hawks, nesting osprey, and colorful spoonbills. You might even see dolphins playing in the water. They also offer sunset cruises and fishing charters.
In the southern part of the park, you can choose from several boat options from the Flamingo Visitor Center. We went on the Backcountry Boat Tour which takes you up Buttonwood Canal and into several bays and creeks. Our tour guide pointed out unique plant and animal life along the way, as well as giving us some history of the area. Another option is the Florida Bay Tour which goes further out into the islands of the expansive bay on a double deck catamaran.
Walk An Everglades Trail
Each area of the park offers many walking trail options. In the southern area of the park, the 38-mile drive from the main entrance at Ernest Coe visitor center all the way to the Flamingo visitor center passes through many of the different habitats of the park. One of the most popular stops is the Anhinga Trail which is an easy 0.8-mile boardwalk path through a sawgrass marsh. The abundance of wildlife here includes alligators, herons, turtles, and other birds. Make sure to look for the Anhinga bird which can often be seen in a tree or on the bank with its wings spread wide. Since the bird dives in the water to catch fish to eat, it then has to sun itself and dry off its wings before being able to fly.
Several other short trail options along this drive will give you a feel for the different habitats. The Pinelands Trail leads you past slash pine trees, cactus, and tropical jungle foliage. The Pa-hay-okee Overlook has a boardwalk and observation tower with a nice view out over a broad expanse of sawgrass and dwarf cypress trees. The Mahogany Hammock Trail takes you through a more jungle-like setting with many hammock tree islands visible. Of course, there are numerous longer trails if you want some serious hikes as well.
Enjoy The Everglades
There are so many cool areas to see when you visit Everglades National Park that you could spend days to see it all. A journey deep into this famous wetland area will be an exciting adventure whether you see it by airboat, kayak, or walking trail. The abundance of plants and wildlife is amazing and truly brought the Everglades to life for us. And if you are wanting to see alligators, this is definitely the place!
Robin and her husband, Mike, are Air Force veterans and empty nesters who travel full-time in their Entegra Anthem motorhome. Always ready to explore, they love nature and wildlife, meeting new friends, and discovering America’s many hidden gems. Robin chronicles their adventures and experiences on her travel blog RVing with Robin.