The Everglades National Park, an oft-overlooked destination when it comes to traveling to southern Florida, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and International Biosphere Reserve just outside Miami. When it comes to the region, though, downtown Miami and the Keys receive all of the attention, and the Everglades, primarily located in Homestead, Florida, rarely factor in to a South Beach vacation or Keys Road Trip. Once I overcame my fear of the creepy crawlers that litter the park – overcame is a strong word, more like ignored and tried to forget about – I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the Everglades and found it to be highlight of Kevin and my entire trip to Florida.
While most days in Florida are drenched in sunshine, I have to note that the park is incredibly beautiful in all weather. When we first arrived in the Everglades, we were concerned about rain and thunderstorms, but the clouds quickly dispersed and we were able to enjoy blue sky and sun for part of our visit. Definitely don’t postpone or cancel a trip to the Everglades because of the weather! In fact, the clouds and drizzle helped keep us cool, since, in a somewhat foolish move, I scheduled the trip for the weekend of July 4th. Definitely not the best time to visit Florida…except that July is technically the off-season, so hotel rates were competitive.
We started exploring at one of the most popular parts of the park, Anhinga Trail, the open boardwalk over the Glades’ waters. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any gators, although we certainly devoted plenty of time to looking for some. There are also numerous local legends about mermaid sightings, which makes for more goofy lore than factual science, but it’s a fun part of local superstition. Almost like Florida’s version of the Loch Ness Monster, right?
After spending thirty minutes wandering the Anhinga Trail, Kevin and I returned to our rental car to drive further into the park. There are a seemingly endless amount of hiking trails that branch off the park’s main road, so if you’re interested in hiking, talk to the rangers in the visitor center to find the best trail for your needs. Don’t expect the hiking to be of the Alpine variety, however, as the park is incredibly flat – but the trails are definitely beautiful. Since we only wanted to spend a few hours in the glades, Kevin and I simply stopped at the first few trails visible from the street.
The Everglades are an incredibly diverse biosphere where lucky visitors can spot alligators, Florida panthers, and even snails. The glades are more of a natural habitat than a scenic, Yellowstone-like park, and as such, the glades are probably not the best place to go for a hike if you’re squeamish around large, fluorescent spiders and other critters. I was particularly nervous to explore the park, but I avoided studying the ground (there’s a lot of snakes) and putting too much thought into wondering, “Huh, what is that?” In the end, I’m glad that I braved the insect-filled park, as the hiking offered some incredible scenery that Kevin and I had all to ourselves.
I’d especially recommend Everglades National Park to those who love hiking, nature, or are in need of a quick escape from the bustling metropolis of Miami. Even so, the Anhinga Trail is worth the price of admission alone, and is ideal for families, visitors with limited mobility, and people who sunburn easily and want to minimize time spent outdoors. The park is also conveniently located for those traveling between Miami and Key West, and Anhinga Trail can definitely be enjoyed over the course of a morning. Even travelers who strongly prefer indoor activities can appreciate the rare beauty of the glades. At a time when climate change, rapid development, and trophy hunting threaten many species’ very existence, visitors can leave Everglades National Park contented that there are some untouched places left.
Kevin strolling on Anhinga Trail.
I was not as enthused by the wildlife as some might be.
The wonderful hiking trails in the park that look like the an episode of LOST.
- Bring sunscreen. Even if you’ve never had a sunburn in your entire life or if the forecast predicts rain, bring sunscreen. The highlight of the park is an open boardwalk through the glades, with no tree cover. If the clouds clear, you’re under the hot sun for the duration of your visit. Bug spray is also a must when visiting, and both bug and sun repellent can be purchased at the park if necessary.
- If you’re a lover of animals and all things nature-related, check out this awesome list from the National Parks Service about the vast number of animals that find shelter in the Everglades National Park: http://www.nps.gov/ever/learn/nature/animals.htm
- If you only have one day to explore the park, I’d recommend starting at the Homestead entrance (there are also entrances in Miami and Everglades City), as that is where the famous boardwalk is located.
- Visitors entering via car must pay $20.00 per vehicle, but the pass lasts for seven consecutive days. Parking in the park is simple and straightforward, and the main road incredibly well maintained.