Everglades National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and and Biosphere Reserve located in southern Florida. Easily accessible via nearby Miami, the Everglades is important natural locale featuring a colorful array of wildlife, flora, and hiking trails suited for travelers of all ages and abilities.
Here, I’ve put together a visitor guide for anyone traveling to Everglades National Park for the first time – trust me, it’s a must when in southern Florida!
LOCATION: Homestead, Florida
GETTING THERE: You will need to rent a car to reach the park, but driving to the Everglades from Miami or Key Largo takes less than hour – in fact, one of the park’s three entrances is within Miami city limits. However, I still recommend visitors, especially those stopping by for the first time, enter via Homestead, Florida. There, travelers will be able to speak to a park ranger at the visitor center who can recommend hikes or bird-watching lookouts.
TOP STOP: The Anhinga Trail, a world-famous boardwalk that takes travelers into the heart of the glades.
WHAT TO DO: If you can turn a blind eye to critters of all kinds, the Everglades make for a wonderful hiking destination. There are trails to suit all abilities and needs, and more information can be obtained at the park’s visitor center. The Everglades, however, are a nature lover’s paradise. Bird-watching is one of the park’s most famed activities, and those who enjoy bugs, gators, and all things animal-related will find that creatures are on full display in the glades.
YOU SHOULD VISIT BECAUSE… there’s nowhere else in the world quite like the Everglades. Even if you’re terrified of bugs and your idea of “roughing it” means a hotel without a pool, the glades are worth the stop. UNESCO recognized the park’s natural importance in 1979, when Everglades National Park was named a World Heritage Site. Since 2010, the Everglades have been deemed by UNESCO to be in danger, so I recommend seeing this park while you still have the chance. Human activity has wrecked havoc on the environment that many species in the Everglades call home – and we have to do our best to protect what’s left.
Home Base: The Everglades National Park, located in Homestead, Florida, makes for an ideal day trip for those vacationing in Miami. The Park is also one of the last stops before the Keys, so travelers planning to drive between Miami and Key West (a road trip I enthusiastically recommend) can easily plan a visit into their itinerary. Homestead itself has a number of budget hotels for those deterred by Miami prices or for nature-lovers intent on exploring as much of the park as possible.
Nearby Activities and Sites: Aside from the Everglades, Homestead’s other top sight is none other than the Homestead Miami Speedway. If you enjoy NASCAR, it might be worth turning your visit to Homestead into an overnight excursion so you can stop by this famous racetrack. Otherwise, history buffs will be intrigued by the Nike Missile Base, a remnant of the Cold War with a sizable exhibit detailing the Cuban Missile Crisis.
When to Go: October to April, technically Florida’s high-season, may result in higher hotel costs, but travelers won’t melt onto a trail. Wildlife tends to be at its zenith during this “dry season.” If heat and humidity aren’t a deterrence and you’re prepared to lather on the bug spray, the summer’s “wet season” is undoubtedly cheaper.
Insider Tips: Bring a hat, sunscreen, bug spray, and sunglasses even if rain is pouring from the sky when you leave your hotel room. There aren’t many places that provide adequate sun cover in the park, and nothing ruins a vacation quite like getting a sunburn. Since the Everglades are first and foremost a nature preserve, there’s plenty of wildlife – not just of the crocodile variety, either. Mosquitoes, spiders, snakes and all sorts of critters fill the park, so it’s best to be prepared. If you plan to go hiking, wear long pants and tuck each pant leg into your socks to deter bites. Be careful not to feed any of the wildlife, and make sure you don’t leave any trash behind if you decide to picnic in the park.
To learn more about the Everglades as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, visit here.