Firstly, visiting the Everglades requires planning. It’s huge! The Everglades is the third-largest national park in the lower 48, after Death Valley and Yellowstone and consists of 1.5 million acres of wetlands! There are three different entrances to the park, but none of them are connected and you have to access them through different areas. A little advanced planning is necessary. The Everglades is best seen by boat since it’s mostly wetlands; however, because we visited for such a short amount of time, we decided to skip the boat tours.
Here’s the perfect Everglades itinerary. No boat required.
Visiting the Everglades: Shark Valley
Start your morning with a visit to Shark Valley. This area is perfect for exploring on foot and getting to see wildlife. Want to catch an airboat ride? Stop here first.
Shark Valley Tram Tours offers…can you guess? Tram tours of the area. But you can also rent bicycles and ride on a 15-mile paved road through the area. If you want to take a tram tour, it’s a two-hour ride and tickets are $25 for adults. I’d recommend booking in advance as tickets can sell out. Bicycles cost $9/hour and are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Check out their website for more detailed information
If you have your own bicycle, you can bring it along and save yourself some money. Always a good thing!
From the Shark Valley Visitor Center, check out the two short hiking trails, and don’t forget to climb the 65-foot observation tower to view the massive wetlands from above. A stop at the tower is included in the tram tour but you don’t have to book a tour in order to climb the tower.
Visiting the Everglades: South Entrance-Royal Palm
From Shark Valley, hop in your car and drive down to the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center near the Royal Palm entrance of the park. In Homestead, Florida, the visitor center is 54 miles from Shark Valley and takes approximately one hour and 15 minutes to get there.
We camped at Long Pine Key Campground within the park, which is just 5.7 miles from the visitor center. Looking for a wonderful campground? Look no further. Of all the national park campgrounds we’ve visited, Long Pine Key Campground might be the nicest. Each site was large and grassy, not to mention staggered and separated from the other sites with trees and scrub pines. We felt we had the place to ourselves, despite all the people camping nearby. If you plan on camping, try to visit the Everglades in the dry season. Otherwise camping may be pretty miserable with the heat and all of the bugs the wet season brings with it.
Once you get settled in to camp, hop back in your car and drive down to the Flamingo Visitor Center. On the way, there are several short walking trails that you can take to get a taste of different parts of the Everglades including, the Pa-hay-okee Overlook (short raised observation deck looking over the grasslands- .16 miles), Mahogany Hammock Trail (boardwalk trail through a hardwood forest- .5 miles) and West Lake Trail (boardwalk trail through a mangrove forest- .5 miles). The park received a lot of hurricane damage from recent storms so several trails were closed when we visited the Everglades.
Stop in Flamingo to watch the sunset on Florida Bay before you head back up to camp for the night. This is the southernmost point in mainland Florida. Slowing down to enjoy the sunset here is the perfect way to unwind after a busy day of exploring.
Perfect Everglades Itinerary: Morning Day Two
Now the best part. The next morning before you head out, wake up early for sunrise on the Anhinga Trail. This trail is accessed from the Royal Palm Visitor Center (just 5.5 miles from the Long Pine Key Campground). This was my favorite area in the park. It is a .8 mile paved and boardwalk trail through a sawgrass marsh.
This is where we saw the most wildlife during our trip, and going in the morning before all of the crowds hit—when the animals are becoming active—is the best time to visit in my opinion. Plus, that soft morning light makes for great photos. We saw so many different types of birds on this trail, plus tons of alligators and turtles. It was also beautiful looking over the ponds filled with water lilies and lily pads to the marshy grasslands. It will be a perfect peaceful way to start your morning before heading on to your next destination.
- Start your day early…it gets really hot in south Florida.
- Try to visit in the winter months when it won’t be quite as hot and there shouldn’t be as many bugs.
Do you love the Everglades? What is your favorite area to visit? Let us know if you think we forget any must-do’s!