There is so much to do in the Everglades! Before visiting, I didn’t know what to expect, except for alligators and probably other things that want to eat me. I was really impressed and excited to learn about all the diversity in the Everglades, as well as all the ways to enjoy it! There is one main road that goes through the park starting in the east, about 40 miles. Compared to other parks, there isn’t too much to see from the road while driving (might be why they let you go 55 mph). However, there are plenty of other ways to enjoy the park.
The first stop we made was at the visitor center, where they told us about all the programs the rangers lead. There are many talks, some ranger-led walks, a night walk, a bike ride, and the two things that peaked our interest and we immediately signed up for, a Wet Walk (aka Slough Slog), and a guided canoe trail. All these programs are free, some we had to sign up for in advance, but there was still availability. In addition to all the free programs, there is a tram tour and a couple boat tours that cost $25-40.
There are several short boardwalk trails that are a great way to see the highlights of the park. The first thing we did was the Anhinga Trail, and we saw 6-7 gators, as well as Anhinga birds, vultures, and Florida Gar (a long fish).
We took the Shark Valley Tram tour, which is on the north side of the park, and we saw so much wildlife! Too many alligators, and so many birds. Bikes were also available to rent in this area, but the alligators were barely off of the road! In the middle of the tram tour, there is a lookout tower we climbed, and saw a group of about 10 alligators together. I think that could be what Hell looks like. Surprisingly, the park staff doesn’t seem very concerned about the alligators.
We were lucky enough to get a cold snap during our visit, and a day in the low 60s with pretty strong winds. This helped with mosquitos in the southern part of the park. The Flamingo visitor center recommended the Snake Bight Trail, and said that they usually can’t recommend it due to the level of mosquitos. The trail was straight out and back, 3.2ish miles round-trip. And it was a nice trail through a mangrove canopy. Except, it stunk. There was a canal next to the trail with a strong sulfur smell that never went away! We saw many cool plants, and a lizard, and a few spiders. I was actually rooting for the spiders, because even on a much better than average mosquito day, there were too many!
I was nervous about the wet walk. The rangers said to wear long pants and lace-up shoes, and that we could get wet up to our waists! We were in a group of 10, including the ranger, and we went to a field of dwarf cypress trees, near a cypress forest, where no trails exist. We were immediately in water nearly to our knees, and it was wet through the entire 2 hour walk! The water reached mid-thigh at some points. The water was pretty cold, and full of periphyton (algae) and sawgrass (which will cut, hence the name), but was clear and didn’t smell. The bottom was mucky and uneven, it was a few inches of mud over limestone.
Once we made it into the cypress forest the water was deeper and there were airplants covering every tree! It was actually easier to walk because there wasn’t sawgrass and the bottom wasn’t as mucky or uneven. But there were some roots and branches hidden underneath the water. It was a really cool experience, and something we never would’ve done without a ranger leading us. And thankfully no alligators or snakes!
We also canoed a 3.5 mile canoe trail with a group and a ranger. The last time Brian and I went canoeing we dumped ourselves in the river, twice! This time we did pretty well though, and stayed dry. I expected it to be easier than it was, because the canoeing was at 9 mile pond so I thought it would just be a lake without any current. It turned out to be a little trickier because there were some pretty tight paths through the mangroves with lots of twists and turns! Also an area that was shallow and full of plants that definitely felt like a slog to paddle through. We did see a crocodile (from a distance, just kind of looked like a big green rock), and an alligator swam through the pond. So, staying upright in our canoe was a good plan.
There is a marina at the south end of the park near the Flamingo visitor center and we saw MANATEES there! The water was pretty murky so we couldn’t see below the water, but they would put their snouts up to breathe. I love manatees!
Within the Everglades there is an old Nike Missile Base from the Cold War. It was in use from 1964-1979, and afterward the land was given to the park. They opened it for tours in 2009. We took the 90 minute tour, and it was informative, but felt longer than it needed to be. At one point Brian whispered to me “there better be a big reveal at the end”, and I told him “there’s a missile.”
We had a great time exploring the Everglades. To my extreme happiness, and Brian’s disappointment, we didn’t see any snakes!
Day 110 | Mile 9,958