While the Everglades may conjure humid and hot weather images with alligators and dangerous mosquitos, there is so much more to this unprecedented climate that is brimming with beauty and charm. As the third-largest national park in the U.S (about 2,400 square miles!), most travelers only scratch the surface and visit a fraction of the area unless you own a boat.
Most facilities are open during the dry season, and a full range of tours and programs are available to enjoy.
Even if you only have just a day to traverse, you can quickly drive through a decent portion of it, go on safe walks, look for alligators and adorable manatees, and even take a quick kayak trip or a memorable ride in an airboat. But hopefully, you will have more time than that to explore all this national park has to offer.
Flora and fauna in Everglades National Park
- The area is home to rare and endangered species, such as the American crocodile, Florida panther, and West Indian manatee. Over 1,000 species of plants live here. Venomous Snakes include but are not limited to Water Moccasins, Coral Snakes, and Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes. Non-Venomous Snakes that live in the Everglades have but are not limited to Banded Water Snakes, Yellow Rat snakes, Corn Snakes, and also Scarlet Kingsnakes. Also, there are a lot of fish-catching raptors like Ospreys and Bald Eagles. Barred Owls also nest in the Cypress trees.
- Collecting plants and animals in Everglades National Park is prohibited. This includes orchids, air plants, seahorses, starfish, conch, tropical fish, coral, sponges, and driftwood (except for fuel). You may collect one quart of non-occupied sea shells per person.
What to see in Everglades
Approximately 85% of Florida Bay is inside of Everglades National Park. Access to boats and tours is available at Flamingo, inside of the park. There are over 200 islands referred to as “keys.” At the south end of the Everglades, it is a saltwater body, where freshwater meets saltwater. The “floating logs” that you likely will see are more likely American Crocodiles or possibly American Alligators. They swim in Florida Bay and to the islands.
Things to do in Everglades National Park
- Visit “Royal Palm / Anhinga Trail” which is the best area for easily viewing wildlife, especially in the dry season. The ‘glades are a vast, shallow, slow moving river of grass that extends from Lake Okeechobee in the North to Florida Bay and East to West almost the width of the state. During the dry season (winter through May depending on the year) it dries up except for the deeper places. From the main trail the Anhinga are two very productive wildlife areas as they stay wet all year long. If you bring children and child-like adults, please instruct them to walk quietly and keep their voices down so they don’t scare the more timid animals. You will probably see alligators, great blue herons, anhingas, double-crested cormorants, garfish, bass, talapia (and other fishes), various turtles (hard and softshell), snowy egrets, tri-color herons, greenback herons, — and you might see one or more of the following: deer, stilts, great white herons, bitterns, limpkins, purple gallinules, avocets, roseate spoonbills, ibis, woodstork, snail kites (Everglades kites), sandhill cranes (along the dry bed before you get to the Anhinga Trail), and many other species — and if you are VERY lucky, a Florida Panther. Take your time, bring your binoculars and camera, and enjoy the wildlife and natural beauty. It is also fascinating to come during the night when the alligators feed. Ranger guided tours of the trail are available frequently and can be very interesting as they are usually very knowledgeable about the local flora and fauna and can help spot more wildlife than you would yourself.
- Visit “Eco Pond” and other trails. Eco Pond used to be one of the best areas for viewing birds and other wildlife. However, the 2005 hurricane season transformed Eco Pond from a freshwater environment to a saltwater environment as well as significantly damaging the area. Thus, there is much less wildlife left. However, it is still possible to see some wildlife there as well as all the other trails found in the park. Wood Storks are often seen at Eco Pond (as of February 2007) and it is possible to see Southern Bald Eagles in the southern areas of the park.
- Shark Valley Tram Tours: A guided two-hour narrated tram tour along a fifteen-mile loop in the heart of the “River of Grass”. Tours depart from the Shark Valley Visitor Center and provide a great opportunity to see wildlife, while escaping the heat and bugs of the wet season. Reservations are strongly recommended for the dry season. Bicycle rentals are also available here.