When visiting south Florida you can easily get to two major national parks, and many people visit all three. Both Everglades and Biscayne National Parks are not to be missed. here are a few things we learned along the way. It was a little difficult to get information as we are still in a semiquarantine state. We had to read a lot online before coming as there was no employees available to answer questions.
#1 Yes, there are alligators everywhere! Stay on trails!
This guy literally greeted us a few feet past the main entrance gate to the Shark Valley Visitor Center. The main areas are all still closed, but a small store and tours are now available. Every precaution is been taken, and facemasks are required. As we pulled up, we did see a couple of cars, but they were gone shortly and we had the entire area to ourselves. We booked online a tram tour which has extremely good reviews on TripAdvisor. This cost around $85 for a family of four to take a two hour guided tour around some main areas of the park.
There are different types of trails. You can stay on the main wide concrete path great for bikes and the large tram as well as walking. However, there are also smaller more adventurous trails near the observation tower. These trails are among the mangroves, and they have a medium level of difficulty. You certainly need good shoes and active members of your group to participate in these trails. There will be lots of scrambling over trees and through puddles, but it is an exciting experience.There are different types of trails. You can stay on the main wide concrete path great for bikes and the large tram as well as walking. However, there are also smaller more adventurous trails near the observation tower. These trails are among the mangroves and it have a medium level of difficulty. You certainly need good shoes and active members of your group to participate in these trails. There will be lots of scrambling over trees in through puddles, but it is an exciting experience.
#2 Take the Shark Valley Tram Tour
We highly recommend this tram tour. Our guides were incredibly knowledgeable, and gave lots of history as well as interesting stories about the region. The diversity of the ecosystem is simply phenomenal. Every few moments we would see another species of bird or more alligators at various stages of development. You can also see lots of different fish and types of habitats on tree islands throughout the area. It was incredibly serene. We aren’t brave enough to camp here, but there were people doing just that!
You can also rent a bike and do the 15 mile trip cycling. However, the bikes are definitely adult sized, and it would not have been an ideal bike for the kids. The tram ride was better for us, and we really enjoy getting the detailed information and history from the guides especially with the closed visitor center. We do typically like to spend some time in the visitor center, and most state parks have excellent films to give you a good idea of an overview of the park and a brief history of its formation. We were not able to enjoy these amenities, but we were absolutely the only people in the area. We ended up with a private tram tour with our own driver and guide. Normally, the tram had four huge compartments taking easily 100 people. It was just us!
The service is run through a private company that has a partnership with the park. We found them to be knowledgeable, friendly, and professional. We would absolutely do this again and highly recommend it. Checking out the park on our own would’ve been a fun and interesting experience, but having a better understanding of the ecosystem really amplified our appreciation and understanding of the importance of the region.
#3 Keep That Camera Ready! Its the Most Diverse Bird Species in the World!
At first glance, it might seem like a pretty quiet space, but every few moments you would encounter something new you’ve never seen before. We saw numerous bird species including blue heron, large majestic egrets, turkey vultures, red shouldered hawk, purple gallinules, green heron, and many more. Even though we were visiting out of season (more on this later), we were quite lucky and still saw so much incredible wildlife. And while seeing hundreds of alligators was probably the most exciting and thrilling, there were so many other animals to see and truly encounter close up.
We also really loved seeing these massive softshell turtles. We saw several. They are big and fast. We also happened upon some colorful turtle egg shells. Near the observation tower, our guides pointed out some fruit bearing trees. In early June, the berries are ripe enough to eat. Taste a bit like a purple grape. All in all, we loved to return!
#4 Winter is actually the peak season. Who knew!
This trip was a bit of a spur of the moment decision. Brian had training for work in Florida, and so we built a trip around his work itinerary. Interestingly, the training ended up getting canceled within 24 hours of our departure, but we decided to keep our plans with a few modifications. We did not realize that both the Everglades and Biscayne peak season are actually the winter, but we were still overjoyed with our trip in June.
Most of the bird species that Everglades is so famous for our migratory birds. The peak time to see them is the winter season, but our guides highly recommended coming between Thanksgiving and Christmas. They said that the number of tourists is incredibly high around the holidays, and you’ll get a more personalized experience if you were able to travel there during the winter but not during the holidays. Of course, not everyone can do this, but we appreciated the advice.
With over 650 species of migratory birds, even a beginner could spend hours or even days in Everglades National Park just observing the spectacular moment in nature. While we are no birdwatching enthusiasts, it was easy to appreciate the grandeur of the park with our amazing experience even in the off-season. Coming back will definitely be a part of our future plans.
#5 Take the scenic highway!
If you are heading through South Florida to the Miami area on your trip to Everglades national Park, you should definitely consider adding the extra 40 minutes to your trip by going through Tampa and south on 75. This will take you through Big Cypress National Preserve and into Everglades National Park. You can easily stop and do the tours of Shark Valley on your way to Miami. This way, it’s almost like you’re getting an extra day in the park when it’s on your drive anyway. However, there are not many amenities once you enter this entire region of south Florida.
You will certainly want to stock up on any basics before leaving that last city and entering the national preserve. There are very few gas stations, stores, or restroom stops for at least an hour of that trip into the Everglades.
We LOVED the Everglades!