Photo Fiona Sunquist ©
Everglades National Park. Tel: (305) 242-7700
Everglades National Park is huge. More than 606,688 hectares (1.5 million acres) in area, it is the largest remaining subtropical wilderness in the continental US.
However, unless you know what to expect and where to look, Everglades can also be disappointing for the visitor. It is incredibly flat. Looking out across miles and miles of sawgrass is like looking out over the ocean or the prairies; after a while you long for a little relief.
Below, we have listed a few short wildlife viewing trips. For a more complete list of the programs and facilities available at Everglades check the park web site.
The watershed of the Everglades begins in central Florida’s Kissimmee basin and covers most of South Florida. Early settlers viewed the Everglades as a dangerous swamp in need of reclamations. Work on digging drainage canals began in the 1880s and continued until the 1960s. Today 50% of South Florida’s former wetlands no longer exist. Over the years, miles of canals and levees have been built and hundreds of gates, spillways and pumping stations now stabilize and control this once dynamic wetland system.
But wading birds and much of the other wildlife of the Everglades depend on annual cycles of drought and flood. The renowned rookeries of herons, egrets and storks have shrunk by 95% since the 1930’s. Despite this, the Everglades is still an amazing place to visit. Most tourists go in winter because mosquitoes practically close the place down in summer. Even if you are tempted to brave the insects, don’t bother. The summer rainy season also means that birds and other wildlife are widely dispersed and difficult to see.
When you do go, plan ahead. Stop at the visitor’s center and ask for bird lists, trail guides, and viewing information. There are no provisions or facilities in the park except at Flamingo, at the end of a 60 km (38 mile) road. Take drinking water.
The Flamingo Lodge and Marina sustained significant damage due to Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma in 2005. Lodging and restaurant facilities are unavailable.
Park Headquarters to Flamingo.
A 60 km (38 mile) drive with numerous potential stops. Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to simply drive to Flamingo and back without ever getting out of the car; many visitors do just this, then complain they have not seen anything. Stop at the Royal Palm area; two short trails there, the Gumbo Limbo trail and the Anhinga trail, will take you to Taylor Slough, one of the richest wildlife areas in the Park. Most of the birds have become habituated to the presence of people. Alligators abound, as do turtles, herons, egrets and Anhingas.
Ask at the visitor’s center for directions to the Shark Valley loop trail. Many visitors miss this part of the Everglades, but it is well worth a look. Walk or bicycle (rentals available) the 24 km (15 mile) loop road to an observation tower. A two-hour tram ride is also available. There are plenty of alligators along the road and you may also see Wood Storks, Purple Gallinules, bitterns, and other wading birds in the marshes.
Ten Thousand Islands.
If you are feeling really adventurous, you can make a weekend long canoe trip through the Ten Thousand Islands, from Everglades City to Flamingo. Permits are required for the trip and tides can be strong, so only seasoned canoeists should consider making the trip. Request a canoe guide for the Everglades from the National Park service or check their web site. For shorter trips, you can rent a canoe at Flamingo.
Narrated boat tours of the Ten-Thousand Islands depart regularly from the
Gulf Coast Visitor Center.
More information on their web site
Everglades National Park web site
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