Unfurling for more than 1.5 million acres across South Florida, Everglades National Park is a wonderland of marshland, sawgrass and mangroves.
Covering such a vast expanse, the park can intimidate first-timers as it is hard to know where to begin. How you explore the Everglades makes all the difference. You can hike, airboat, canoe, kayak, or even travel by tram here and each presents visitors with a different landscape. So whether strolling on a boardwalk above gator-filled waters or embarking on a backcountry camping adventure, here are the best things to do in Everglades National Park.
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1. Visit all four of the park’s entrances for different vibes
There are four total entrances to the park each segueing to distinct terrains. To make the most of an Everglades trip, you should try to visit them all. The Shark Valley Visitor Center is approximately 40 miles west of Miami. It’s home to the quintessential, 15-mile paved Tram Road, a haven for bike rides, walks, and, yes, tram rides, always with gators lounging on the side of the road. The Gulf Coast Visitor Center in Everglades City is a hub for boating excursions, providing the perfect seaside jumping-off point for exploring the Ten Thousand Islands, a wildlife refuge for thousands of water birds.
Homestead is home to two visitor centers. Royal Palm Visitor Center provides access to a number of shorter hiking trails (less than a mile), ranging from strolls under canopy trees to walks on boardwalks over the marshland. The Flamingo Visitor Center is approximately 40 miles south of Royal Palm – a gateway to the mangrove-draped Florida Bay, canoe trails, and the 275-pitch Flamingo Campground.
Spot gators from the boardwalks of the Anhinga Trail © Andy Lidstone / Shutterstock
2. See how many alligators you can spot along the Anhinga Trail
Fewer than 50ft from the Royal Palm Visitor Center is the park’s most popular hike. The Anhinga Trail is short – just an 0.8-mile round-trip – but it carries so much Everglades pizzazz. Along wooden boardwalks, which often hover above lily and sawgrass marsh, and asphalt terrain, this is where you have a solid shot at seeing gators, turtles, and the trail’s namesake, the anhinga, a large water bird with a tail that resembles a turkey.
Detour: For a bonus short hike, the 0.4-mile Gumbo Limbo Trail is right by the Royal Palm Visitor Center, too.
3. Zip through water lily-covered water on an airboat
If the Everglades were to have an official vehicle, it would be the airboat. Not sure what one is? Cruise down the Tamiami Trail and you’ll be greeted with “AIRBOAT TOURS” signs aplenty – they are flat-bottomed boats with giant propeller fans on the back, designed to safely navigate the grass and lily-heavy waters.
While there are oodles of airboat operators beyond the national park’s confines, there are only three that operate within the park: Gator Park, Everglades Safari Park, and Coopertown Airboats. Whichever you choose, just make sure to keep your hands inside when you coast by the inevitable gator (or ten).
Hire a canoe and camp for the evening on a
4. Camp on a chickee
What is a chickee, you ask? In Everglades National Park, it equates to a wooden platform positioned above the water where you can set up a tent. It’s like having your own little island. The bulk of the chickee sites are found near the Flamingo Visitor Center. You’ll need a few things in addition to your camping gear, including a backcountry camping permit (available from any park visitor center), bug repellant for the inevitable mosquitos, and a canoe (as you’ll need to venture to the sites via water). Canoes and kayaks can be rented from several spots around the park.
Off the Hell’s Bay Trail are a handful of chickee sites within a 5-mile canoe jaunt, including Lard Can and Pearl Bay Chickee.
5. Learn about The Everglades’ tribal roots at the Miccosukee’s museum
The Everglades have been inhabited by humans for upwards of 15,000 years. Long before European colonization began in the 19th century, tribes like the Seminoles and Miccosukees comprised the bulk of the population.
Today, you can learn all about the Miccosukee tribe’s history and legacy at the Miccosukee Indian Village, nestled less than a half-mile from the park’s Shark Valley entrance. The village includes a 40-year-old museum with beadwork and photographs as well as regular and ethical alligator demonstrations, which demonstrate the importance of the gators to the tribe, so there are no wrestling elements to the show.
Detour: The Museum of the Everglades also has exhibits covering more than 2000 years of The Everglades’ history. Cruising through Everglades City, you can’t miss it – it’s a restored pink building that’s on the National Register of Historic Places.
Top Everglades’ birdwatching spots include Eco Pond and Mrazek Pond © Brian Lasenby / Shutterstock
6. Spot pelicans and storks on a pondside birdwatching adventure
Among the seemingly infinite number of waterways and ponds within the park’s confines, two spots remain supreme for birdwatching. Eco Pond is located across the street from the Flamingo Campground and features a half-mile paved trail around it. Year-round, you can stroll and witness ducks frolicking about and the spectrum of wading birds – storks, herons, and egrets – taking a dip or soaring above.
Mrazek Pond is another bird lover’s paradise, particularly during the winter months when hordes of wood storks feast in the shallow waters. Ask a guide at the Flamingo Visitor Center – just three miles south – what’s in season and what to expect.
7. Zigzag through Nine Mile Pond’s mangrove islands via canoe or kayak
The ultimate yet approachable Everglades water excursion awaits at Nine Mile Pond. Located approximately 12 miles northwest of the Flamingo Visitor Center, you’ll find the roadside trailhead for this water course. Despite its name, it’s actually not a nine-mile paddle – it’s 5.2 miles. Along the way, you’ll swish through tree islands, curved mangrove tunnels, and open tranquil waters. Don’t worry, it’s all well-marked with the periodic white PVC pipe sign jutting out of the water with helpful arrows.
Planning tip: If you need to rent a canoe or kayak, head to the Flamingo Visitor Center. The team there will provide you with a key to unlock a canoe or kayak that’s waiting for you at the pond.
8. Tour the Ten Thousand Islands via boat
You’ll need a boat to navigate the majority of Everglades National Park as it consists primarily of swamps, lakes, and marshes. For a true, open-water experience, head to the Gulf Coast Visitor Center. The park itself offers 90-minute ranger-narrated boat tours aboard a large catamaran through Florida Bay where you’ll see island after island made of mangroves, sawgrass and other lush flora. You’ll want to book the excursion ahead of time via its partner, Everglades Florida Adventures.
Planning tip: If you seek an upper-body workout, there are four-hour, ranger-led kayak and canoe tours of Florida Bay available at the Gulf Coast Visitor Center, too.
Spotlight on: the Everglades, Florida