Mangroves and gators: the 5 best hikes in Everglades National Park

While Everglades National Park is loaded with 1.5 million acres of canals, marshes and tropical critters, its hiking options are limited.

In fact, there are less than three dozen formal trails in the entirety of its South Florida confines, many of which are short interpretive trails less than a mile long. Plus, there are entrances to the park in three separate cities that are many miles apart, which means you need to go in with a plan pinpointing the experience you’re looking for.

Regardless of where your Everglades hiking adventure takes you, count on it being flat and a way to get up close and personal with the park’s nearly 400 bird species, lush flora and, yes, perhaps a gator or two. Just make sure to pack sun-protective clothing, sunscreen and bug repellant for any Everglades hike to mitigate sun- or mosquito-related headaches.

With the right goods, you’re ready to hit the trails – here are the five best hikes within Everglades National Park.

Scout new ways to explore the planet’s wildest places with our weekly newsletter delivered to your inbox. Two people stand on a boardwalk looking out over a body of water filled with lily pads and surrounded by tall grassThe boardwalks of the Anhinga Trail are among the easiest trails in the Everglades © BlueBarronPhoto / Shutterstock

1. Anhinga Trail

Best hike for families
0.8 miles (1.3km) round trip, less than 1 hour, easy

Little did you know that so much Everglades wildlife wonder could be packed into a less-than-a-mile stretch? This pristinely paved trail – with portions of well-kept and railed wooden boardwalks hovering over the marshland – is perhaps your easiest and best chance to see turtles and a hearty selection of the Everglades’ bird species. To access the Anhinga Trail trailhead, venture to the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center in Homestead and head approximately four miles south to the Royal Palm Visitors Center – the trailhead is around 50ft behind the building.

The bulk of this hike is in unshaded terrain and surrounded by standing water, so pack extra bug repellant. If this quick hike leaves you and yours wanting more, the 0.4-mile Gumbo Limbo Trail is a stone’s throw from the visitor center and is draped in massive hammock trees.

2. Christian Point Trail

Best hike through diverse Florida landscapes
3.6 miles (5.79km) round trip, 2–3 hours, difficult

Whereas you may get a singular vibe on some of the shorter trails in Everglades National Park, this one is multifaceted. You’ll find the trailhead to this difficult hike one mile north of the Flamingo Visitor Center in Homestead. What makes it difficult is the jagged terrain you’ll encounter, including thick mangrove patches and sporadic debris from hurricanes of yesteryear. A stretch of open prairie provides a nice reprieve on dry days.

If rain is in the forecast or the area has experienced recent downpours, prepare for a muddy experience. Even the flattest prairies are a slushy mud-fest, so bring the right pants and boots. And, yes, with standing water in the Everglades are mosquitos, so pack your bug repellant. 

Two hikers stroll down a straight path that cuts through the dense undergrowth of Everglades National ParkBe sure to take sunscreen and insect repellant when hiking in the Everglades © Claudia G Cooper / Shutterstock

3. Shark Valley Tram Road

Best hike for a gator encounter
15 miles (24.1km), round trip, 4–5 hours, easy

Tram may be in its name, but it is a hot spot for bikers and hikers. Tucked just south of the Tamiami Trail and 40 miles west of Downtown Miami, this trail is located south of the Shark Valley Visitor Center. It’s a paved route that looks like a narrow north-to-south oval. Along the way – and particularly toward the beginning of the trail – count on seeing some gators bathing in the sun in the adjacent canals. 

From there, a popular stop is its midpoint – the Shark Valley Observation Tower. With a winding ramp to its 70-foot-high pinnacle, this is the highest point accessible by foot in the park. While flat and paved, if you’re going to commit to walking this trail, come prepared. There is zero shade along the route, limited water opportunities and the sole bathroom facility (aside from Shark Valley Visitor Center) is at the observation tower.

4. Coastal Prairie Trail

Best hike for a camping adventure
7.5 miles (12km) one-way trip, 3–4 hours, difficult

Situated near the park’s southwesternmost edge, this hike is worth… the hike. It is situated within a quick stroll of the Flamingo Visitor Center in Homestead, which is also home to a drive-in campground with nearly 300 sites. The Flamingo Campground is well-equipped for those who don’t like to be disconnected – this is one of the few spots in the park where cell reception is typically reliable and there are solar-heated showers. Just make sure to book a reservation in advance, particularly during the area’s peak season of December through April.

As for the trail itself, it’s an east-to-west shot through a mix of open prairies and muddy terrain. You’ll want to wear long pants through the thicker forest sections as pesky mangrove roots, thorns, and debris from recent storms can persist. The trail culminates at the white sand-draped Clubhouse Beach, with plenty of space to plop a tent. If you decide to camp overnight, snag a backcountry permit at the Flamingo Visitor Center or online ahead of time.

Spotlight on: the Everglades, Florida

5. Bear Lake Trail

Best hike with a little history
3.2 miles (5.1km) round trip, 1–2 hours, moderate

Trickling alongside the Bear Lake Trail, you’ll see the Homestead Canal. Constructed in 1922, the canal was originally designed to funnel freshwater from the marshland out to sea. The goal was to create a drier piece of land for future development. Instead, the opposite happened, and saltwater entered the ecosystem, taking over portions of the freshwater system, forever creating a hybrid system in that portion of the park.

The trail itself – located two miles north of the Flamingo Visitor Center in Homestead – is draped in more than 50 different tree species, with hardwood hammocks towering above, culminating in a sweeping vista of Bear Lake with dots of mangrove islands. Regular maintenance has ceased on Bear Lake Trail recently as the park prioritizes protecting the Cape Sable thoroughwort, a small purple-hued sunflower. So, wear sturdier hiking shoes to navigate the periodic thick grass patches and down branches.


Leave a Reply