Only an hour from bustling Miami is one of America’s most unusual parks. Covering over a million and a half acres in southern Florida, The Everglades National Park is a wilderness wonderland. Filled with plant and animal life in abundance, it houses one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems.
Freshwater sloughs provide a home to alligators, a common sight in the park. Along the water’s edge are many species that provide them a meal, and many others as well. Great Blue Herons, American Egrets, White Pelicans and many other sub-tropical bird species are easy to spot around and above the water.
Numerous walking trails wind through the mangroves. Anhinga Trail provides an opportunity to see one of the freshwater sloughs up close. This half-mile long self-guided tour winds through sawgrass where it’s easy to find alligators, turtles and other species.
Crocodiles make their home in the park, along with alligators. The Everglades is the only area on the planet where both species – often mistaken for one another – co-habit in relative peace. Terns fly above Florida Bay, home to coral and mollusks along with sharks, stingrays and even barracudas.
Not all of the park is marsh or swamp land, though. Pine Forest is the highest area of the park and sports slash pine, palmetto and others. High, though, still only means a few feet above sea level and the floor of the forests are part rocky limestone.
Near Mahogany Hammock is a short nature trail, only a third of a mile, that offers a view inside one of the most beautiful portions of the park. The trees here grow within sawgrass marshes, offering fascinating areas of dappled shade. The Gumbo Limbo Trail offers a great way to get a close-up look at the Royal Palms, Strangler Figs and other hardwood hammocks in the park.
Camping is a common activity in The Everglades, which offers over 200 campsites. Even small motorboats are allowed, provided they keep wakes and other disturbances to a minimum. Many Manatee live within the waters and park officials are eager to protect them from harm.
Anyone coming during summer, though, should be sure to bring lots of mosquito repellent. This is the time of year when the swarms are thickest and the insects most active.
Unlike some national parks, winter may actually be the best time to visit. In summer, temperatures can hover over the 90°F (32°C) mark with 90% humidity. In winter, the temperature drops to a high of about 77°F (25°C) and the air dries out considerably. Fortunately, so do many of the rivers and marshes, bringing the animals out to more visible areas.
Swimming isn’t recommended anywhere in the park, owing not only to the large number of alligators, but also the many water moccasins, barracuda and other dangerous aquatic species. Even sharp coral can cause a nasty gash. The park is best enjoyed from the ground.
The Flamingo area is one of the best places to start, offering visitor facilities, a restaurant, a museum and a staffed ranger station. The Main Visitor Center is at the east entrance near Homestead, 38 miles away, giving an idea of just how large an area the park covers.