Did you know that Everglades National Park is one of the largest National Parks in America? The park covers over 1.5 million acres and is only smaller than Death Valley and Yellowstone! Despite that fact, the Everglades National Park is easy to do in a long weekend because so much of it is wetlands that are inaccessible or only accessible by some rugged backcountry hiking or boating. So how can you make the most of your time in the Everglades? Here an ultimate guide to making the most of your time!
When to Visit Everglades National Park
When planning your trip to the Everglades, you mostly read about the wet season vs. the dry season. The temperature varies from high 70s to low 90s all year round but during the months of April to October, not only does the rain levels spike form about 1.5 inches per month to upwards of 8 and 9 inches per month, but the humidity and mosquitos can become unbearable.
That being said, when the water levels are low, some water-based activities can become more difficult so depending on your interests, you’ll have to do research.
The downside to traveling during the dry season (November to March) is that the park tends to be more crowded! We traveled in mid-January and did not personally think the park was crowded but it’s also still Covid travel so hard to judge for future!
Cost of a Visit to Everglades National Park
Entrance fees to the park vary depending on what type of pass you want but a private vehicle costs $30 for 7 days. You can also purchase an annual Everglades pass for $55 if you live in the area and plan on going frequently. Or if you are planning on venturing to many different National Parks and monuments, the America the Beautiful pass only costs $80 for a year. That pass will admit everyone in the vehicle.
Where to Stay in the Everglades
If you want to try to stay within Everglades National Park, there are two campsites available for both RVs and tent camping. You’ll find Long Pine Key Campground near the Royal Palm entrance, and the Flamingo Campground farther into the park along the southern coast.
During our trip we stayed at the Long Pine Key since it only cost us about $25 a night! That being said, there are no hookups and the hours that you can run generators were quite limited so we had a bit of a tough time keeping the camper powered. So be prepared for that!
Flamingo Campground has some sites with electrical hookups but this campground is located much farther within the park so it makes it a bit more difficult to go and explore other surrounding areas.
Another unique option available within the park is the eco-tents in the Flamingo Campground. This gives you the opportunity to get the experience of being in nature with less of the “roughing it.” These have electricity, beds, fans and dressers and start at $90 a night.
If you’re not much of a camping person, there are several hotels located around the entrances to the park. There are three entrances: Shark Valley, Royal Palm & Gulf Coast. You’ll find anything from Holiday Inns to Waterfront Villas to Motels are each of the entrances, so plenty of options depending on your travel style.
Visitor’s Centers of the Everglades
There are four total visitor’s centers across the park but if you want to only hit one, then Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center is the one you’ll want to stop at. Located at the Royal Palm entrance, it’s considered the main entrance and therefore most built up with things to look at. It has a bookstore, educational displays and a big back deck with rocking chairs overlooking the water.
The Shark Valley visitor center is located on the north side of the park and is the start of a long trail out to an observation deck.
Flamingo Visitor Center, located along the southern edge of the park, and Gulf Coast Visitor Center were both damaged or destroyed by hurricanes in recent years. They are located in temporary buildings currently so you’re still able to get your information and booking services.
Things to do in Everglades National Park
You won’t find an elevation in the park but there are plenty of trails nonetheless for a variety of ability levels.
Up near the Royal Palm entrance, you’ll find the Anhinga Trail. This trail is about 0.8 miles and a nice easy loop on boardwalks. During our walk there we saw alligators, tons of different species of birds and some fish! But beware the parking lot vultures that will attack the rubber on your car. Grab a provided tarp from the bin and cover your windows while you’re on the trail.
Down by the ocean you’ll find the Coastal Prairie Trail that walks along the water. This one is an out and back 15 mile trail, but obviously you can stop and turn around whenever it’s good for you! This trail is unpaved and therefore a more moderate ability trail.
Another quick one to hit is the Pahayokee Overlook. This short trail leads to an overlook spot where you can see sweeping views of the Everglades. Once again, this is accessible but beware of gators sunning themselves near the trail!
There are tons of trails in the central area of the park that would be great as long as you have intense bug spray! We opted out of several upon parking and seeing the mosquito situation. Bear Lake and Eco Lake are amongst the trails that probably have beautiful lake views if properly equipped!
Bicycle Friendly Trails
If biking is more your thing, I’d highly recommend bringing your bicycles and keeping them with you at all times.
The Snake Bight trail is a nice, flat 3.2 mile round trip trail to get from the main road down to the water. We nearly had the trail to ourselves and it’s comfortable and shaded for the most part. Just be aware that you might have a mouth full of gnats by the end of the trail!
The other very popular cycling opportunity is the Shark Valley Tram Road. Located up on the norther side of the park, you start at the Shark Valley Visitor Center and follow the road all the way out to the Observation Tower. The tower provides miles of views of the park on the clear day. This trail is 15 miles round trip so it’s not for the faint of heart.
ProTip: There are bikes for rent at the visitor center but I’d recommend bringing your own if you can because the rentals are one speed beach cruisers, and people looked like they were struggling.
As you can imagine, Everglades National Park is filled with opportunities to kayak and get out on the water. Whether you bring your own or rent them, I’d make sure you make it a priority to see the park this way.
Our first stop during our visit was down by the Flamingo Visitor Center where there are multiple boat launches available. From here you can kayak out into the ocean and follow the coast line, or up the river into the mangroves. During our time kayaking at the ocean we saw HUNDREDS of manatees, a variety of bird species and a massive 15′ crocodile! I don’t even think I’m exaggerating!
Another spot that we enjoyed kayaking in was the West Lake area. We were able to use a (rather slippery) boat launch and then from there had access to MILES of connected waterways. Because these are quiet lakes, the waters are a bit easier to navigate and less choppy.
Another favorite is Nine Mile Pond which is a 5 mile loop and accessible from the main road just before the Flamingo area. We weren’t able to experience this one but from what I have read, this is a great one for seeing alligators and other wildlife, as well as the mangroves and prairies.
Protip: This trial is impassable in the dry season so plan ahead!
Everglades National Park is a mecca for wildlife enthusiasts and bird watchers. We saw an abundance of different species during our time there without even trying. Alligators, crocodiles, manatees, dolphins, turtles, deer and raccoons are just a few of what you can see in the park.
If you are into bird watching, there are endless opportunities to do so. The website claims that over 300 species of birds can be found across Everglades National Park and the trails are designed to provide great bird watching opportunities. You’ll see anything from wading birds to eagles, owls and sparrows. Near the ocean, you’ll find warbles, cuckoos and even flamingos! The park offers ranger led programs to bring you to all the best spots and learn a little bit along the way.
If you take away anything from this guide, just know that you cannot go to the Everglades and not experience an airboat ride. As of right now there are only three airboat businesses that are authorized to provide tours in the actual National Park. Coopertown Airboats, Everglades Safari Park and Gator Park are all located on the northern side of the park and will bring you right into the park.
As we we’re driving along the road that these airboat companies are all located on, we noticed that they are much larger airboats with a touristy experience. We opted to take a boat ride with a group called Tigertails Airboats that actually goes north into the Miccosukee Reservation instead of south into the National Park. Another nice thing was that we were able to get on a ride without a reservation and it was a private airboat ride with an expert nonetheless! The other larger companies book out ahead of time.
The airboat flew through the water and he stopped to point out gators and wildlife along the way. Then we stopped at their private hammock (built up dock area) and showed us their animal rehabilitation process. The tour guide let us hold turtles and baby gators and told us all about the process for letting them heal and then re-releasing them out into the wild. His knowledge of the animals, the habitat and the history of the tribes made the tour not only fun but educational and interesting as well. Our experience was absolutely wonderful and I would highly recommend Tigertails.
Length of Time Needed for Everglades National Park?
To be able to get the best Everglades National Park experience, I would recommend at least 3 days for your trip. You can spend a day in each district alone between Flamingo, Royal Palm and Shark Valley.
If you only have one day to explore the park, enter at the Royal Palm entrance and make the long drive down to the Flamingo area. There are tons of opportunities to stop and explore along the way and you’ll be able to see and experience as many of the different ecosystems as possible.
Everglades National Park is just one of the many different things that Southern Florida has to offer. Stay tuned for blogs posts about Biscayne National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve!
Until Next time…
Stay Wild and Adventure On!
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