“I really hope we see a bunch of alligators”, we kept telling ourselves, as we drove from Fort Myers airport toward the Everglades. Every time I brought up this National Park to family or friends, everyone talked about the alligators. As we pull up to the sign to take our picture, Colin jumps out of the car and in the little creek next to us, our first gator! We were so excited and relieved. For some reason, I had this image of seeing the Everglades without ever encountering an alligator, but I was VERY wrong. And happily so!
Everglades National Park
The gators were EVERYWHERE. You definitely have to keep your distance and don’t feed or disturb the animals. To be honest, sometimes we thought the alligators were fake or placed in certain areas for photographs, because they sit so still when they are cooling off. The picture below took us a long time to take, because it hadn’t moved in so long, we absolutely thought it was fake. Eventually, it opened its’ mouth to cool off and we almost jumped!
FIRE UP CHIPS!
The park has 3 completely separate entrances, each from a different city. We entered the first time through the Miami entrance, at Shark Valley Visitor Center. We walked a few short trails (hot and humid) near the visitor center. A 15 mile out-and-back trail will take you to the Shark Valley Observation Tower. We wish we would have had more time to experience the tower, but we weren’t prepared for that trek. We choose trails that were short, as we did not bring a lot of water and it was, as expected, a really hot day. So we stuck near the car and observed all the nature within.Seeing all the reptiles and birds in Everglades was spectacular. The scenery and nature are welcoming and stunning. After making our initial Visitor Center stop, we headed toward the Homestead entrance. We stayed two nights in Homestead, FL and wanted to end the day near our Airbnb. This park entrance welcomes you with the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center and eventually leads to the southern Flamingo Visitor Center.
Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center - Homestead Entrance
The environmentalist in me loved being surrounded by the subtropical environment. Learning about the endangered species and how the land supplied the habitat for this wildlife was amazing. Fun fact: crocodiles and alligators only coexist in the Everglades, no where else! How cool!? As a biologist at heart, I should easily be able to tell the difference, but I have to say, I didn’t ace all the practice tests in the visitor center. Check out this NPS link to study up!
The Everglades also brought an exciting and new venture for us, WE GOT A PASSPORT BOOK! We stopped at a few small trails on our way to visit the Flamingo Visitor Center. We got there and took a look around, and at the last minute before they closed, we ran back in to purchase a NPS passport. Our first stamp was in the Everglades and we were geeked to collect all of our cancellations. After we pressed our first stamp, we walked around the Flamingo area to look at the water and try to eye some manatees. It felt amazing to sit in the sun and enjoy the water, waves and beauty of the Florida waters.
Our First NPS Passport Stamp!
Flamingo Marina - Everglades NP
Sitting at the end of Main Park Road, we got ready to head out of the park. As we were making our exit through the Everglades, both of us were struggling with feeling like we had not yet experienced our moment. The “Ah yes, this is the Everglades,” moment. Whether it was just a feeling or a picture, we weren’t sure. Usually, we have a moment of tranquility; where we both know we are not just observing the park or vacation spot, but truly feeling it. These moments can happen right away, however sometimes it takes a little bit for us to find that “sense”. This may sound foolish, but to us it brings a sense of relief once it happens. We no longer feel like tourist just observing to post a picture. Instead, we feel as though the adventure is real, alive, and tangible. For us, this moment happened at Mahogany Hammock Trail. We would HIGHLY recommend this trail. It is an easy boardwalk loop, but so beautiful and peaceful. It was what our minds pictured when we thought about the Everglades. We could have walked around this trail for hours and enjoyed every minute. Finally, we felt apart of the Everglades.
Mahogany Hammock Trail
Mahogany Hammock Boardwalk
.5 Mile Boardwalk Loop
If you feel like seeing even more gators, or just want to continue exploring, we recommend going to Big Cypress National Preserve. Bordering the north-western edge of Everglades National Park, it was the perfect stop for us to hit on our way back to the airport. The Oasis Visitor Center movie is interesting, and there are PLENTY of alligators to see. We sat for a while near the water and watched all the gators, and even saw quite a few babies. It is worth the drive if you are in the area. The preserve is huge, covering over 1,100 square miles. We took the most direct path through, that lead us to Fort Myers, but there is so much more to see.
Overall, the Everglades provided us with a large variety of new species and landscapes. We went during the beginning of dry season (April – November). Dry season is usually busiest, however, we did not find ourselves swallowed by crowds. The weather was humid and warm, but enjoyable. We appreciated the park, the history, and the conservation. Once a land that could have been lost due to dredging and draining, the Everglades now protect endangered species and fauna.
“1947 Everglades National Park officially opened, marking the first large-scale attempt to protect the area's unique biology. Today, the park comprises a vast wetland wilderness unlike any other in the world.”
We are blessed and grateful to see the park now preserved and flourishing.