The Everglades is a 1.5 million-acre area of slow moving water in southern Florida. It comprises of thousands of different trees, shrubs and plants, and more than 600 species of animals, many of which are endangered. It is a flat area of endless marshes, mangroves, towering palms and alligator holes. Although it seems very inhospitable, the Native Americans managed to exist here, making their homes on the “hammocks” or island areas that were just above the water level.
The Everglades National Park was established in 1947 to conserve the landscape, which was rapidly being depleted as the land was drained for farming and development. The famous naturalist John James Audubon recalled that in the 1800s the sky was often darkened when huge flocks of birds flew over the area. Since the early 20th century, the wading bird population in the Everglades has dropped by around 93%. The wildlife that remains depends upon the Everglades for its very survival.
If you are visiting Miami or Fort Myers, you are within 30 minutes’ drive of the Everglades and it makes a fascinating day of discovery for all ages. Expect to see alligators basking in the sun on raised areas of crushed reeds. Turtles thrive in the Everglades as their noses act like snorkels as they swim along. All types of herons and wading birds can be seen, including greater and little blue herons, ibis, egrets, tricolored herons, green herons, night herons, wood stalks and roseate spoonbills. In the clear waters, all types of fish can also be seen.
Trips on the Everglades
One of the most fun ways to experience the Everglades is by taking an airboat tour with a local guide. You will see various companies offering trips along the roadside of the Tamiami Trail (US41) after leaving Miami. From the west side near Fort Myers, the best place to take a trip is at the Billie Swamp Tours attraction, off US75 at exit 49.
Other outdoor experts, naturalists and professional guides offer ecological tours all year round including wildlife photography trips and seaplane adventures with companies such as EvergladesTours.org. If you want to make a more independent trip you can hire a canoe and paddle part or all of the 99-mile Wilderness Waterway through the Everglades. Outfitters such as EvergladesWildernessWaterway.com offer day trips or overnight camping experiences including all equipment and a local guide.
Things to Do on the Everglades
Homestead is the main town to head for from Miami. It is at the start of a 28-mile long road to Flamingo within the national park. Everglades City offers a visitor center, which provides maps, information and a choice of ranger-led walks and talks you can sign up for. You can also join a boat tour or rent your own boat or canoe for the day. The Everglades National Park has a variety of hiking trails which are suitable for mountain bikes, but the trails can be flat and fairly unexciting to walk in the clammy heat. Shark Valley offers tram tours that are a fun way for families to see wildlife or you can join a bike tour.
Everglades City is also the home of the Museum of the Everglades which retraces the history of the area, including life for the Native Americans. As well as changing exhibitions, the museum offers one hour guided walking tours around the historical buildings in this remote city.