Visiting Everglades National Park was an unforgettable experience. As someone who had never been there before, I couldn’t wait to see its unique beauty and natural wonder.
So, where are the Florida Everglades? The Everglades are wetlands stretching from the Kissimmee River near Orlando to Florida Bay which kisses the Atlantic Ocean. Everglades National Park includes about 20% of the southern part of the Everglades.
It took over an hour from South Beach to wade through the city’s traffic, the suburbs, and the western border of southeast Florida. When I arrived, I was struck by the sheer size of the area. Swampland stretched right across the flatlands, far into the distance under high clouds.
Just west of Miami, the Florida Everglades is massive, spanning over 1.5 million acres, home to 350 species of birds, 300 freshwater and saltwater fish, 40 mammal species, and 50 different reptiles. Among them are the much-loved manatee and endangered Florida panther.
The Everglades are also the only place in the world where the American Alligator and the American Crocodile exist side by side. Native Americans in the area called it Pahayokee (Pah-High-oh-geh), which means “grassy waters”. So what can you indulge in while you're at this beautiful wonder of nature?
The first thing I wanted to try was the airboat ride. After seeing these on different media, now was the time to try it out for myself. The location was Coopertown Airboat Company owned by Mayor Jesse Kennon, who happens to build his airboats. He also wrestles allegators but I didn't get a chance to see him in action.
As I walked past the gated entrance, I encountered a baby alligator nestled into the arms of a park ranger. The ranger smiled disarmingly and extended his arms out to me with the baby alligator in hand and said “Don’t worry he’s harmless, why don’t you hold him?”. With all eyes on me, “I have no choice” I thought.
To my surprise he was a cute calm little fellow with a smooth warm belly and cute glossy eyes. He held still and gazed at me like he had just found his mommy. Who knew, the swamp monster is as cute as a baby!
I walked down to a boat that was tethered to a wooden dock. It was just a steel pontoon with a giant fan strapped to the stern. I stepped on carefully then buckled myself into a black croc leather camouflage chair, put on a pair of earplugs and the giant fan buzzed into action.
The Captain was Mayor Jesse himself. He was an expert gladesman with years of experience navigating the endless acres of the Everglades, which is just as well. It’s one of the biggest national parks in the world.
As we approached the first wide bend, I saw the rippled black back of a 20’ alligator moving swiftly through the water. Its eyes were just above the surface, two dark orbs looking straight at me. But that wasn’t the only wildlife I saw. There were egrets, blue herons, and all kinds of fish breaking the surface.
I had always imagined it was a vast dead swamp, but this was teeming with life, all living in the vibrant green waters, with bird songs echoing in the sky. I was surrounded by scenic views and long rivers bordered by tall grass and mangroves. It was a sight I had never imagined outside of a film set.
This giant swamp had been transformed to a place of wild beauty right in front of my eyes. Like a scene straight out of The Everglades by Marjory Stoneman Douglas.
As the airboat tour ended, I stepped back onto the wooden dock, and walked away to the hiking trails, the ones that snake through the park, through the breathtaking scenery, where the lush greenery and sparkling waterways meet you at every turn. I regretted not bringing enough water with me - the humidity was intense.
One of the highlights of my trip was visiting Shark Valley. This area offered a 15-mile loop trail that can be completed on foot, bike, or tram. I opted for the tram ride, which was a great way to take in the stunning views without getting tired. I saw more alligators on the trail, as well as a variety of other animals such as deer and raccoons.
Another trail you can explore is the Anhinga trail, which is a boardwalk that winds through the grasslands and sloughs, giving visitors unique views of the diverse wildlife. It is accessible from the main entrance of the park.
As one of the most popular trails which is less than a mile round trip, it too has abundant wildlife, and spectacular views. This trail is a must for a proper Everglades experience. Be on the lookout for alligators, turtles, roseate spoonbills, and great blue herons as you traverse this iconic trail.
For The Love Of Birds
The Everglades are considered the most important breeding ground for tropical wading birds in North America. It is a critical foraging and breeding habitat for 16 species of wading birds; these include roseate spoonbills, great egrets, white ibises, tricolored herons, wood storks, great and little blue herons, and snowy egrets.
Would I Recommend Visiting The Everglades?
Absolutely. Throughout my visit, I was constantly impressed by the diversity of the landscape. It is an intricate system of wetlands, lakes, and rivers, from the sawgrass prairies to the cypress swamps, there was always something new to discover. I made sure to take lots of photos so that I could remember this for years to come.
Overall, my trip to the Everglades was an incredible journey that I will never forget. The natural beauty of this area is unparalleled, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a true Floridian adventure.