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The Ultimate Guide to Everglades National Park — Best Things To Do, See & Enjoy!

Amar Hussain's image
Amar Hussain
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Amar Hussain

Senior Content Contributor

791 Published Articles

Countries Visited: 63U.S. States Visited: 9

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications incl...
Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
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Keri Stooksbury

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With years of experience in corporate marketing and as the executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Qatar, Keri is now editor-in-chief at UP, overseeing daily content operations and r...

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Everglades National Park stretches across 1.5 million acres of South Florida across 3 counties: Monroe, Miami-Dade, and Collier. Visiting Everglades National Park allows visitors to explore the diverse flora and fauna of different ecosystems, including freshwater sloughs, marl prairies, pinelands, cypress, mangroves, coastal lowlands, tropical hammocks, marine areas, and estuaries.

Everglades National Park is the third largest national park in the contiguous U.S., and at least 1 million people worldwide visit it each year.

Below we’ll dive into everything you need to know about the park, including the best things to do, see and enjoy.

How To Get to Everglades National Park

Where Is Everglades National Park?

Everglades National Park is located at the southernmost tip of Florida, just before the Florida Keys. This park is the largest subtropical wilderness in the U.S. and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park property encompasses 1.5 million acres of diverse ecosystems and wildlife.

Nearest Airports to Everglades National Park

Several airports will get you close to the park. Let’s look at the different options for flying into the Everglades area.

Fort Lauderdale – Hollywood International Airport (FLL)

Fort Lauderdale – Hollywood International Airport is an option for those flying to visit Everglades National Park. This airport is 45 miles north of Miami and 48 miles from the park. Fort Lauderdale – Hollywood International Airport provides a wide variety of flights to make your journey to the Everglades a breeze.

Often, great deals can be found when booking a flight to this airport. FLL is a good option as long as you don’t mind a slightly longer drive to the national park.

Miami International Airport (MIA)

The closest airport to Everglades National Park is Miami International Airport. This airport is only 34 miles from the main entrance to the park. Miami International Airport is serviced by every major airline in the U.S.

The proximity of the airport to the park and the plethora of airline choices make Miami International Airport the best option for flying in for a visit to Everglades National Park.

Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW)

Southwest Florida International Airport is located about 75 miles north of the Gulf Coast Visitor Center on the park’s west side. This airport is in Fort Myers.

This airport is not nearly as big as Miami International Airport. However, it still offers nonstop flights on several different airlines to many U.S. cities.

This would be an excellent option for flying into the area if you decide to spend time on the Gulf Coast beaches. This airport is not as close to the main attractions in Everglades National Park, but there are still plenty of activities in the area.

Driving to Everglades National Park

Driving to Everglades National Park
Image Credit: Brian Beckwith via Unsplash

A road trip is always such a memorable experience, and a road trip to Everglades National Park is one that is filled with excitement and thrills. A car is needed for traveling to this park, as there are no other types of public transportation available.

There are 3 entrances to Everglades National Park in 3 different cities:

  1. Homestead entrance
  2. Miami entrance
  3. Everglades City entrance (near Naples)

Getting Around the Everglades

Several roads lead to major attractions and points of interest in Everglades National Park, but if you want the ultimate experience, exploring by boat is recommended.

Rangers recommend taking an airboat tour to get into the heart of the wetlands, and many companies offer airboat tours. These tours take visitors right through the wetlands, which means plenty of opportunities to spot exotic birds, as well as gators floating and sunning in the waters.

What To See and Do in Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park is known for its unique diversity of ecosystems and remarkable types of wildlife that make their home in the park. This park is an incredible place to visit, no matter the time of year.

With so much to do in this national park, planning your visit will help you hit all the must-see attractions. Let’s explore some of the incredible activities and sites in Everglades National Park.

Airboat Tours

Exploring the park by airboat is a thrilling experience and provides an excellent way for visitors to understand the park’s vastness. This experience will be remembered forever, however, there are better ways to view the wildlife since you’ll be zipping through at high speeds.

Coopertown is the top recommended company on the National Park Service website, but there are others to choose from, including Gator Park and Everglades Safari Park. These companies are located a short drive from Shark Valley, an area in the heart of the Everglades.

Anhinga Trail

Anhinga Trail is less than a 1-mile round-trip and is accessible for wheelchairs and strollers. This trail leads visitors along a boardwalk that elevates you above the water. You’ll likely see creatures swimming or lying on the shore.

Alligator sightings are also common along this trail, so keep your eyes peeled for those giant scaly reptiles. Anhinga is a large water bird with a neck shaped like an S and a pointy bill, which can also be found along the trail.

Birdwatching

Birdwatching Everglades National Park
Image Credit: Sterlinglanier Lanier via Unsplash

Over 300 species of birds make their home in Everglades National Park, making it a premier location for birdwatching. Some of the bird species that reside in the park include pelicans, anhingas, cormorants, and roseate spoonbills.

Birds can be spotted from nearly any road or trail, but the best place for birdwatching is near the ponds. Paurotis Pond, Eco Pond, 9-Mile Pond, and Mrazek Pond are incredible places to catch a glimpse of these amazing birds.

Flamingo Marina

Flamingo Marina, found at the very Southern end of the park, is a beautiful place to visit if you seek adventure and wildlife sightings.

The highlight of this area is the exciting wildlife that can be seen, including the elusive crocodile that lives in the salty ocean water and the manatees, which can be seen right from the dock.

Flamingo Marina has plenty of chances for experiences — offering boat tours, canoe rentals, hiking, and camping opportunities. This is a stop all visitors enjoy making while exploring Everglades National Park.

Gumbo Limbo Trail

Gumbo Limbo Trail is a small forest in Everglades National Park. The gumbo limbo tree is a unique tree with a reddish-brown bark that peels and flakes off the tree trunk. It’s is nicknamed “the tourist tree” because it resembles peeling skin after a bad sunburn. This trail loop is less than a half-mile long and is accessible by wheelchairs and strollers.

Bottom Line: The Gumbo Limbo Trail is a quiet walk through dense vegetation and is an excellent place for taking a break from the busier parts of the park.

Mahogany Hammock Trail

Mahogany Hammock Trail is a short walk through the jungle. While this is a quick hike, it provides remarkable chances to see some of the most beautiful trees in the park.

A hammock is an area of land slightly higher in elevation than the wetlands. Because of this elevation change, trees can grow from under the water. Hiking through Mahogany Hammock is an incredible way to see and learn about the different plants of the area.

There are interpretive signs that teach about vegetation and the different types of trees in the area. The trail is a half-mile loop and is accessible by strollers and wheelchairs. It’s a good idea to wear long sleeves and bug spray here since many insects that bite call this area their home.

The Nike Missile Base

The Nike Missile Base is an incredible piece of history in the Everglades. The base was built during the Cold War and in response to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

This base includes a guard dog kennel, 3 missile barns, barracks, a missile assembly building, and 2 Nike Hercules missiles. The site was finished in 1965 to protect the U.S. from airborne attacks from the south.

The base is open from December through to March for open houses between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Visitors can walk through the site, chat with rangers and volunteers about the area’s history, and take pictures.

Pay-Hay Okee Overlook

Pay-Hay Okee Overlook is an observation platform that looks out into the heart of Everglades National Park. This overlook provides incredible views of the “river of grass,” another name for the Everglades.

This overlook trail is less than a quarter mile long round-trip and has a boardwalk, so a portion of it’s accessible by wheelchairs and strollers. While this is a very short trail, it showcases the slow-moving river that brings Everglades to life.

Ranger-led Tour

Everglades ranger tour Flamingo District
Image Credit: NPS

There are several ranger-led tours available at Everglades National Park. These ranger-led tours include moonlight walks, kayaking popular water trails, and motorboat tours out into the bay. Reservations must be made in advance if you want to take advantage of these ranger-led activities. These tours are great opportunities to make memories that will last a lifetime and learn about the park in a unique and exciting way.

Shark Valley

Shark Valley is a popular stop in Everglades National Park. Despite its name, you won’t see sharks in this area, but you will likely see several alligators who make their home in the park.

There’s little to do in Shark Valley besides hiking the short trails along a 15-mile loop road through the area and a visitor center. Driving, strolling, or biking, the 15-mile loop provides impressive views of the Everglades. The Shark Valley Observation Tower is a great place to stop to see the sweeping views of the park.

Bottom Line: The best part of Shark Valley is seeing the alligators sunning and ambling throughout the terrain.

Visitor Centers

There are 4 different visitor centers located in Everglades National Park. These visitor centers include the Ernest F. Coe Center at the Homestead entrance, the Flamingo Visitor Center, the Gulf Coast Visitor Center near Everglades City, and the Shark Valley Visitor Center.

These visitor centers are a great place to learn more about the park, obtain backcountry camping permits, grab a quick snack, and purchase souvenirs. Local art is also on display for visitors to enjoy. Rangers are available at every visitor center to help tourists plan their visit and learn more about the park.

It’s highly recommended to make a stop at one of the visitor centers upon entering Everglades National Park so you can be fully prepared for all the attractions and activities offered by the park.

Best Times To Visit Everglades National Park

Whether you’re trying to beat the crowds, see lots of wildlife, or save money, there are better times than others to be in the Everglades. Let’s explore some of the best times to visit Everglades National Park.

Best Time To Visit Everglades National Park for Backcountry Camping

If you’re looking for the best time for backcountry camping, March is perfect for traveling to the Everglades National Park. The temperatures in March are comfortable for hiking around the park and warm enough to enjoy some time at a beach nearby. Due to spring break travel, the park is a bit busier in March, so be prepared for more tourists around this time.

Best Time To Visit Everglades National Park To Avoid the Crowds

A quiet, less crowded vacation to Everglades National Park is desired by many tourists. November is a great time to visit Everglades National Park if you want to avoid crowds. Park activities and facilities start to operate more regularly in November, which means you’ll have plenty to experience while simultaneously having few people around.

Best Time To Visit Everglades National Park for Wildlife

Everglades National Park for Wildlife
Image Credit: Richard Sagredo via Unsplash

January is an excellent month to visit if you hope to see lots of wildlife. January is in the middle of the dry season, which is ideal because it means fewer mosquitoes and more chances of seeing wildlife.

The temperatures are coolest during January, and the precipitation levels are at their lowest, so the rain is less likely to mess up your plans.

Best Time To Visit Everglades National Park for Outdoor Adventure

February is an excellent time to visit Everglades National Park for outdoor adventures as you’ll be dealing with less mud and rain then. The Everglades is cool and dry in February, which makes it a perfect month for participating in all the activities the park has to offer.

Bottom Line: Hiking, biking, canoeing, birdwatching, and participating in a ranger program are excellent choices for a February vacation.

Cheapest Time To Visit Everglades National Park

Planning a trip to Everglades National Park in May is a great way to save money as the weather isn’t the most ideal and the park sees fewer visitors then. May typically receives a mixture of wet and dry weather, so you can expect more rain, heat, and unpredictable weather.

A trip in May may not feature the best climate, but crowd levels are low, allowing for a potentially calmer and cheaper trip throughout the park. Most activities, campgrounds, and Ranger programs are still open and available for park guests.

Where To Stay in Everglades National Park

The hardest part of planning your trip doesn’t have to be deciding on accommodations. While Everglades National Park has just a couple of options for lodging inside the park, there are countless possibilities close by.

Whether you choose to camp in the great outdoors or stay in a luxury hotel nearby, you can rest assured you there’s a lodging option that will suit your needs and budget.

Inside the Park

There are 2 campgrounds in Everglades National Park, but other than that, there are no other lodging options inside the park’s boundaries. These campgrounds include the Long Pine Key Campground near the Homestead park entrance and the Flamingo Campground, which is 38 miles south of the Homestead entrance. There are also various backcountry sites for those who prefer to camp in the wilderness.

Flamingo Campground

Flamingo Campground
Image Credit: NPS

The Flamingo Campground is accessible from the Homestead entrance of the park and available for tents and RVs. This campground offers solar-heated showers, picnic tables, grills, 2 dump stations, and an amphitheater for the seasonal ranger programs in the area. Flamingo Campground has plenty of opportunities for hiking, canoeing, and saltwater fishing.

Long Pine Key Campground

Long Pine Key Campground is open from November to May and available for tents and RVs. This campground features trash collection, restrooms, grills, hot showers, and an amphitheater for ranger-led programs. This campground is open to RVs and tents. Reservations are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Wilderness Camping

Wilderness camping is also available in the park. Several sites on the beach, in the backcountry, and on chickees are available. Chickees are elevated camping platforms, and they are located in many different places throughout the park.

Most wilderness campsites are accessible by canoe, kayak, or motor boat, and only a few can be reached by hiking. If you choose to camp in the wilderness, a wilderness camping permit is required for all campsites.

Towns Near Everglades National Park

Most park visitors will set up their home base in one of the gateway towns near the park. There are 6 popular towns where guests can make their home base during their Everglades National Park vacation. Let’s take a look at where these towns are located and what they have to offer.

Everglades City

Everglades City is a wonderful option for those who want to stay right next to the park. This small Florida town is located right on the park’s western border and is the closest option for staying near the park.

Everglades City is a desired location for outdoor enthusiasts and those seeking a tranquil place to set up a home base. Many visitors take advantage of the great fishing opportunities in the area, while others enjoy birdwatching, exploring, or simply listening to the sounds of the Everglades.

This city has many lodging options, including private rentals, motels, hotels, and resorts. You’ll also find many exciting activities and attractions in the area, including the Museum of the Everglades and airboat tours. The city also has plenty of dining opportunities, ranging from local seafood restaurants to fine dining establishments.

Homestead and Florida City

The Homestead and Florida City area is located near the southern portion of Everglades National Park. While these are 2 separate cities, they are connected and are referred to as 1 area.

Homestead and Florida City have abundant activities for visitors to enjoy during their vacation to Everglades National Park. Taking an airboat tour and visting an alligator farm are popular excursions for tourists in this area.

Another highlight is the Gumbo Limbo Trail, a shaded walk through the Gumbo Limbo Forest. This walk will treat guests to remarkable sightings of wildlife, including gators, turtles, and colorful birds.

There are several lodging options for those staying in this area, from large chain hotels to independently owned hotels and motels. These cities have several options for dining, including chain and local restaurants that serve a variety of cuisine from around the world, such as Mexican, Italian, and Cuban.

Marco Island

Marco Island
Image Credit: Alex Perez via Unsplash

Marco Island is a small island near Everglades National Park. This is a perfect location for those who prefer beachfront lodging near the park and a slower pace of life.

Staying in Marco Island offers the best of both worlds, with access to Everglades National Park, beachfront accommodations, and entry to the wetland. This city has luxury hotels like the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort and Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort and Spa, as well as private rentals available.

There are several options for dining on Marco Island, and most visitors enjoy the seafood scene. Since the area is right on the beach, plenty of freshly caught fish is available for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Other dining options include steakhouses, Italian restaurants, and pizzerias.

Miami

Miami is another city that is a gateway to Everglades National Park. It has an incredible and lively energy that’s found only in a few other places in America.

Most visitors who stay in Miami decide to lodge near the city’s coastline, which features a plethora of beautiful hotels and excellent food choices. For the quickest Everglades access, however, visitors should look at staying in one of Miami’s western neighborhoods — where civilization ends and the Everglades begin.

Those staying in Miami are approximately 25 to 40 miles from the park, so this is not one of the closest options. Yet, it’s still one of the more popular choices due to its exciting opportunities for nightlife and entertainment.

There are several options for lodging in the area of Miami closer to the park. Most of the options are hotels, motels, or private rentals. This area has a wide variety of excellent places to eat near the park and an abundance of places to relax (or live it up) while visiting.

Hot Tip: When it comes to Miami and Miami Beach hotels, our detailed guides cover plenty of types, from point-friendly options to pocket-friendly stays, and even boutique hotels.

Naples

Naples Beach Pier
Image Credit: Joseph Biscocho via Unsplash

Naples has beautiful beaches, fabulous shopping opportunities, and incredible restaurants available. Naples is found west of the Everglades on the Gulf Coast. This is an excellent choice for those who want to stay on the beach but also near Everglades National Park.

The eastern end of Naples has lodging that’s near the park. The closest hotel is just 15 miles from the park. Naples is considered the second-nearest city to Everglades National Park in the Gulf Coast area.

There are many places to stay in Naples, from chain hotels to boutique properties and motels to privately owned Airbnbs. On top of excellent choices for dining and lodging, there are endless things to do and see while staying in Naples, including boat tours, kayaking, botanical gardens, and bird gardens.

Upper Keys

The Upper Keys makes a great place to set up camp for a trip to Everglades National Park. The Florida Keys’ atmosphere and the Everglades’ wilderness will make for a memorable stay.

The Florida Keys has incredible activities for visitors to be a part of, including diving, snorkeling, fishing, and boating in crystal blue waters. While this is a less convenient location for getting to Everglades National Park, it’s still an excellent choice for those who want to experience adventure and the beauty of the beach.

It takes 15 minutes to get to the national park from the Upper Keys area. There are many resorts in the Upper Keys, boutique hotels, and motels. Dining is a treat in the Upper Keys area — several seafood restaurants serve freshly-caught fish, crabs, and oysters. You’ll find other dining options there, too, including steakhouses, and Mexican and Italian restaurants.

Hot Tip: The Upper Keys also has a lively nightlife and beach scene that visitors can enjoy.

Where To Eat in Everglades National Park

There are no restaurants inside Everglades National Park and it’s recommended that all visitors bring their own food and drink.

A limited variety of snacks and beverages can be found at some of the visitor centers and bookstores, and a food truck is located in Flamingo. Since no brick-and-mortar restaurants are available inside the park, let’s explore some other dining options nearby.

Everglades Gator Grill

Everglades Gator Grill is located in Homestead at the main entrance to Everglades National Park. This restaurant is casual, with counter service inside and picnic tables outside where diners can enjoy the tropical climate. There is a wide variety of comfort food on the menu, including shrimp, po’ boys, fried chicken, fried clams, and burgers. There are also famous grilled gator sandwiches on the menu for adventurous diners.

Los Potosinos Taqueria

Los Potosinos Taqueria is another popular restaurant for those visiting Everglades National Park. This restaurant has authentic Mexican food and is a favorite for many of those who’ve visited the park. It serves popular dishes like tacos, burritos, gorditas, quesadillas, and all the chips and salsa one could need. This restaurant has picnic tables decorated with the festive colors of the Mexican flag.

Miccosukee Casino and Resort

Miccosukee Casino and Resort is a wonderful choice for dining near the Shark Valley Visitor Center entrance. This resort and casino has a casual dining restaurant called the Sawgrass Café. Visitors enjoy sandwiches, soups, salads, and pizza, all of which are priced affordably. Another restaurant in this resort is Café Hammock which has more sophisticated menu items, including steak, shrimp scampi, and baby back ribs.

Robert is Here

Robert is Here doesn’t sound like an ordinary restaurant, and that’s accurate because this establishment is a farm with a fruit stand, petting zoos, and picnic tables. Robert is Here was established in 1959 by a farmer named Robert Moehling.

The menu has an impressive selection of tropical fruit, including lychee, dragon fruit, jackfruit, and tamarind. They use these exotic fruits to make tropical smoothies while you wait. This is a stop that you don’t want to miss.

Everglades National Park Facts

Everglades Tortoise
Image Credit: Swan via Pixabay

1. A New Park Established

Ernest Coe, originally a landscape designer, began the effort to preserve the area that is now known as Everglades National Park in 1928.

Congress passed legislation to develop Everglades National Park in 1934, but it still took another 13 years to acquire the land and define the park’s boundaries.

On December 6, 1947, Everglades National Park was officially established.

2. One of the World’s Largest Wetlands

Everglades National Park has one of the largest wetlands in the world. The park is best known for its sawgrass prairies, mangroves, and freshwater slough, which draws water from Lake Okeechobee in the north. There are 9 distinct habitats, including pine rocklands, marine waters, and coastal lowlands.

3. Unique Wildlife

Everglades National Park is filled with animal species that can’t be found anywhere else on earth. The Everglades provide homes for manatees, American crocodiles, and the elusive Florida panther. It’s also a bird paradise and is the winter home for over 360 species of birds.

4. Rain, Rain, Don’t Go Away

The Everglades National Park receives an average of 60 inches of rainfall each year. Water is the source of life for the “River of Grass,” so it’s fitting that it receives so much water each year. Summer is the wet season when most of the rainfall occurs.

5. The Third Largest National Park

Everglades National Park is the third largest national park in the lower 48 states. Death Valley and Yellowstone National Parks precede the Everglades in this ranking.

6. Adventure Awaits

Most national parks can be explored by hiking and scenic drives. While those activities are available in Everglades National Park, there are also hundreds of miles of water trails that can be explored via canoe or kayak. One memorable way to see the park is by slough slogging, where visitors can walk waist-deep through the Florida swamp.

7. Gladesmen Lived off the Land Before It Became a National Park

The Gladesmen culture thrived in the Everglades area for about 150 years before it was established as a national park in 1947. These men could spend months at a time living in tiny camps in the wilderness. They relied on the abundant fish, game, and plant life for sustenance and traveled around on glade skiffs that were propelled through the water using a pole.

8. Threatening Invasive Species

Invasive species like the Burmese python have made their way into the Everglades ecosystem. This population of pythons is constantly being pursued, and eradication measures have been put in place by the park. Since there are no natural predators of these reptiles, they have a large advantage over the native species of the Everglades.

9. Western Hemisphere’s Largest Stand of Protective Mangroves

Everglades National Park is home to one of the western hemisphere’s largest contiguous stands of protective mangroves. The mangroves help to clean the water and provide shelter for marine organisms. During dry months, birds flock to this area to feed and nest.

In the summer, the mangroves are the first line of defense against erosion, wind, and waves from tropical storms and hurricanes.

10. Home to Endangered Species

Everglades National Park has one of the highest concentrations of vulnerable species at risk of extinction in the U.S. 39 native Florida species in the park are listed on the threatened or endangered species list. Some of these species include the Florida panther, West Indian manatee, wood stork, snail kite, and the American crocodile.

Final Thoughts

Everglades National Park is a bucket-list location for those who want to experience a unique landscape unlike any other in the world. It offers a one-of-a-kind opportunity to explore a tropical wetland like no other.

Frequently Asked Questions

When does Everglades National Park open and close?

Everglades National Park’s main entrance in Homestead is open year-round, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The gate at the Shark Valley entrance is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. This area remains locked overnight.

How much does it cost to visit Everglades National Park?

There are different types of entrance fees depending on your type of transportation. The standard entrance fee to Everglades National Park is $30 per vehicle. This pass is valid for 7 days.

Can I take my pet with me to Everglades National Park?

Pets are allowed in Everglades National Park as long as they are on a leash no longer than 6 feet. Animals are allowed in the parking lot and the campgrounds, but they are not permitted on any trails, wilderness areas, or in backcountry campsites.

What should I do if I have a close encounter with an alligator at Everglades National Park?

Alligators and crocodiles are commonly seen around Everglades National Park. These animals have plenty of food and do not seek out humans or pets for sustenance.

It’s recommended to stay a safe distance from the shoreline and avoid swimming in any canals, ponds, freshwater, lakes, or boat basins inside the park. It’s a criminal offense to feed or harass the alligators, as these actions can harm the alligator, humans, or both. Alligators fed by humans associate people with food and may show more aggressive behaviors around humans.

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About Amar Hussain

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications including Forbes, the Huffington Post, and more.

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