Florida’s Everglades National Park is the third-largest park in the lower 48 and boasts the largest subtropical wilderness in the country. The warm and humid habitat in southern Florida is one of the only places in the world where crocodiles and alligators co-exist.
From its special collection of native animals to its intriguing mix of Native American heritage and American settler history, this vast wetland is one of the world’s most unique and diverse ecosystems.
Why Visit Everglades National Park in an RV?
Everglades National Park is home to species you won’t find anywhere else in the United States, including manatees, American crocodiles, and the rarely-seen Florida panther. It’s also a Wetland of International Importance, a World Heritage site, and an International Biosphere Reserve.
With a total area of 2,400 square miles, RVing is the best way to camp comfortably while exploring the park. Whether you get hit with an unexpected rainstorm or need to escape the heat and humidity in the afternoon, RV camping in the Everglades is the way to go.
Because so much of the park is only accessible on foot or via one of the park’s many paddling trails, definitely bring your gear for hiking, kayaking, and fishing so you can maximize your time outdoors.
When to Visit Everglades National Park
The Everglades is beautiful year-round, but certain months are better than others. Because of its southern latitude, the Everglades only has two seasons: the wet and dry seasons.
Avoid the heart of the wet season, and escape the heat and humidity of dry season with these tips to help you enjoy the best weather possible during your visit.
Everglades National Park in the Dry Season
The best time of year to visit the park is from early December to mid-May. The temperatures range from the low 50s to the upper 70s and the humidity is lower. Any rain that does occur usually comes in the form of fast-moving squalls that don’t last long.
Visiting during the dry season will also reduce the number of mosquitoes you’ll deal with during your visit. Just be aware that this is also the busiest season in the park, so you’ll need campsite reservations in advance.
Everglades National Park in the Wet Season
Avoiding the wet season from mid-May through November is a good idea as the park’s regular rainfall can easily put a wrench in your plans. The park receives the majority of its annual rainfall (about 60 inches) during this time but the daytime temperatures rarely dip below 90℉.
The wet season also includes hurricane season. Most hurricanes hit during August and September, but they can occur any time during the summer or fall. Keep this in mind when you’re planning your visit to Everglades National Park and make sure to check the weather before you arrive.
Where RVers Can Stay
There are two RV-accessible campgrounds in the park. Both have a maximum RV length of 35 feet and are independently operated by the park’s concessionaire, Flamingo Adventures.
Both campsites include free hot showers, wheelchair-accessible restrooms, dump stations, potable water, and amphitheaters that host seasonal ranger-led programs.
Here’s how they differ:
- Open year-round
- Located 38 miles south of Homestead park entrance
- Total Sites: 274
- RV-Only Sites: 65
- Full-Hookup Sites: 41
- The remaining 24 RV sites are primitive
- Nearest supplies are available at the store in Flamingo Marina
- Easy access to the beach, hiking/canoeing trailheads, and marina in the southern part of the park
Long Pine Key Campground
- Open from November through May
- Located 7 miles south of Homestead park entrance
- Total RV Sites: 108
- All RV sites are primitive
- The nearest supplies are available at the Robert is Here Fruit Stand outside the park
- Easy access to the park’s interior hiking and biking trails
Tips for Booking a Campground in Everglades National Park
- Visit the Flamingo Adventures website or call 1-855-708-2207 to reserve a site.
- Reservations are strongly recommended when visiting from December through April but aren’t usually required for visits from June through November.
- You are allowed to have one RV and one tent (or just two tents) per site.
- Sites also hold a maximum of 8 people or two vehicles.
- Generators can be operated between the hours of 8 am and 8 pm daily.
- Quiet hours are from 10 pm to 6 am.
Staying Outside the Park
If the park campgrounds are full, there are plenty of RV sites available in private campgrounds outside the park. Small towns dot the perimeter of the park and you’re sure to find some fabulous campsites within a few miles of one of the park entrances.
Here are a few options and their approximate driving times to the park:
- Boardwalk RV Resort: About 20 minutes from the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center and 50 minutes from Miami.
- Miami Everglades RV Resort: About 35 minutes from the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center and 40-50 minutes from Miami.
- Naples Motorcoach Resort and Boat Club: About 35 minutes from the Gulf Coast Visitor Center and less than 20 minutes from Naples
- Trail Lakes Campground: About 15 minutes from the Gulf Coast Visitor Center with a more remote feel.
Backcountry camping is also popular in Everglades National Park but most campsites are only accessible via the park’s hiking or paddling trails. Use the park’s wilderness trip planner to explore your backcountry camping options in the Everglades.
How to Get Around
Like most national parks, roads are limited throughout the park, but all four visitor’s centers and main attractions are accessible in an RV. There are also options for boat and tram tours, as well as biking to get around the park.
Driving in and Around Everglades National Park
The main road from Homestead to the southern tip of the park is the Ingraham Highway (also known as state highway 9336).
From Homestead, take the Ingraham Highway southwest to reach the park’s Homestead entrance near the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center. From there, the highway is the main thoroughfare through the park and offers plenty of pull-outs and parking areas.
The Royal Palm Information Station is a good stop to see gators and get additional park information if you didn’t stop at Ernest F. Coe. Continue roughly 38 miles on Ingraham Highway to reach the Flamingo Visitor Center at the southern tip of the park.
To visit the northern section of the park, take Highway 41 (also known as the Tamiami Trail). Along this highway, stop at the Shark Valley Entrance Station and Visitor Center.
Exiting Highway 41 on County Road 29 and heading south to Everglades City is the fastest way to get to the Gulf Coast Visitor Center. This is a convenient stop for visitors coming down from Naples, Fort Myers, or other locations on Florida’s west coast.
Getting Around by Boat
Most of Everglades National Park is only accessible by boat, kayak, or canoe. The Florida Wilderness Waterway and dozens of paddling trails are perfect for kayak and canoe enthusiasts. There are also plenty of canals and bays for motorized vessels.
If you’re traveling to the park in an RV and want to get on a boat during your visit, visit Flamingo Marina or the Gulf Coast Visitor Center. The Flamingo Marina offers two distinct boat tours up the Buttonwood Canal or out into the Florida Bay.
The Ten Thousand Islands Boat Tour leaves from the Gulf Coast Visitor Center daily. Be aware that the drive between the Flamingo Marina and the Gulf Coast Visitor Center takes roughly two hours.
Guided Tram Tours
You can also hop on a tram in Shark Valley to enjoy a 90-minute guided tram tour that stops at the park’s highest accessible point, the Shark Valley Observation Tower. Shark Valley Tram Tours offers 90-minute educational tours led by park-trained naturalists that will be happy to answer all of your questions!
You can rent regular or electric bicycles at the Shark Valley and Flamingo visitor centers. E-bikes are allowed on the paved Shark Valley Loop, but not all trails in the park allow electric or regular bicycles.
Places to Go
There are four major hubs in the park. Visit these areas to experience some of the park’s best hiking trails, campgrounds, viewpoints, and visitor centers.
Shark Valley is situated in the heartland of the Everglades. It gets its name from the Shark River, which is the valley’s natural drainage. The most popular attraction here is the 15-mile road loop where you can walk or ride a bike to a popular wildlife area. They offer guided tram tours and the observation tower along the road is the highest accessible point in the park.
The Ten Thousand Islands is one of the park’s largest mangrove forests. You can access the islands by boat from the Gulf Coast Visitor Center. Rent a boat from Everglades Florida Adventures or bring your own to explore the mangrove estuary. Fishing is also a popular activity in this island chain.
Royal Palm houses the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center. The main attraction here is the abundance of hiking trails. There are also opportunities for biking, bird watching here, and it’s one of the best hubs for the park’s ranger-led programs.
The trails near Royal Palm are perfect for experiencing the wildlife of the Taylor Slough and the beautiful views of some of the park’s hardwood hammocks. Hammocks are raised areas of land that form thousands of islands around the park. Large trees grow on the hammocks, and their canopies provide shade and protection for hundreds of animal species.
Flamingo is located at the southern tip of the park. The extra driving is worth it to experience this area’s mangrove waterways. You can bring your own canoe, kayak, or boat to launch from the marina and enjoy ranger-guided programs at the visitor center.
The marina also offers canoe, kayak, and boat rentals and it’s one of the best places in the park to see manatees, as they often come into the harbor to nurse young calves.
Things To Do
If you love the outdoors, the Everglades has something for you. It’s the perfect family destination because of the rich cultural history and the abundance of outdoor activities.
The Everglades is a very popular boating destination. In fact, most of the park is only accessible by boat. The Flamingo Marina is open year-round with an on-site store and space for up to 50 boats.
There are two boat ramps at the marina. One is best for heading up the Buttonwood Canal to explore some of the park’s inland waterways. The other is best for fishing or sightseeing out in Florida Bay.
There are additional boat docks throughout the park where you can drop your boat and park your vehicle. Plus, guided boat tours launch from Flamingo or leave from Everglades City if you prefer someone else to do the driving.
Kayaking and Canoeing
Paddling in the Everglades is a wonderful way to explore the backcountry without disturbing the habitat. At Flamingo, you’ll find several canoe and kayak trails that lead deep into the mangroves.
There are plenty of trails for paddlers of all skill levels and there are also several permitted tour guides offering guided paddle adventures in the park. If you bring your own vessel, use the wilderness trip planner to plan a multi-day backwoods paddling camp trip.
There are more than 300 bird species to see in the Everglades. Seasonal migrations change the species you’re most likely to see during your visit, but some of our favorites include anhingas, cormorants, wood storks, and roseate spoonbills.
There are specific trails for birdwatching in the park. These areas tend to see more sightings than others, but you’re likely to see birds everywhere you go. Be sure to stop into a park visitor’s center to ask about recent sightings and migration information.
In the Florida Everglades, you get the best of both fishing worlds: freshwater and saltwater. One-third of the park is covered by saltwater and the rest is a freshwater wetland. You’ll need separate fishing licenses for saltwater and freshwater fishing.
Fish for snapper or redfish in Florida Bay or the Ten Thousand Islands area. Or check with park rangers for tips on the best spots for bass and bluegill in the park. Be sure to know catch limits and all regulations for fishing in the Everglades.
Fishing is prohibited in select parts of the park, so be familiar with those areas before your trip. It’s also important to remember manatee etiquette when fishing in the park. Idle your boat when you’re in manatee areas and never harass the animals.
There are miles of trails to explore on foot when you visit the park. Each of the park’s main areas offers many hiking trails. They range from beginner to difficult. Several of the trails in the Pine Island area have paved or boardwalk surfaces, making them great for short, fun hikes.
Here are five of the most popular trails in Everglades National Park
- The Anhinga Trail is less than a mile long. It’s a great introductory hike that winds through a sawgrass marsh and offers plenty of chances for wildlife viewing.
- The Gumbo Limbo Trail is less than a half-mile long. The entire trail is paved and shaded as it meanders among a variety of native trees, including gumbo limbo, royal palms, ferns, and a variety of air plants.
- The Coastal Prairie Trail is accessed from the back of the Flamingo Campground and is a total of 15 miles round-trip. It’s an out-and-back trail along the southern shore of the park, which provides several beaches to stop and turn around if you don’t want to hike the entire length.
- The Christian Point Trail is about 3.6 miles round-trip. Plan this hike so you hit the Snake Bight halfway viewpoint at high tide.
- The Otter Cave Hammock Walking Trail is about a one-mile round-trip. The trail consists of rough limestone underfoot and a magnificent tropical hardwood forest overhead.
If you’ve never ridden an airboat, this is one of the best places to have your first experience. Airboat tours are available from three private companies along the Tamiami Trail, but the Everglades River of Grass is one of the coolest places to see.
Wildlife viewing on an airboat is like nothing else you’ll experience in the park. Alligators, crocodiles, turtles, whitetail deer, and black bears are a few species you can hope to see. Tour lengths range from 1-2.5 hours and there are options for public and private adventures.
What to Bring and How to Prepare
Everglades National Park isn’t quite as remote as, say, Big Bend National Park. But you’ll still need to prepare adequately for RVing here. Here are a few tips to help you do that:
- Stock up on groceries before entering the park. Supplies will be cheaper and more readily available in the nearby cities of Homestead and Naples
- Firewood, ice, and limited foods and beverages are available at Flamingo Marina
- Consider packing an insulated drink cooler to keep beverages on ice and retain fridge space for perishable food
- Bring sunscreen, bug repellant, a full-brimmed hat, and plenty of drinking water on all outdoor adventures
- Moisture-wicking clothing is best for the heat and humidity in the park
- Consider a canopy or shelter with a full screen for added bug protection
- Heavy-duty tent stakes or weights will help you keep items in place during high winds
- Make sure your RV awning is in good shape if visiting during the rainy season
- If you plan on fishing in the park, you’ll need your license before entering. Licenses are not available for purchase at park visitor’s centers or information stations
- Check and update your RV’s first aid supplies before your trip
- Always keep a safe distance of at least 15 to 20 feet when viewing wildlife in the park
Brief History of Everglades National Park
The Everglades officially became a national park in 1947. For centuries prior, the region was home to several Native American tribes, with the Calusa and the Seminole being the two most dominant.
After the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, the Calusa were quickly displaced from the region. Many were killed by European diseases, some retreated further into the Everglades, and others fled to Cuba.
In 1821, the US seized control of Florida from the Spanish and began their war to drive the Seminoles out. But the Seminole people knew the region and the weather, so they had an advantage over the American soldiers. They evaded attacks by retreating into the deepest, mosquito-ridden parts of the Everglades.
Eventually, the Seminoles were forced to sign a treaty that saw them relinquish control of more than 2 million acres of land. After the government gained full control over South Florida, they started an initiative to drain Everglades to create more land for agriculture and settlement.
As early as the turn of the 20th century, Floridians began appealing for the conservation of the Everglades. When the park was finally established, drainage had already taken a big toll on the Everglades ecosystem eliminating 80 percent of the Everglade’s original size.
Everglades National Park protects the remaining 20 percent of the Everglades. By area, it’s the third-largest national park in the US, behind Death Valley and Yellowstone. Conflicts between proponents of agricultural development and advocates of conservation and fisheries health are ongoing.
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