Have you ever wondered what a subtropical wilderness looks like? Well, you don’t have to travel the the Carribean islands to get to one. It just so happens that Florida is home the largest one in the US.
Everglades National Park is home to one of the most unique and diverse ecosystems in the world. It’s something that every American should see some time in their life. You’ll find a mix of Native American heritage and American settler history in this area. And it’s home to a special selection of native animals like the West Indian manatee and the American Crocodile.
This vast and beautiful wetland makes for a great photo op. But you’ll never understand it’s beauty until you visit it yourself.
History of Everglades National Park
For hundreds of years, the Everglades was home to a number of Native American tribes. The Calusa and the Seminole were two of the most dominant tribes.
Soon 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 took control over 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 were able to evade attacks by retreating into the deepest, mosquito-ridden parts of the Everglades.
Eventually, the Seminoles were forced to sign a treaty where they gave up over 2 million acres of land. After the government gained full control over South Florida, they started an initiative to drain the swampy area. This created more land for agriculture and settlement.
As early as the turn of the 20th century, Floridians began appealing for the conservation of the Everglades. By the time they established the park in 1947, drainage had taken a big toll on the Everglades ecosystem.
Everglades National Park protects the remaining 20 percent of the original Everglades. By area, it’s the third-largest national park in the US, behind Death Valley and Yellowstone.
Why Visit the Everglades National Park?
The park covers 2,400 square miles. That’s a lot of ground to cover. Making the trip in your RV allows you to see more and do more while you’re visiting the park. You can also of course visit the park in a typical car, you don’t absolutely have to have an RV, but we highly recommend it.
This is one of the few parks that you can visit in the winter and still wear a t-shirt. There are so many outdoor activities to do. You’ll want to spend at least a few days at the park enjoying this beautiful landscape.
Places To Go in the Everglades National Park
There are four major areas in the park, each located near a park entrance. Visit these areas to find the bulk of the park hiking trails, campgrounds, and visitor centers.
Shark Valley is near the Miami park entrance and it part of the heartland of the Everglades. Its namesake comes from the Shark River, where the waters of Shark Valley drain. There’s a 15-mile road loop where you can walk or ride a bike to a popular wildlife area. And they offer guided tram tours and an observation tower.
The Ten Thousand Islands is a group of islands that are home to a large mangrove forest. You can access the islands at the Gulf Coast Visitor Center, but only by boat. They offer chartered boats or you can bring your own and explore the mangrove estuary.
Royal Palm is near the town of Homestead and it houses the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center. The main attraction here is the abundance of hiking trails. The Anhinga Trail and the Gumbo Limbo Trail both start here and are two of the most popular.
Walking these trails, you’ll encounter the wildlife of Taylor Slough and the beautiful views of the 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 the park visitors center at the Homestead entrance. It’s a popular area because of its proximity to the mangrove waterways. You can canoe, kayak, or launch your boat from the marina to explore the mangroves. Flamingo also has a campground and plenty of hiking trails to enjoy.
Things To Do In Everglades National Park
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 popular boating destination. In fact, most of the park is only accessible by boat. There’s a marina located in the Flamingo area. It’s open year-round with an onsite store and space for up to 50 boats. There are multiple boat docks throughout the park where you can drop your boat and park your vehicle. Plus, there are plenty of guided boat tours if you’d prefer that someone else 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 trails that lead you deep into the mangroves. There are trails for all, from skilled paddlers to beginners. Rent your canoe or kayak at Flamingo or Gulf Coast. Or bring your own rig and plan a multi-day backwoods paddling camp trip.
The warm climate makes the Everglades a great spot for camping year round. There are two drive-in campgrounds in the park. Long Pine Key Campground and Flamingo Campground both offer sites for tent and RV camping.
In addition to the campgrounds, the park has plenty of backcountry camping opportunities for tent campers. Most of these areas can only be reached by water. But they’re worth the effort. There are plenty of beach camping spots available if you’re willing to pack up your kayak and paddle there.
In Florida, you get the best of both fishing worlds: freshwater and saltwater. Fish for snapper or redfish out on Florida Bay or in the Ten Thousand Islands area.
Freshwater fishing is more limited, so check with park rangers to find the best spots for bass and bluegill in the park. You’ll need separate fishing licenses for saltwater and freshwater fishing. And it’s important to remember manatee etiquette when fishing in the park. Idle your boat when you’re in manatee areas and never harass the animals.
Hiking and Slogging
There are miles and miles of trails to explore on foot when you visit the park. Each of the major park areas has 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.
If you’ve never heard of slough slogging, now’s the time to learn! The park offers you a once-in-a-lifetime experience to slog through the River of Grass. This means you’ll have to get your feet wet, but it’s worth it because you’ll get to experience the beautiful cypress domes. Slogging requires reservations.
Always prepare when hiking in the Everglades. It gets very hot, very sunny, and very buggy during the summer. Bring long sleeves, sunscreen, bug repellant, and a hat along with you.
When to Visit the Everglades National Park
The Everglades is beautiful year-round, but there are better times of year to visit. If you can, avoid the rainy season (June-November). The park experiences regular rainfall during this time and it can put a wrench in your plans for outdoor activities.
This is also the time of year for hurricanes. Although most hurricanes hit during August and September, they can hit any time during the summer or fall. Keep this in mind when you’re planning.
The best time of year to visit the park is during the winter. The temperatures are cooler, but not cold. You’ll avoid most of the mosquito rush if you opt to visit then.
Where You Can Stay in Everglades National Park
The two campsites inside the park, Long Pine Key and Flamingo, both accommodate RVs of various lengths. They book up fast, so make your reservation in advance.
No worries though if they are booked up, 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 the park entrances.
Getting To and Around the Everglades National Park
The park doesn’t have many roads. If you have a boat or a kayak, you can reach a lot more places. All of the major areas are accessible in your RV through the road system.
From Homestead, FL, it’s just a few miles on Ingraham Highway to reach the Homestead Entrance. From there, you can visit the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center and the Royal Palm Visitor Center.
From Miami, take Highway 41 (Tamiami Trail) straight west to the Shark Valley Entrance Station and Visitor Center. The Tamiami Trail goes all the way through the park and up the western side of the state to Naples. Exit on County Road 29 to go down to Everglades City which is where you’ll find the Gulf Coast Marina area.
Take the main park road down from Homestead or the Wilderness Waterway from Gulf Coast to visit the Flamingo area in the southern tip of the park.
There’s something for everyone at Everglades National Park. Bring your RV down to the Sunshine State to explore this beautiful scenery and delicate ecosystem. Check out the park website to learn more.
Is Everglades National Park on your list of places to visit? Tell us why or why not in a comment below!