The Everglades Trail
See the fabled 'River of Grass' on a drive along this ecotourism trail.
There is no other place on Earth like the Everglades. It is a vital piece of our environment and South Florida's water supply, a vast, mysterious place full of history and nature.
Experience it by taking a driving tour of the Everglades Trail. Along the way, you will find plenty of chances to explore; understand challenges facing the Everglades; see plants and wildlife; canoe, hike and bike; walk boardwalks and trails; visit overlooks; take pictures; and make memories.
You set the pace on this ecotourism trail. There is no must-do route on the 300-mile path, which has 20 sites in Central, Southeast and Southwest Florida. Everglades Trail highway signs make finding sites easy.
You could start with a walking trail and look for panther tracks at Number 20 (the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge in Naples), or head straight for some snorkeling at Number 12 (Biscayne National Park in Homestead). Your choices are all good, and your goal – and it is a worthy one – is to experience all the great places along the Everglades Trail.
Sampling of Trail Sites
1. Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando
Surprised? So was I. Yes, we are in the heart of theme-park land, and yes, this is the start of the Everglades – this quiet, unassuming creek lined with cypress trees. Rosen Shingle Creek is the headwaters, the northern beginning for the entire Everglades ecosystem that ends up flowing into Florida Bay. There is a short trail behind the Marriott there; see the South Florida Water Management District page for more creek entrances. Things to do on Rosen Shingle Creek: bicycling, boating, canoeing, fishing, hiking and kayaking. 9939 Universal Boulevard, Orlando, 407-996-9939.
3. Lake Kissimmee State Park in Lake Wales
Get out your sporting gear; this park has full-facility camping, hiking on nature trails, backpacking, horse trails, canoeing/kayaking and boating. On weekends from October through May 1, it is living history time. An 1876 Cow Camp is open, and a Florida Cow Hunter will demonstrate what life was like rounding up wild cattle right in this area. Lake Kissimmee is Florida's third-largest lake, and the lake and the marshlands are part of the Greater Everglades Ecosystem. For a panoramic view of Lake Kissimmee, climb the observation tower at the picnic area. 14248 Camp Mack Road, Lake Wales, 863-696-1112.
10. Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in Boynton Beach
Walking the boardwalk in a cypress swamp, I couldn't help but notice how ancient the cypress trees were – with good reason. This 145,800-acre refuge contains a portion of the northern Everglades, which makes it extra special. Got binoculars? Birding is a favorite here, a pastime made easy by walking on impoundments. The best bird-viewing seasons are fall through spring, and the refuge is a gateway for the South Florida section of the Great Florida Birding Trail. 10216 Lee Road, Boynton Beach, 561-732-3684
13. Everglades National Park, Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center in Homestead
The visitors center tells the unfolding Everglades story in interactive exhibits for the whole family. When you leave the center, walk the short Anhinga Trail for an up-close look at wildlife and the vast River of Grass. This park has 1.6 million acres, the largest subtropical wilderness in America, and three entrances on the Everglades Trail. At the end of the road at Flamingo, you see Florida Bay. 40001 State Road 9336, Homestead, 305-242-7700
18. Collier-Seminole State Park in Naples
The park is a buffet of Everglades wildlife and vegetation. A popular walk goes through royal palms. Hiking, bicycling and canoeing are offered, along with a boat ramp to the Blackwater River, which offers both fresh and saltwater angling. See the Bay City Walking Dredge built in 1924 and used to build the Tamiami Trail (U.S. 41). 20200 East Tamiami Trail, Naples, 239-394-3397
At every site, find free maps and literature about the Everglades Trail. To enhance your journey, purchase a two-CD set available at many of the sites. Crank up the car stereo and listen to songs of the Everglades by Jimmy Buffett, Dale Crider and Paul Garfinkel & The Ashley Gang on one disc. On the other, Charles Osgood of CBS Sunday Morning narrates stories of the Everglades.
See you on the trail!