How to Explore the Florida Everglades
The legendary River of Grass is one of the wonders of the world, a vast subtropical wilderness that has been declared a World Heritage Site, International Biosphere Reserve and Wetland of International Importance. There are many ways to experience the Florida Everglades – here are nine entry points.
Corkscrew Swamp: Land of Giants
Deep in the heart of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, in the largest stand of old-growth cypress trees on the planet, living giants tower over the primeval landscape. Some of the trees measure more than 135 in height and nearly 40 feet in circumference. A 2.1-mile-long boardwalk leads into the Corkscrew wilderness.
Big Cypress: Brake for Alligators
Along the Tamiami Trail in the 720,000-acre wilderness of Big Cypress National Preserve, alligators line the canal banks like scaly, cold-blooded Lincoln logs. The reptiles reign in the swamp, particularly along the 25-mile Loop Road that leads off the main highway into the deep Everglades.
Step Into the Mystery of Fakahatchee Strand
Venture into Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park and you could see an elusive Florida panther, or a black bear, or the famous ghost orchid, which was featured in Susan Orlean’s best-selling book “The Orchid Thief” (which was made into a movie starring Meryl Streep and Nicholas Cage).
Go Rolling Down the Gator Trail
Shark Valley Visitor Center is located 25 miles west of Miami and 70 miles east of Naples. The 15-mile Tram Loop is closed to motorized traffic except for the regular tram tours; many visitors choose to bike the trail, stopping halfway to take in the view from the observation tower.
Store Stocked with Tales of Florida Frontier
Stepping through the doorway of the Smallwood Store on the island of Chokoloskee is like stepping back in time. Opened in 1906 by Florida pioneer Ted Smallwood, the wooden building on pilings is more museum than retail establishment now, with a trove of stories and artifacts from bygone days.
Eat Your Fill, Sit a Spell at Joanie’s
Joanie’s Blue Crab Cafe isn’t fancy, but it serves up heaping helpings of old-fashioned Old Florida character with every plate of fresh seafood. Proprietor Joanie Griffin, who practically grew up in the Everglades fishing and hunting with her late husband, presides with downhome charm and hospitality.
Visit the Disney World of Tropical Fruit
At Robert Is Here, browse the aisles for exotic produce – dragonfruit, lychee, sapodilla, Monstera deliciosa – as well as more familiar fare, like tomatoes cucumbers, bananas, mangoes and more. Owner (and namesake) Robert Moehler, a big, friendly man who will talk your ear off, grows most of what he sells.
Go Deep for Everglades Chickee Camping
Canoe into Hell’s Bay in the southern tip of the Florida Everglades for a backcountry chickee camping adventure. Chickees, traditional Seminole or Miccosukee structures using palm or palmetto thatching on a log frame with a raised floor, are open on all sides to allow breezes to flow through. Chickees make roughing it not so rough for wilderness camping novices.
Sawgrass Recreation Park: Catch Some Air
Discover the South Florida Everglades with an airboat adventure that glides over the sawgrass and cattails and lets your spirit soar as you hear stories of this only-in-Florida environment. Hold an alligator and see a Florida Panther in the animal exhibit areas, featuring more than 100 mammals and reptiles that have been adopted and rescued.