Your Family's Gotta Try This: Airboating in the Everglades
By Lauren Tjaden
Discover a legendary, watery wilderness on a real-life thrill ride across the Florida Everglades aboard an airboat at Sawgrass Recreation Park, an only-in-the-Sunshine-State expedition that your whole family can enjoy.
This Southeast Florida adventure delivers:
- a wind-in-your-hair, scream-out-loud ride on an airboat, which has been described as a cross between an airplane and a boat;
- an epic journey into the one and only Everglades, the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States, with an experienced captain to reveal its secrets;
- a chance to spot wildlife like alligators, birds, fish and turtles;
- and the chance to investigate a Reptile Sanctuary, where you can meet toothy creatures that include a behemoth gator that goes by the name of ‘Cannibal.’
Here’s a planner for your adventure – including driving distances, different kinds of rides, and what to expect – plus accommodations and other adventure opportunities.
Plan on a minimum of a half day of family fun to cover travel time; an airboat tour; exploring the Reptile Sanctuary and the Glades Exhibit; and grabbing a bite. You can stretch out the experience at the Sawgrass Mining Company area, where you can mine for gems and sharks teeth for an additional fee. Different tours, like the Private Sunrise Airboat Adventure and Red Eye Exclusive Nighttime Airboat Adventure will take a little longer as well. If you want to fish and camp it could turn into a multi-day expedition.
Distance From Big Cities
Weston is about half an hour from Fort Lauderdale Airport; 45-60 minutes from Miami International Airport; 20-30 minutes from Port Everglades; a little over three hours from Orlando International Airport; and about an hour ½ from Naples.
Age Restrictions, Physical Demands and Cautions
Any age child can enjoy an airboat ride, and children ages three and under ride free.
All children ages six and under must wear a life jacket, and guests over the age of six are welcome to wear life jackets as well, all provided by Sawgrass.
There are no mandatory restrictions for expectant mothers. However, guests should take into account that the airboat will be traveling over the water for a minimum of 30 minutes. While typically it’s a smooth ride, it can be a bit bumpy in high wind conditions. Additionally, it’s usually warm outside so make sure you stay hydrated.
Be forewarned, the boats are extremely loud. Sawgrass provides earplugs.
All tours operate pending inclement weather, so please call prior to arriving if there’s weather in the area.
Other Sawgrass Attractions
Sawgrass Recreation Park’s Reptile Sanctuary, included in the price of your airboat ride, is home to over 50 adopted and rescued reptiles like tortoises, iguanas, snakes—and of course, alligators. Presentations are included in all of the exhibit areas, with the park’s handlers demonstrating how these animals live and survive in the wild. Don’t forget to bring your camera so you can capture the excitement of the ‘Meet a Baby Alligator’ experience. Featured residents include Cannibal, a 1000-pound alligator.
The Glades Exhibit, also included in the price of your airboat ride, invites you to delve into the history of the Everglades and conservation efforts. While there, check out the Sawgrass Mining Company, where you can mine for gems and sharks teeth for an additional fee.
Commemorate your trip with a souvenir from the Gator Emporium, where you can snap up gifts and toys that include offerings from local artisans and eco-friendly companies as well as handmade items. You’ll also find snacks, cold beverages, and ice cream.
Before you board your airboat adventure, drop by the Photo Booth and Craft Stand, where staff members will take a picture of your party with an expansive view of the glades as a backdrop. Magnets, keychains and USB packages will be available for purchase after your tour.
Crafts available include handmade beaded, hemp, leather and woven jewelry, as well as gifts and fun kids toys.
For an extra thrill, stay the night – if you’re up for primitive Everglades tent camping, that is. Rules stipulate a maximum of two tents per site. Sites, all equipped with a picnic table and a campfire ring, are available seven days a week. It’s a short walk to the restrooms from the site, and there are no showers.
Group camping is also available for 20 or more campers.
Private guided fishing tours are available with advanced bookings (call for info).
Anglers can rent 14-foot Jon boats, either regular or extra-wide, with a 9.9 hp motors for freshwater fishing in the Florida Everglades. Boats are limited to canal areas for safety reasons.
A Florida fishing license may be required. You can learn more about who needs a license and how to get one here: https://myfwc.com/fishing/new-angler/. You may purchase a fishing license by phone by calling:1-888-347-4356. Have your credit card ready and they’ll give you a confirmation number that will allow you to fish right away.
To rent a Jon boat, you must be at least 21 years old with a valid credit card. Sawgrass Recreation Park doesn’t sell bait or tackle; so remember to bring your own poles and gear.
Tours and Package Options
Reservations are required for all airboat tours, as they often sell out. You can buy tickets on Sawgrass Recreation Park’s website, or call 954-389-0202 to hold a time. Your reservation is made to specify a window of arrival time and not a boat departure time. You may arrive any time within your chosen window, and you’ll be assigned to the next boat boarding. The boats go out every 30 minutes, so that will be the longest wait time upon arrival and check-in.
The most popular tour is the Everglades Airboat Adventure & Animal Sanctuary Admission. It includes a 40-minute group airboat ride and admission to the Reptile Sanctuary.
Book an Private Airboat Adventure to reserve a custom airboat exclusively for your group on a tour of 40, 60, 90, or 120 minutes. Access to the animal exhibits is included.
Gator Nights Airboat Rides feature an hourlong airboat tour on select nights, meeting at 8 p.m. and departing at 8:30 p.m. You’ll visit exclusive Everglades locations, and see and hear a variety of reptiles, insects, and amphibians—including alligators, which you’ll be able to recognize by the telltale glow of their eyes, revealed by the Captain’s flashlight. You’ll also get a voucher to visit the exhibit areas during normal daytime hours.
Book a Sawgrass Reptile Exhibit Private Tour to allow your group exclusive access to the exhibit for one hour. This slithery excursion includes introductions to several of Sawgrass’s reptilian friends.
Other options include a Private Sunrise Airboat Adventure, Red Eye Exclusive Nighttime Airboat Adventure, and a variety of packages.
General Information: Directions, Hours and Parking
Sawgrass Recreation Park’s address is 1006 U.S. 27, Weston, FL 33327, but while some GPS systems will recognize the address, they’ll nevertheless send you in the wrong direction when you’re almost there. Use ‘Sawgrass Recreation Park’ as the destination in your GPS as opposed to the actual address to arrive at the correct location. The Park is located two miles north of Exit 23 off I-75 on US Highway 27.
Sawgrass Recreation Park is open 363 days each year, only closing on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Boats run every 20-30 minutes until 3:30 p.m. A final boat leaves at 5 p.m., but it’s recommended that guests arrive at the Park no later than 4 p.m., because the animal exhibits close at 5 p.m. when the last boat boards. All tours operate pending inclement weather so please call prior to arriving if there’s weather in the area.
There is no charge for parking, and there’s plenty available.
The park website has all the details.
Food and Drink
On your way to Sawgrass Recreation Park’s exhibit areas, stop by The Gator Grill for a made-to-order lunch. Employing fresh ingredients, this food truck offers Angus burgers and pulled pork sandwiches as well as grilled gator bites- a must-try option. Appetizers and kids meals round out the offerings. The Gator Grill is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.
You’ll find multiple picnic areas throughout the park, with tables strategically positioned under the shade of the trees.
The average daytime high temperature is 76 degrees Fahrenheit (24 centigrade) in January, rising a couple of degrees warmer in February and March. April and May feature average highs from the low to high 80s; while June through September promises averages from the upper 80s to the low 90s. October and November cool off a little, with average highs in the 80s; and December provides a comfortable average high of 77. You can find more area weather averages here.
Sawgrass Recreation Park is popular, with multiple peak seasons that include the summer months of June, July and August; the holiday season around Christmastime, and February through April, across spring break.
Travelers with Disabilities
Sawgrass has limited airboat accessibility for guests who are handicapped. If you’re able to comfortably take a step down into the boat or have a family member help you, you’ll be able to enjoy a boat ride. If you’re apprehensive about having to get into the boat, you can still enjoy the park’s animal exhibits for a discounted cost.
One of the Park’s restrooms is accessible and gender neutral. It has room for a wheelchair and a companion, and features a large bench.
The nearest hotels are located in Weston, about 15 minutes away from Sawgrass Recreation Park. Here are hotels centered around the park from Google Maps. Places to stay in Fort Lauderdale, including beach hotels, are only a little over 30 minutes away from the Park. Here are places to stay from the area’s visitors services.
Everglades National Park protects a fragile ecosystem made of wetlands and forests, the largest tropical wilderness in the United States and the largest wilderness of any kind east of the Mississippi River. On average, one million people visit it each year.
The Everglades are the most important breeding ground for tropical wading birds in North America and encompass the biggest mangrove ecosystem in the Western Hemisphere. The Park is home to 36 threatened or protected species, including the Florida panther, the American crocodile, and the West Indian manatee, along with 350 species of birds, 300 species of fresh and saltwater fish, 40 species of mammals, and 50 species of reptiles. The majority of South Florida's fresh water, which is stored in the Biscayne Aquifer, is rejuvenated in the park.
Fort Lauderdale, only about 30 minutes from Sawgrass Recreation Park, offers a wealth of things to do, including beautiful beaches, a water taxi, arts and entertainment, spas, shopping and dining.