Discover the wonders of the fabled 'River of Grass' on a drive, hike, tram tour or paddle in these Sunshine State locations.
There’s no other place on Earth like the Florida Everglades. Gargantuan by any measure, it’s the largest remaining subtropical wilderness in the United States, a wetland that encompasses a staggering 1.5 million acres of sawgrass marsh, mangrove forests and hardwood hammocks that provide shelter to a myriad of endangered, rare and exotic wildlife. Declared a World Heritage Site, International Biosphere Reserve and Wetland of International Importance, the Florida Everglades is a treasure for not only the residents of Florida, but for people from all over the world.
While the best-known way to access the Everglades is through one of Everglades National Park’s three entrances in three different cities, you can discover this epic, wild wonder on a hike, paddle or drive at a surprising number of Florida destinations.
Read on to discover some favorites.
In the heart of theme-park land, you’ll find Shingle Creek, a quiet, unassuming stream lined with cypress trees that holds bragging rights as the headwaters for the entire Everglades. Shingle Creek flows behind luxury hotels that include the Rosen, the Ritz Carlton and the JW Marriott, pouring into Lake Tohopekaliga and finally the Kissimmee River system where it rolls into the Everglades.
Rosen Shingle Creek welcomes visitors to explore the 1.2-mile nature trail behind its verdant golf course, complete with signs identifying local plants and animals. After your hike, refuel on gator chowder at the Rosen Centre Hotel’s Everglades Restaurant, the house specialty.
Other ways to discover Shingle Creek include a serene kayaking eco-tour out of the Ritz Carlton Grande Lakes. If you prefer to get the adrenaline pumping, try an airboat tour with Boggy Creek Airboat Adventures or Wild Florida, where you’ll scream across the water and get a close-up view of alligators and other wildlife.
Hiking! Camping! Horse Trails! Kayaking! If you’re looking for outdoor recreation you can’t do better than this park, sandwiched between Lake Rosalie, Tiger Lake and Lake Kissimmee. Lake Kissimmee is Florida's third-largest lake, which along with its marshlands are part of the Greater Everglades Ecosystem. You can get a fascinating peek into Florida's heritage while you’re at the park, when its living history demonstrations of an 1876-era cow camp bring Florida’s frontier to vivid life. For a panoramic view of Lake Kissimmee, climb the observation tower at the picnic area.
This 145,800-acre refuge encompasses part of the northern Everglades, protecting a whopping 226-square-miles of wet prairies, sawgrass ridges, sloughs, tree islands, cattail communities and a 400-acre cypress swamp. These lands are home to more than 250 species of birds, 60 species of reptiles and amphibians, 40 species of butterflies and 20 types of mammals. 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.
The visitors center brings the unfolding Everglades story into vivid focus with educational displays, orientation films, and informational brochures. Often, you’ll find displays featuring special collections by local artists. Afterwards, take a stroll on nearby walking trails.
Nestled partly inside the great mangrove swamp of South Florida, the 7,271-acre Collier-Seminole State Park invites you to join them for canoeing, hiking, and biking-- and even stay the night in its campground, reminding visitors, ‘Don’t forget the marshmallows!’ You can immerse yourself in this park’s extraordinary wilderness on several trails, or rent a canoe and explore the Blackwater River that winds through the mangroves to Blackwater Bay and the Ten Thousand Islands. While at the park, feast your eyes on the Bay City Walking Dredge, built in 1924, a wonder used to construct the Tamiami Trail.
The Visitor Center features educational displays, a park video and informational brochures, and you can snap up postcards and souvenirs from the gift shop. To experience to Everglades in comfort, take a guided tram tour with Shark Valley Tram Tours, Inc., where you’ll soak up information about The Everglades from friendly, knowledgeable naturalists. At the halfway point on your expedition, you’ll have the opportunity to hike to the highest accessible point in Everglades National Park-- the 45-foot-high viewing platform of the Shark Valley Observation Tower-- for a stunning vantage point of the sawgrass prairies that stretch in every direction.
Or take a peddle on the 15-mile path at your own pace on a self-guided Everglades bike tour, on your own bike or a rental.
Two short walking trails, including one that’s accessible, are sited off the main trail.
Paddling in Everglades City
Your whole gang can explore Florida Bay, Whitewater Bay and the Ten Thousand Islands by kayak or canoe with Everglades Rentals & Eco Adventures or Mangrove Tunnel Eco Adventures, both sited in Everglades City, a tiny retreat by any measure with a population of around 200. Take an educational journey through the wildest terrain in Florida, as Everglades Rentals says, ‘where the pavement ends and the adventure begins.’