The southern tip of Florida is a shelf of limestone surrounded on three sides by ocean and awash with a river system over 60 miles wide and 100 miles long. Called Pa-hay-okee, or "Grassy Water" by the Seminole Indians, the Everglades of today encompass 5 different but interdependent ecosystems home to such a variety of birds, mammals, reptiles, and plants that you'll never see it all.
Whether you choose to explore on foot, by boat, or on wheels, the raw power of nature you witness will inspire you to visit again and again!
Imagine the wind whipping your hair back as you go flying over a sea of golden grassland. Or skimming the surface of the water as mangrove roots whiz past overhead. If you're looking for an exhilarating excursion into the land of Marjory Douglas River of Grass but are rather short on time, board an airboat for the adventure of a lifetime.
Flat-bottomed watercraft with a giant fan on the back skim the surface of the water, allowing you to explore more of the landscape without the restriction of a propeller in the water. Explore mangrove swamps, alligator farms, or open waters to a private island. Visit the Gulf Coast Visitor's Center for more information.
If you're looking for a more sedate, reflective experience, rent a kayak or canoe and paddle beneath tunnels of woven mangrove roots in the mangrove swamps, thick marshes of sawgrass, or among groves of cypress. If you're lucky you'll see turtles, alligators, waterlilies, orchids, roseate spoonbills, flamingos, and countless other waterfowl as you paddle along.
You can kayak the 99 mile Wilderness Waterway, spending the 7-10 days communing with the natural world around you, or you can take any of a number of other shorter well-marked trails.
If open air, blue skies, and salt water beneath are more your speed, the Florida Bay area has everything you're looking for. Spend your days kayaking among the many keys, exploring mangroves, and watching for the sea turtles and manatees that feed on the vast mats of turtlegrass.
There are many paved biking trails through the Everglades National Park. Shark Valley Trail, situated in the middle of the park, is a 15 mile loop. Along the way visit any of the four borrow pits that were created when the developers dug out stone to pave the scenic road. These pits are favorites for alligators, wading birds, and turtles. Take in a breathtaking view of the glades from the observation tower at the halfway point.
Another popular biking destination is at the southernmost tip of the state, where wetland meets ocean. The seven different Flamingo trails offer the biker a rich diversity of scenery from the beautiful ocean vistas to tropical hardwood hammocks. Bird-watchers will catch glimpses of warblers and mangrove cuckoos in the early morning hours, and many wading birds, shore birds, and sometimes even flamingos at high tide. There are campgrounds available as well as canoe trails, a ranger station, and the Flamingo Visitors Center.
Most locations are not recommended during the summer months when the bugs and the mud get too thick, but the Pinelands is a very good year-round alternative.
The pines in this area were mostly logged before the park was established in 1947, but it remains one of the most diverse areas of the glades. It is home to over 200 tropical plant species as well as the elusive Florida panther. The Long Pine Key Nature Trail is recommended to any budding ecologists and naturalists.
Most of the bike trails also double as hiking trails, but if you're looking to make your own way, then we hope you don't mind getting a little wet. Guided "slough slogs" are available for the hardcore explorer who desires to commune with nature's more elusive species.
Wade through hidden worlds of cypress domes as park rangers guide you through the still quiet waters and soft breezes of the river of grass. Tours are available in most areas of the park.
The best time to visit is during the dry winter months when the weather is mild and the bugs are hiding. The wet summer months are reserved for the more experienced and adventurous explorers who don't mind extreme humidity and getting a little chewed on. Remember sunscreen, bug repellent, and drink plenty of water!
Note: Available plans and coverages may have changed since this blog was published.
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Stephen Schreck is a world traveler, nomad, and adventure backpacker. Knowing a life of aimlessly wandering the globe in search of adventures was the only life for him he set out to make his dream his reality. Currently he is trying to conquer his fears and tackle his bucket list. Follow Stephen's adventures at A Backpacker's Tale or on social media on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.
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