Top 10 Things to Do in Everglades National Park

by Jon D. B.
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Top 10 Things to Do in Everglades National Park. (Photo credit: Getty Images archives, Outsider)

Love wildlife? Water? Both? Everglades National Park (EVER) is the ultimate wetland wilderness and offers enough exploration for multiple lifetimes.

In fact, Everglades is the third largest national park outside of Alaska’s giants. The southern Florida gem encompasses 2,400 square miles – that’s over 1.5 million acres of The River of Grass. Here, you’ll immerse yourself in the National Park Service‘s (NPS) equivalent of Jurassic Park as this eons-old ecosystem flourishes around you. Modern-day dinosaurs – birds – still very much resemble their ancient ancestors here as they hunt the wetlands for prey. And the Everglades are the only place on Earth that alligators and crocodiles coexist together. It is, in many ways, the wildest place in America.

The incredibly diverse habitats of the Everglades for hiking, canoeing, kayaking, biking, fresh and saltwater fishing, and camping in the ultimate wilderness, too. So what are you waiting for?

Below, we’re breaking down the Top 10 must-do highlights of the national park to help plan your ultimate Everglades excursion. And keep in mind that there’s boundless opportunities for bird and wildlife watching in-between. Let’s get to it!

10. Pa-Hay-Okee Trail & Overlook Showcases the River of Grass

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Everglades National Park, Pahayokee Trail Boardwalk and overlook. (Photo by: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
  • Trail Length: 0.16 miles (260 m) round trip
  • Wheelchair Accessible: Yes
  • Bicycles Allowed: No

Looking to take in the Everglades as a whole? It’s a near impossible task given the sheer size of this giant River of Grass, but your best bet is absolutely the Pa-hay-okee (or Pahayokee) Trail & overlook.

Here, a wilderness-winding trail combines with the raised wooden boardwalk, leading to a high observation platform at the pinnacle of the loop. Sweeping vistas of the Everglades await, which is why the trail and overlook are named for the ecosystem’s Indigenous name: Pa-hay-okee.

To get there, Pa-hay-okee Trail is 13 miles (21 km) from the main park entrance and the Ernest Coe Visitor Center; the perfect spot to stock up on maps and provisions you’ll need for your Everglades excursion.

9. HM69 Nike Missile Base offers Fascinating Everglades History

Did you know that Everglades National Park contains one of the most well-preserved relics of the Cold War? If you’re a history enthusiast, visiting the Nike Hercules missile site, or “Alpha Battery” / “HM69” is a must.

Nike also offers something wildly different from the rest of the park. There are 3 missile barns, the missile assembly building, a guard dog kennel, army barracks, and two decommissioned Nike Hercules missiles on-site to this day.

Visitors can gain access most days from December through late March via EVER’s open house program. But we highly recommend partaking in Ranger-guided tours. Check with the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center or view the park calendar to schedule your visit.

8. Gumbo Limbo Trail = ‘Jurassic Park’

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Everglades National Park, UNESCO, Gumbo-Limo Trai (Photo by Franken/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
  • Trail Length: 0.4 miles (600 meters) round trip
  • Wheelchair Accessible: Yes
  • Bicycles Allowed: No

Speaking of Jurassic Park, the self-guiding, paved path of Gumbo Limbo Trail meanders through a shaded, jungle-like hammock of gumbo limbo trees (Bursera simaruba), royal palms (Roystonea elata), ferns, and air plants, transplanting you to a different time and place.

In short: if you spotted a triceratops or velociraptor on this trail, you wouldn’t be surprised. You won’t, but honestly, the modern wildlife that makes a home in this magnificent foliage is just as fascinating.

To reach Gumbo Limbo Trial, head for the Royal Palm Visitor Center which is four miles (6 km) from the main park entrance at Ernest Coe.

7. Float Everglades National Park’s Nine Mile Pond Canoe Trail

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Visitors float the canoe trail. (Photo credit: JAVIER GALEANO/AFP via Getty Images)

Want to embark on your own Everglades canoe excursion? Nine Mile Pond Canoe Trail is a 5.2 mile loop that grants this exact experience. This scenic float guides you through shallow grassy marsh with scattered mangrove islands. Here, you’ll be able to spot alligators and crocodiles as they coexist, wading birds, and even the endangered snail kite.

Be sure to keep an eye out for the numbered white poles that guide your float. And you’ll want to schedule this one for the fall or winter when water levels are suitable.

Or, if you’d prefer a guide, The Everglades Institute offers paddling tours when water levels permit. Canoes and paddling equipment are available, too, so you don’t have to bring your own.

6. Marvel at the Mangroves in Ten Thousand Islands

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Visitors vacation at Ten Thousand Islands in Florida Everglades, USA. (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)

To put it simply, Ten Thousand Islands is a labyrinth of water and mangroves. Here, island-groupings of trees (mangroves) harbor an abundance of life, while shallow waters do the same for countless marine species. To float between is an experience unlike any other in Everglades National Park.

Some of the best spots to explore in Ten Thousand Islands are Turner River, Halfway Creek, Sandfly Island, and the East River. But please keep in mind it can be difficult to navigate this area (as the name implies). The park strongly recommends that visitors reference NOAA Charts #11430 and 11432 to assist in their float.

5. Hike the Heart of Everglades National Park on Anhinga Trail

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Visitors walk near a Florida alligator on the Anhinga Trail in Everglades National Park in Homestead, Florida, on January 16, 2019. (Photo credit: LEILA MACOR/AFP via Getty Images)
  • Trail Length: 0.8 miles (1200 meters) round trip
  • Wheelchair Accessible: Yes
  • Bicycles Allowed: No

Want to experience the heart of the Everglades and its wildlife? The self-guiding Anhinga Trail does so by winding through a sawgrass marsh. Here, alligators, turtles, anhingas (the bird for which the trial is named), herons, egrets, and countless other species flourish. For the best experience, head here in winter when indigenous and migrating wildlife are present in abundance. And once you do, you’ll see why it’s one of the park’s most popular hikes.

To reach Anhinga Trail, the trailhead is located at the Royal Palm Visitor Center, 4miles (6 km) from the main park entrance at Ernest Coe.

4. Drive the Main Park Road to Take in All of Everglades National Park

If you only have time to do one thing in EVER, then we highly recommend driving the Main Park Road. You can experience much of what everything else on this list offers by driving through and making easily-accessible stops along the way (ample bird and wildlife watching, trails, and stunning vistas all await).

For the best drive, start from the park’s North Entrance (Shark Valley), then head thru to the South Entrance (Flamingo). The park road ends in Flamingo, the gateway to Florida Bay. There, you’ll find the Flamingo campground, a marina with boat launching areas, and additional hiking and canoe trails. Kayak, canoe, and bicycle rentals are available here, as well.

3. Book an Airboat Tour thru the Everglades

Miami, Everglades National Park, Airboat on wetlands. (Photo by: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Want an unforgettable Everglades experience? Of course you do! There are countless airboat tours offered throughout Florida, but EVER is by far the best place to make one happen. And it is a blast.

There are three companies that are legally able to operate airboat tours inside Everglades National Park. They are:

Scheduling in advance is highly recommended, and each company offers varying tours to suit your tastes. Head for the Tamiami Trail between Miami and EVER’s Shark Valley to find all three and book an experience you won’t forget.

2. See Shark Valley

A couple at Shark Valley. (Photo by: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

So the name is a bit odd, yes. It’s highly unlikely you’ll spot any sharks in Shark Valley, but this beloved North Entrance area is chock full of other wildlife. It really is like walking through a zoo where you’re not separated from the animals. So be mindful and enjoy this fantastic hiking, biking, and tram trail wonderland.

The 15-mile loop road is truly the heartland of the Everglades, and as fantastic as Anhinga Trail is, multiply that by ten and you’ve got Shark Valley. And yes, you can take a park tram through Shark Valley, which we highly recommend.

Whether you choose to walk, bike, or tram, be sure to cap off your excursion with the Shark Valley Observation Tower. Here, you’ll have a 360 degree view of the Everglades with wildlife-filled water below; a bird’s-eye view of alligators, turtles, fish, and countless birds. What more could you ask for?

1. Book an Everglades National Park Ranger-Led Canoe Tour

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A youth group make their way during a canoe trial into the Everglades. (Photo credit: JAVIER GALEANO/AFP via Getty Images)

Private airboat tours are truly fantastic. But if you’re looking to experience the everglades as they really are, you’ll want to embark on a quiet, peaceful canoe excursion led by the people who know this park best: park rangers. Their knowledge, combined with the undisturbed flora and fauna, makes for the ultimate Everglades experience, hands down.

The best part? The park’s Flamingo district provides canoes for the main tour, so you don’t have to worry about transporting your own (unless you want to). We recommend booking a trip with the park rangers stationed in Flamingo, which you can do by calling (239) 695-2945 up to 7 days in advance.

Ranger-led Gulf Coast tours are also an option, for which you can make reservations (no earlier than 14 days in advance) by calling (239) 695-3311. For Gulf Coast excursions, however, you’ll need to bring your own or rent a canoe.

For more ahead of your Everglades excursion, see our Top 10 Things to Know About Everglades National Park next.

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