In southern Florida lies a place unlike any other on this planet; one the National Park Service (NPS) has been protecting for decades. Divided into three main areas, Everglades span a massive 1.5 million acre landscape where visitors can explore wildly different ecosystems within.
From freshwater sloughs and marl prairies to tropical hammocks, pinelands, cypress, mangrove, coastal lowlands, and more, there’s enough to discover in the Everglades to last several lifetimes. Below, we’re breaking down the Top 10 Things to Know ahead of your Everglades National Park excursion so you’ll know what to look for, when to go, and how truly incredible this Florida wetland wonderland is.
10. There are Two ‘Very Distinct’ Seasons: Wet Season and Dry Season
Before we dive into some fascinating facts, be sure to know when to visit Everglades. As the National Park Service emphasizes, “It is important to know that the Everglades has two very distinct seasons: dry season and wet season.”
The seasons can vary from year to year, but dry season is typically December through April. Then, it’s time for wet season from May to November. Dry season is also busy season in EVER, as this is when warm, pleasant winters bring in an incredible variety of wading birds and their predators. Everglades is a wildlife watchers paradise, after all; especially for bird watchers.
Wet season, however, is rainy and can produce a whole lot of mosquitoes, intense storms, and reduced visitation as a result. Many ranger-led programs are not available during wet season. Plenty of private tours, such as airboat guided excursions are, though, so be sure to plan accordingly.
9. The Everglades are Actually a River
It’s hard to imagine when you’re steeped in the vast wetlands, but Everglades is actually a river. This massive “sheet” of water is constantly moving as it flows from north to south. Lake Okeechobee feeds it all from up north, forming this gently-flowing river.
For perspective, the Everglades as a river is 60 miles wide and 100 miles long. This gives the ecosystem one of its historic monikers: the River of Grass. The Everglades used to be much, much larger, however; something we’ll get into later on this list.
8. You Can Finally See Wild Flamingos in Everglades National Park Again
Flamingos have migrated to and lived in the Everglades for eons. But these beloved pink birds were almost completely eradicated from Florida by early Anglo-European settlers harvesting their eggs and feathers.
It has taken centuries for them to return. But flamingos are making a remarkable resurgence in recent decades, and have been returning to the Everglades and South Florida in increasing numbers. Today, flamingos congregate in Everglades National Park mudflats and can be seen by visitors.
Want to see these wild pink wonders for yourself? Consider an airboat tour; the best way to take in EVER’s abundant flora and fauna.
7. Everglades National Park is HUGE, But Half its Original Size
As one of America’s largest national parks outside Alaska’s giants, Everglades is truly enormous. At 1.5 million-acres of wetlands, the park preserves the largest subtropical wetland ecosystem and mangrove ecosystem in North America. It’s also the largest wilderness in the southeastern United States.
But this is nothing compared to what it used to be. Somewhere around 50% of this vital ecosystem has been destroyed by humanity’s draining of wetlands. The early 20th century saw immense draining and impounding of Florida’s Everglades and adjacent wetlands for the building of roads and civilization. And we have the National Park Service – alongside dozens of conservation groups – to thank for what we have left.
6. The Everglades are the Only Place on Earth You’ll Find Alligators and Crocodiles Together
If there’s one thing to watch out for in Florida’s Everglades, it’s alligators. And crocodiles. Wait, what!?
Americans of the Southeast are used to alligators. They’re a part of life that fascinates some and horrifies others. But down in the Everglades you’ll not only find American alligators, but American crocodiles, too. In fact, the Everglades are the only place on Earth where both crocodiles and alligators live in the same place.
Here, at the southernmost end of the American alligator’s range, American crocodiles live in the coastal brackish waters where their saltwater habitat meets the freshwater habitat of alligators. And having these two iconic crocodilian species co-existing in Everglades – and nowhere else – is just one of the many fascinating wildlife facts EVER boasts.
They may seem identical at first glance, but always look at the snout when spotting crocodilians. American alligators have a broad, uniform U-shaped snout, whereas crocodiles have a thin, V-shaped snout with jutting teeth.
5. Everglades National Park Houses 9 Habitats that Protect 16 Endangered or Threatened Species
Ever heard of the Florida panther? This once widespread offshoot of the cougar (mountain lion) became all but a myth in the Everglades until conservation stepped in. Those fascinating American crocodiles are an endangered species, too. No matter their status, EVER’s wildly diverse flora and fauna live in these 9 habitat types:
- Hardwood Hammock
- Freshwater Marl Prairie
- Freshwater Slough
- Coastal Lowland
Even American black bears call the Everglades home. These 9 distinct habitats also provide homes for dozens of species of birds, reptiles, fish, plants, and endless swaths of unique plants. And there are so many that are threatened or endangered of extinction that we’d have to do a full list just for those species.
4. Invasive Species are Wreaking Havoc on the Everglades
If there’s one thing that’s been worse on the wildlife of Everglades National Park than civilization, it’s invasive species.
Invasive species threaten the Everglades ecosystem by completely dismantling the natural predator-prey relationship. Specifically, Burmese pythons have taken over the Everglades after the pet trade brought them to Florida. These giants escaped captivity repeatedly over the decades, to thrive in the wetlands that are similar to their indigenous homes on the other side of the planet.
Florida has even begun state-funded python bounty hunting programs and contests to help eradicate these giant snakes. With little-to-no natural predators willing to take them on, pythons top an expansive Florida invasive species list that includes over a dozen other reptiles and fish.
3. 1 in Every 3 Floridians Depends on the Everglades for Drinking Water, Too
And it’s not just wildlife that depends on the Everglades; something we humans often forget. Floridians are dependent on this precious ecosystem’s fresh water, too.
In fact, as the largest subtropical wetland in North America, the Everglades provide drinking water for 1 out of every 3 people living in Florida. In short: if they disappear, so does 1/3 of Florida’s drinking water. This is one of the main reasons Everglades National Park expands 1.5 million acres.
2. The Everglades Indigenous Legacy
Spanish colonizers arrived in Florida in 1513. But before that, the region that is now the Everglades National Park was largely inhabited by the Calusa Indians. The Indigenous Calusa built a highly organized society, leaving behind incredible large scale architectural shell works, shell tools, carved wood, and canoe trails.
By the 1700s, however, most of the Calusa population had been utterly decimated by the diseases Spanish settlers brought from the other side of the Atlantic. With no natural immunities, Indigenous Peoples perished by the hundreds of thousands.
With the immense change that Anglo-European settling brought, Indigenous American migrations increased. Creek Peoples had no choice but to move southward down into Florida’s Everglades to hunt, harvest, and settle. The Seminole and Miccosukee, tribes affiliated with the Creek federation, still inhabit their ancestral homeland today.
1. Why Everglades National Park was Founded
European settlers would drain out the wetlands for centuries. And by the early 1900s, an expansive American plan to drain it all was underway.
Irreparable damage was done to the ecosystem and species living within. But early conservationists, scientists, and advocates fought for its protection. Chief among them was Ernest F. Coe, who in 1928 wrote to Stephen T. Mather, the first Director of the National Park Service. Within, Coe would outline a proposal for a national park to be located within the lower Everglades of south Florida.
Legislation to create Everglades National Park would follow that year, but wouldn’t be approved until May 25, 1934. President Roosevelt would even sign it on May 30 of that year. But political gridlock led to another thirteen years in which Florida would acquire the land, then define the boundaries of EVER.
After decades of uncertainty, Everglades National Park was finally established in 1947 in order to “conserve the natural landscape and prevent further degradation of its land, plants, and animals,” as NPS states today.