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Everglades National Park/other nature areas, Florida

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Did You Know … ?

  • The original Everglades had a sheet of slow-moving water covering 11,000 square miles (7 million acres).
  • Forty-four kinds of orchids have been identified in Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, more than in any other U.S. spot.
  • The Everglades ecosystem provides a home to more than 350 documented bird species.
  • In the 1880s, Geronimo was imprisoned at Fort Pickens now within Gulf Islands National Seashore.
  • In the Dry Tortugas National Park, entire islands have been seen to disappear or re-form after a violent hurricane.

A park like no other

Florida counts 11 national parks, 29 national wildlife refuges, a number of national forests plus a healthy list of state parks and state forests, which together offer wide choice for tourists who want more from Mother Nature than beaches — although they are in the mix, too. Given the state’s extensive coastline, numerous barrier islands and basically flat landscape at low altitude, quite a lot of Florida’s protected spaces center on water.

The really big player among all these sites — both for its size and its global significance — is Everglades National Park, which covers 1.5 million acres at the southwestern end of Florida. This park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an International Biosphere Reserve and a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance.

Encompassing 25% of the original Everglades ecosystem, the park was created (1934) primarily to protect wading birds and their rookeries. Today’s park is dedicated to preserving a complex ecosystem that is unique among U.S. parks. For one thing, a broad sheet of water slowly flows over and through the porous limestone bedrock en route to the sea, rather than following well-defined valleys like a typical river. As a result, most of the park is covered with water during wet season (May through September) while water recedes to a few open areas in dry winters.

Because much of the park is only accessible by water, boating — whether via a sightseeing boat tour, a kayak outing, a fishing excursion or a multiday canoe and camping trip — is a popular and practical way to experience the Everglades. There are places and times when visitors may cycle in the park and hike, the latter often better referred to as slough slogging, i.e., off-trail walking in the swamp. And, not to overlook the park’s origins, it’s a very rewarding place for a birder.

Other parks and refuges support different ecosystems but also offer boating, cycling, fishing, hiking, wildlife viewing — plus beaches, picnic grounds and historic sites available for sightseeing. Parts of coastal parks and refuges are accessible only by boat, and Dry Tortugas National Park is accessible only by boat or seaplane.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Paddle a canoe or kayak among the mangroves on the Nine-Mile Pond in the Everglades National Park. Or paddle along the park’s coastal areas.
  • Caloosahatchee Regional Park occasionally offers night rides on its mountain biking trails. Take up the offer if you like.
  • Take a self-guided weeklong canoe trip in the Everglades, camping along the 99-mile Wilderness Waterway. Exploring the wilderness waterways calls for very good navigational skills.
  • Camping is also an option in other parks, including Big Cypress National Preserve, and Biscayne and Dry Tortugas national parks.
  • Take a ranger-led slough slog deep into the heart of an Everglades cypress dome.
  • Hike in Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, just north of the Everglades, being aware this too is a slog in a dense wetland. Alternatively, walk the 2,000-foot boardwalk into the park.

Things to do for Centrics

  • At the Everglades, climb atop Shark Valley’s 65-foot observation tower for a sweeping view of the landscape.
  • Go snorkeling at Biscayne or Dry Tortugas National Park.
  • Cycle the Snake Bight Trail or the Long Pine Key Nature Trail in the Everglades National Park.
  • Ride horseback or take a mountain bike over trails in the Caloosahatchee Regional Park northeast of Fort Myers in the southern part of the state. Hiking and fishing are options, too.
  • Bring the binoculars for excellent bird-watching in Everglades National Park. The birder experience also is promising in next-door Big Cypress National Preserve and nearby Biscayne National Park.
  • Hike one of two trails open to the public on the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. Visitors may see deer, bear and occasional panther tracks on the longer trail.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Book a tram tour or a sightseeing boat tour of the Everglades National Park.
  • In parks that are swamps, look for alligators. And, check for chances to see manatees at Big Cypress National Preserve, or in the Biscayne and Everglades national parks.
  • See historic fortifications in the Fort Pickens area of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, on Florida’s panhandle. Then find a beach and go swimming.
  • Tour the Nike Hercules missile base, located inside the Everglades National Park. It was one of nearly 300 such sites built during the height of the Cold War.
  • Plan a picnic and choose a park for that.
  • Explore the Kingsley Plantation at the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve near Jacksonville in northeast Florida, then go fishing (with a fishing license in hand).

Additional Resources

For more information, consult Visit Florida at