7 Things to do in the Everglades

Feb 25, 2020

Heading to Everglades National Park? We’re sharing 7 things to do in the Everglades, from the best trails and activities, to where to eat near the park, and more! Ready for some gator adventures? Keep on reading!

To be honest, we weren’t that excited to visit Everglades National Park. While we were very pumped to finally see some gators, we were mostly visiting to check it off our list and weren’t super sure what else there was to do there. 

But to our surprise, we had such a fun day exploring the park! We rented bikes and rode 15 miles, saw 50+ gators (including some cute babies!), had a bomb key lime shake, and even tried gator! 

We’re excited to share 7 things to do in the Everglades, both inside and outside of Everglades National Park. Whether you have one day or a few to spend, this list is full of fun, delicious, and adventurous things to do!

Looking for more things to do in Florida? Check out these guides:

Reminder: Leave No Trace

Before starting your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave the places you explore even better than you found them.

  1. Plan ahead and prepare: Know the regulations, prepare for different weather conditions, and pack the 10 essentials.
     
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces: Travel on designated trails and camp at designated sites at least 200 ft away from water sources.
     
  3. Dispose of waste properly: Pack it in, pack it out. Carry ALL trash with you and dig a 6-8″ cat hole for human waste, 200 ft away from water.
     
  4. Leave what you find: Take only pictures, leave only footprints.
     
  5. Minimize campfire impacts: If fires are allowed, use established fire rings. Keep fires small and put out fires completely.
     
  6. Respect wildlife: Do not approach or feed wildlife, keep pets under control, and store your food properly.
     
  7. Be considerate of others: Yield to hikers going uphill and keep noises down.

Note: this guide contains affiliate links, which means that if you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We will only ever recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!

About the Everglades

Everglades National Park | Things to do in the Everglades

Everglades National Park is the 3rd largest national park in the lower 48, after Death Valley and Yellowstone. The park is 1.5 million acres, most of which are inaccessible, and is split up into four main areas to visit: Royal Palm, Shark Valley, Flamingo, and Gulf Coast.

The Everglades are known as the “River of Grass” and are part swamp, grassland, lake, river, prairie and wetland all rolled into one, making the terrain extremely unique. It’s also home to many alligators and migratory birds, as well as rare and endangered species, like the American crocodile, Florida Panther, and manatees.

There are two seasons at Everglades National Park: dry season and wet season. Wet season is from April to November and is very hot, muggy, and mosquito filled.

Dry season is from November to March and while it’s the busier season to visit, we’d suggest coming during this time to avoid getting eaten alive! We visited during January and it was perfect—the morning was cool and quiet and the afternoon was warm, sunny, and while it was a little busy, it wasn’t bad at all. 

Entry into the park is $30 per car (which lasts for 7 days and gets you into any entrance of the park), but is free if you have the America the Beautiful Pass, which is $80/year and gets you access to all National Monuments and Parks. It’s totally worth the cost!

While the park may not have epic peaks like North Cascades National Park, deep canyons like the Grand Canyon, or glacial lakes like Glacier National Park, the wildlife you can get so close to, diverse ecosystem, and activities like cycling, airboats, and kayaking make it a really fun park to explore!

Getting to the Everglades

There are three main entrances into Everglades National Park: the North Entrance at Shark Valley, the Main Entrance by Ernest F. Coe Visitors Center (the entrance for Royal Palm and Flamingo), and the Northwest Entrance in Everglades City (the entrance for the Gulf Coast region). These entrances are not connected, so getting between them requires a bit of a drive.

Getting to the everglades

If you mostly plan to visit Shark Valley and Royal Palm or Flamingo, Miami will be the most convenient major city to start from or fly into. Miami is about 45 minutes-1 hour from both Shark Valley and the Ernest F. Coe Visitors Center.

If you plan to spend your time in the Gulf Coast region, Naples is a bit closer, at about 40-55 minutes. Miami is about 1.5-2 hours from this area.

In this guide, we will mostly be focusing on the Royal Palm and Shark Valley areas of the park, as those are the areas we explored. If you have limited time, we suggest prioritizing those two areas, but we will include things to do in Flamingo and Gulf Coast as well!

Getting around the Everglades

Unlike some National Parks, there are no National Park shuttles that will take you around the different areas of the park, so unless you book an outside tour, you’ll need to rent a car to visit the main areas of the Everglades. 

Once you’re in the Everglades, you do have a couple other options. In the Shark Valley area specifically, you can explore on foot, bike, or by tram. We will cover these options a little bit later in the guide!

How much time to spend in the Everglades

We only spent one day in the Everglades and we felt that it was enough to see everything we wanted to see. We were able to visit the Royal Palm area, Shark Valley, and grab a few treats outside of the park. It was a busy day, but a lot of fun!

If you want to go on any additional tours, spend more time looking for wildlife, or visit more areas of the park (like Flamingo or Gulf Coast), we’d suggest at least two days so you don’t feel rushed!

Where to Stay in the Everglades

Long Pine Key Campground

Depending on what areas you plan to explore, you have a handful of options of where to stay in the Everglades. Below we’re sharing which areas we’d suggest based on your planned activities, as well as lodging recommendations for each!

Miami

Recommended if: you plan to spend one day in the Everglades, specifically in the Royal Palm and Shark Valley areas, as part of a larger Miami-area getaway. Miami is such a fun city with a cool culture, delicious food, and lots of great places to stay!

Airbnbs

Hotels

Naples

Recommended if: you plan to visit the Gulf Coast region of the Everglades or the Shark Valley Area (and don’t mind a little bit of a drive). Naples has beautiful beaches, many places to stay, and lots of restaurants!

Note: Naples is a bit pricier! 

Airbnbs

Hotels

Homestead

Recommended if: you plan to spend one-two days in the Everglades, specifically in the Royal Palm and Shark Valley areas. To be honest, we didn’t love this area, but it is very convenient to the park and two spots to eat on our list!

Hotels

Camping at Everglades National Park

Recommended if: you want to be in the heart of the Royal Palm or Flamingo action and don’t mind roughin’ it a bit! 

We ended up camping for two nights at Everglades National Park—one night at the Flamingo Campground and another at Long Pine Key Campground, which are the only two drive in campgrounds in the park.

We arrived at Flamingo in the dark, so we didn’t get to see the area very well, but we did walk around Long Pine Key at sunset and loved it! The scenery was beautiful and there was a lake you could walk around.

Both campgrounds were very affordable ($25-$35 a night depending on if you need RV hookups or not) and while they weren’t the most private sites we have ever seen, the convenience to the park made the lack of privacy worth it. 

There are also Eco-Tents you can rent at the Flamingo Campground if you want more of a glamping experience. All campsite types are booked through Flamingo Adventures.

If you would rather go backcountry camping, you will have to access the campsites by canoe or kayak, with only a few accessible by foot. 

PS: If it is your first time staying at an Airbnb, click this link to get $40 off your first stay!

7 Things to do in the Everglades

Whether you have just one day or a couple days to spare, here are our top 7 things to do in the Everglades, both inside and outside of the National Park, that will give you a chance to experience the different ecosystems and wildlife that the Everglades have to offer.

If you want to see the location of all of our suggested things to do in the Everglades, check out this map below!

1. Walk the Anhinga Trail

Region: Royal Palm

If you can only do one thing in the Royal Palm area of the park, we highly recommend the Anhinga Trail! The Anhinga Trail is a flat, 0.8 mile trail where you will find tons of wildlife including alligators, turtles, anhingas, herons, egrets and many other types of birds. The trail itself is a beautiful boardwalk that allows you to wind through a sawgrass marsh. 

We walked this trail for sunrise and it was so beautiful! We lucked out with a clear, cool morning and seeing the sun come up over the water and grass, with a hint of fog hanging just above the water, was absolutely magical! 

However, there was one slightly terrifying part of this little adventure. As we pulled up into the parking lot (which can fit quite a few cars), our van was swarmed by 20 massive, black birds. They surrounded us and were walking around on top of the roof of our van—we even had to move to another spot to escape them! 

It wasn’t until we were on the trail that we learned from another visitor that these were black vultures and they are notorious for picking off the rubber seals of your vehicle! To keep your car safe, they have a bin of tarps located near the restrooms that you can toss over the front. We highly recommend using these so you can enjoy the boardwalk with some peace of mind! 

2. Have a Milkshake at Robert is Here

Region: Near Royal Palm (outside the park)

One of the biggest highlights of our day in the Everglades was a stop at Robert is Here, a family-owned fruit stand in Homestead, Florida. While technically not in the park, it makes for a perfect stop while going between the Royal Palm and Shark Valley areas. 

Robert is Here has tons of local and exotic fruits and vegetables, jams, and salsas to purchase, but by far the most important item on their menu: their super fresh milkshakes and smoothies. They spend the wee hours of the morning slicing and dicing fruit to throw in a blender with milk and/or ice (that’s it! No preservatives, colors or flavors) to create some of the best milkshakes/smoothies we have ever had!

We tried the Key Lime milkshake and oh my gosh, it was like someone scooped out the filling of a Key Lime Pie! It was incredible! We also hear that their guanabana (also known as soursop) milkshake is top notch. The milkshakes range from $7.25-$10 each and are the perfect size to share. Although, you definitely won’t want to. 🙂

3. Eat Gator at the Everglades Gator Grill

Region: Near Royal Palm (outside the park)

If you’re a meat eater like us, trying gator is a must when visiting the Everglades! We stopped at Everglades Gator Grill, which is close to the Royal Palm area of the park and probably very touristy, but hey, “when in Rome!”

We tried their gator kabobs, which were perfectly grilled on the griddle with some peppers and pineapple and topped with a creamy sauce. Adam has eaten fried gator before, but I have never tried gator, so it was a semi-new experience for the both of us. 

And we loved it! The kabobs had great flavor and if you didn’t tell us it was gator, we would’ve thought it was a tougher piece of chicken. 

PS: If you or someone you’re traveling with aren’t in the mood for gator, they do offer types of meat and their french fries were super good!

4. Ride a Bike (or take a tram) to the Shark Valley Observation Tower

Region: Shark Valley 

Despite the name, the Shark Valley area of the park does not have sharks, but it does have TONS of gators! 

The Shark Valley area of the park is most famous for the Shark Valley Observation Tower. It’s about a 15 mile (round trip) journey from the visitor’s center to the Shark Valley Observation Tower and you have three options of how to get there:

  1. You can walk (not recommended!)
  2. You can take a tram tour, which is 2 hours long and costs $27 for adults, $21 for seniors, and $14 for kids. 
  3. You can rent a bike! (our recommendation!)

We rented two bikes to make the 15 mile trek to the Shark Valley Observation Tower and it was SO much fun! 

The price is $9/hour per bike, which seemed pretty cheap until we returned the bikes and realized that our 3 hour trip cost us $54…oops. Our 3 hour time included stopping very often to see gators, getting to the tower, exploring it, and making the trek back. They said to plan 3-4 to hours for the ride, but you might get back a little faster if you catch it on a calmer day, as the wind on the way back had our thighs burnin’! 

Along the trail, which is really just a paved tram road, we saw at least 50 alligators, including a super cute little family with 5-10 adorable baby alligators. It was hard not to snatch one, but we decided we didn’t want to be attacked by momma. 😉 

While the observation tower at the end is a really interesting structure with great 360 views as far as the eyes can see, the best part was getting there! Whether you bike or ride the tram, Shark Valley is without a doubt one of the best things to do in the Everglades!

5. Go on an Airboat Ride

Photo Credit: Coopertown

Region: Near Shark Valley (outside the park)

One of the most popular things to do in the Everglades is to take an airboat ride. There are three park authorized providers for airboat roads in the National Park, Coopertown, Everglades Safari Park, and Gator Park, all located in the Shark Valley area off State Highway 41. 

Airboat rides in the National Park are limited to these companies in order to protect the flora under the water’s surface. The airboats will have you zippin and whippin through the waterways, but you’ll also get some good information about the ecology and ecosystem of the Everglades.

While we personally didn’t go on an airboat tour, we have heard that they’re a blast!

6. Kayak or Canoe Nine Mile Pond

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Region: Flamingo

Another way to explore the Everglades on the water is to rent a kayak! One of the most popular kayaking trails in the Everglades is Nine Mile Pond. This 5.5 mile loop trail is accessed off the main park road right before you enter the Flamingo district of the park. 

You can bring and launch your own kayak or rent from Flamingo Adventures right by the trail. There’s also a 3.5 hour Canoe the Wilderness tour with a park ranger that’ll take you through the Nine Mile Pond trail. The tour is FREE, but reservations are required, so make sure to call (239) 695-2945 up to 7 days in advance to reserve your spot!

7. Visit the Smallwood Store and take a boat tour

Photo credit: Pete Cross for Visit Florida

Region: Gulf Coast

On the Gulf Coast side of the park, one of the must visit stops is the Smallwood store. This store was created by Ted Smallwood in 1906 as a very remote trading post and even after six hurricanes the original building still stands! CRAZY!

It costs $5 to visit the store and while you’re there you’ll learn about the history of the pioneers who settled one of Florida’s last frontiers. There is also a gift shop named “Tigertail Gift Shop” after Chief Charlie Tigertail, who was the leader of the local Seminole tribe and a good friend of Ted Smallwood. 

From the store you can book a variety of boat tours that are led by the 6th generation Florida family. These tours range from 1.5-2 hours and some require reservations in advance, but we hear they are worth it!

Ready to explore the Everglades?

Pin this list of things to do in the Everglades to help plan your trip!

about us

Hi y’all! We’re Adam, Kathryn, and Kona, an adventurous married couple (+ pup!) living on the road in our self-converted sprinter van! You can often find us driving all around the US and Canada, scoping out the best coffee shops, eating tacos and ice cream (we’re a 5+ taco and 2+ scoop household), and enjoying nature.

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2 Comments

  1. Thao Tran

    Are dogs allowed in any of these areas? If so, did you bring yours?

    Reply
    • Kathryn Frazer

      Hi Thao! I know we emailed about this, but answering here too incase someone else has the same question! Unfortunately dogs are not allowed in the park, at least on any of the trails. 🙁 Our pup stayed in the van during our adventures there.

      Reply

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