There are tons of ways to visit the Everglades and being that they consist of one and a half million acres of wetlands, there are also many gateways you can get to them from—the possibilities are endless. So for all intents and purposes, I’m going to give you what I believe to be the best and most authentic way to see them (of course this may not be true for everyone).
When I go to a place away from home, I think of what would be the local attraction that most piques my interest. When traveling solo, sometimes doing these things can be a challenge for various reasons, but this time I decided, what the heck, I’m doing it anyway.
Something about the wilderness that is the swampy lands of the Everglades has always intrigued me, and I was inevitably drawn more toward exploring them than shopping or vegging out on one of Florida’s many beaches.
Here’s what I’ve learned that may help those who’d like to make their way to the majestic marshes of the Everglades:
RENT A CAR
Especially if you’re going from the Fort Lauderdale area (Miami is a little closer). It was about an hour and 15 minute drive each way for me, but a drive totally worth it nonetheless. Probably about half the drive was nice and scenic through the wilderness as well. I discovered that, although I had thought it impossible, Florida drivers are the craziest of them all. They will wait for no one.
There aren’t many bus tours that leave from Fort Lauderdale unless you take one offered by one of the cruise lines, but I’ve found that doing it on your own makes for a much more authentic experience because you can see it at your own pace and in your own way.
On my way into the Everglades, I saw about 10 or so tourist stops where you can take float plane trips, go to gator farms, boat rides and more, but these all looked to me like something cheesy out of National Lampoon’s Vacation—huge roadside advertisements and replicas of alligators and such—not my cup of tea.
SHARK VALLEY VISITOR CENTER
This is the best gateway from which to visit if you’re staying in the Fort Lauderdale or Miami area simply due to distance. The visitor center has an exhibit that teaches about the wildlife and plants of the area and they also have maps of the loop visitors can explore. There is a 15 mile loop from the visitor center that is paved and great for getting a glimpse of what the Everglades have to offer.
There are three ways you can explore this loop—walking (although I wouldn’t recommend walking the whole thing, as that would probably take FOREVER, biking (took me about 2 hours), or taking a tram tour. The tram tours have guides and are the most relaxing way to see the area if you’re not interested in doing a bike ride or unable to for any reason.
To be honest, the few times I did get off my bike and walk, it was actually a bit unnerving. I was on my own like I had mentioned, and throughout the two hour bike ride I swear I saw about 15 huge gators just lounging only feet from or even ON the trail! Being on the ground with one of those nearby wasn’t my idea of a good time.
CAR POOL IF YOU CAN
For each car, there is a $25 fee to get into the visitor center and park. If you can ride with others to take that as less of a hit, I’d highly recommend it. I was pretty flabbergasted when they asked me for $25 for my little Toyota Yaris, me being all by my lonesome—but then again, it is a national park, something on par with Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon.
For the bike rental it was $9 per hour and they take your driver’s license as a deposit. The bikes are nice, with soft seats and large baskets on them you can put your stuff in. I was worried because I didn’t have a backpack to carry any of my things but the basket was a nice surprise. You can also bring your own bike if you have one in the area.
They recommend at least a gallon of water for the whole ride, but I had 1 liter and since there is a water bottle fill-up point halfway, it was fine for me. Definitely if you’re walking or plan to stop more and take more photos you should bring more. The halfway point was a tower with some great sweeping views from the top of it.
Of my entire time in Florida for this trip, this little excursion was without a doubt the highlight. The scenery was absolutely gorgeous and it was very peaceful. The Everglades are gigantic, so I wanted to find a way that made me feel like I had really gotten to experience them up close and personal and this definitely fulfilled my expectations.
If you’ve visited the Everglades in a different way I’d love to hear your experience. It’s a beautiful place that should be on everyone’s bucket list at some point or another!
Thanks for Reading,
CAITLYN WITHOUT A COMPASS
Check out this live video from my bike ride!