The Everglades is different from other large national parks and first-time family visitors understandably have questions about what there is to see and the best way to go about finding wildlife on their initial visit.
Thousands of years ago, Florida’s Everglades was literally at the bottom of the sea, which accounts for the region’s amazingly flat, horizontal landscape. On first impression, this vast wet level terrain will probably appear monotonous but give the landscape and its inhabitants time to work their charm on you. Watching and photographing the wildlife at often close range is endlessly fascinating.
For the most part, a visit to the Everglades is a surprisingly relaxed experience. In many places you need walk only a short distance from your vehicle to find birds and alligators. Far more often than you can anticipate, you may take images or videos of an animal and the scenery through your vehicle’s open window with no need to step outside.
Wildlife activity occurs according to the animals’ own whims and their seasonal habits. The best time to locate them easily is between January through March, during Florida’s driest months when animals congregate around canals and waterholes.
An Everglades visit is a self-drive tour from location to location, so the pace of the trip is up to you. Two factors to keep in mind as you drive around. Gas stations are rare in many areas. They do not exist between the Everglades National Park main entrance and Flamingo. Never start the day without at least a half-tank of fuel. A full tank would be better. Fuel is available in Florida City and in Everglades City. You do not want to run out of gas in this remote wilderness area.
On the way to the Homestead main entrance, be sure to look for Robert Is Here!, a local institution. Stop for one of Robert’s famous fruit milkshakes on your way to the park or on the way back.
If you intend to drive at night on the Main Park Road in Homestead, carry a flashlight in case you have to stop in the middle of nowhere. Try to avoid driving the Tamiami Trail on Friday and Saturday nights when there is added weekend traffic.
Even an inexpensive Styrofoam cooler is an asset for keeping drinks and snacks cold. Both are always welcome on a long day in the wilderness.
Like gas stations, motels are sparse. Until 2005, Flamingo had a small motel. Two storms destroyed it. Unless you camp in the park, the closest places to stay overnight near the main entrance at Homestead is Florida City.
In the Gulf Coast section of the park, Everglades City offers several motels and restaurants. If you are a camper, options are much better for greater to stay in the wilderness in the main Homestead section or Big Cypress National Preserve.
Almost everyone comes to the Everglades with a camera. Whether for video or stills, everyone’s goal is the same: get the best images possible. To do that, be alert always. In the Everglades, you may encounter a good photo subject. anytime, anywhere—especially when driving the Main Park Road. Keep your camera within easy reach and ready for action.
Royal Palm and its Anhinga Trail are among Everglades National Park’s most popular places to visit because it is so rich in wildlife. Unfortunately, the wildlife includes a large pack of vultures that hang around the parking lot during the day. They attack the rubber on windshield wiper blades and the rubber around windows and sunroofs. The birds also scratch the car finish when attacking the rubber. Protect your vehicle by bringing a tarp (or two) and bungee cords. The park service may have some tarps available for use at Royal Palm but do not count on it.
If you would prefer to have a local expert guide you, Everglades National Park has a small number of permitted guides for such activities as fishing, photography, eco tours and kayak/canoe trips. Local guides based in Florida City, Everglades City and Chokoloskee Island (located near Everglades City) are apt to spend more time in the park than those based out of South Florida.