Our boat glides gently down through the wetlands of The Everglades and we sit silently with bated breath in anticipation of spotting an alligator. Our quiet obedience pays off as our guide points to a spot left of the boat, and we all look to see an alligator swimming slowly at the surface of the murky water. The bird-lovers in the group quickly turn their attention to the right where a group of ibises are standing in the shallow water. The wildlife here is captivating!
The Everglades cover 734 square miles of the southern tip of Florida, with ecosystems as diverse as sawgrass prairies, tropical pinelands, mangrove swamps, and estuaries. You can drive or bike through the park, stopping at points of interest along the way for hiking and walking, you can stay overnight at the camping plots, and you can take one of many tours through the waterways, either by boat or kayak or canoe. The birdwatching and geocaching here is excellent, and you have the opportunity to learn about so much wildlife and many different ecosystems. No matter how you choose to experience The Everglades though, be sure to pack plenty of bugspray!
As I venture into the mangroves, I feel I’m being transported to a land far away. I enter the portal carved out around the walkway and I’m immediately surrounded by the mangroves that grow rapidly and chaotically. Only those branches that rest on the outer shell of this mini forest are covered in bright green leaves. Those branches and roots on the interior are reminders of where the mangrove began, its small start before their rapid, criss-crossing growth. The roots are thin and lanky, like many little legs sticking up out of the watery basin from which they grow. Inside the mangroves, it’s like a cave.
In another section of the park I encounter a tropical forest, with palm trees, bushes, and thick shrubbery lining the sides of a dirt path. The mosquitoes thrive here, breeding in the still water stream near the path. What starts as a walk through this path towards some waterfront views quickly turns into a run, in an attempt to out-pace the mosquitoes. The fresh air feels exhilarating as it blows past my hot skin and into my lungs. I hadn’t planned for exercise in the Everglades, but it’s surprisingly pleasant. I’ve outsmarted the mosquitoes and I’m seeing the forest at an accelerated pace. It may have been easier to pack more bug spray, but it wouldn’t have been more fun!
The quintessential image of The Everglades is swamps filled with alligators, and certainly these waterways are worth touring by boat, but don’t forget how diverse a region the park encompasses! Schedule some extra time to see all the different ecosystems that The Everglades offer.
Check out my Guide to America’s National Parks for more advice on this and other parks!