So you are going to Everglades National Park!
Among the 3 things that the Everglades is most famous for:
- Airboat rides
When I think of the Everglades, I also think of mosquitoes. There were certainly bugs, but I personally did not consider mosquitoes or other bugs to be an issue with the things I did when I did them. (And I do not like bugs.)
I was in Everglades National Park at the end of April 2022.
You can totally make it a perfect day trip to Everglades National Park!
A day trip to Everglades National Park can be enough to give you the chance to ride through the Everglades by tram or bike for a chance to see alligators, walk through the Everglades for more chances to see alligators, and take a speedy airboat ride through the Everglades as seen on TV!
Alligators are wild!
While there are places in Everglades National Park that you have a better chance to see alligators, there is never any guarantee.
With that in mind, below are the absolute best things to do in Everglades National Park that you must consider!
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3 best things to do in Everglades National Park in one day
1. Shark Valley Tram Trail
The Shark Valley Tram Trail is a 15 mile paved trail that starts from the Shark Valley Visitor Center of Everglades National Park.
The “destination” can be the Shark Valley Observation Tower.
A Shark Valley tour guide compared the Shark Valley Observation Tower to the Clingmans Dome Observation Tower in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. So if you have been there, you may feel the similarity!
But the Shark Valley Trail is really more about the chance to see alligators in Everglades National Park… and more wildlife!
There are a few different ways you can do the Shark Valley Trail.
You can take a Shark Valley tram ride. ($)
You can bike Shark Valley. ($ for Shark Valley bike rental or FREE if you bring your own bike)
You can even walk part of Shark Valley.
And yes, you can have a chance to see alligators by walking Shark Valley… and more wildlife! (I saw tons of turtles swimming!)
The tram will be the most convenient and efficient way to do Shark Valley. It will be the least amount of effort! But the stops you make will be up to your tram driver.
While the tram will make some stops for alligators (and other wildlife), if you see an alligator or other wildlife that you want to get a closer look at, the tram may not always stop.
There was a turtle right along the side of the road and we went right by it! That was a bit disappointing.
And then we also went right by a group of smaller alligators without stopping too, since we had to make it back by a certain time for the end of the tram tour.
If you are biking, you will be able to go at your own pace, stop when you want to stop, and take a closer look when you want to spend longer looking at those baby alligators. Of course, it also requires more effort since you are biking on your own!
And similarly with walking, you can go at your own pace and stop when you want to stop… but you won’t be able to cover as much ground!
But, I did also start walking along the trail and saw some a few alligators too.
So if you absolutely don’t want to pay for the tram ride or a bike rental, then it is worth walking some for a chance to see some alligators, turtles, and birds.
The more you walk, the more you’ll increase your chances!
I didn’t walk that much, but walking maybe 5-10 minutes one way, I saw several alligators and countless turtles swimming. Start off walking on the West Tram Trail!
There is also the East Tram Trail.
Both trails lead to the Shark Valley Observation Tower.
You can make it a loop if you’re doing a bike ride.
Tickets for Shark Valley tram rides to sell out, especially on weekends, so it’s best to book in advance, which you can do through Shark Valley Tram Tours. That is how you can book a bike rental too.
2. Anhinga Trail
The Anhinga Trail is considered to be one of the best spots to see alligators in Everglades National Park by foot.
Although, I only got a good look at one. (Better than none!)
When I got started on the trail I asked people who were returning if they saw alligators. I was told to just keep going straight back, so that’s what I did!
I followed the paved trail to the end where there a lookout spot, and sure enough, I saw alligators!
One was just popping its head out.
Another you could see more clearly!
Part of the Anhinga Trail is also a boardwalk. So on the way back I walked the boardwalk.
There was someone who seemed to be looking at something off in the water, and it turns out you could see a alligator’s head (eyes, really!) popping out of the water! You had to look carefully!
Aside from alligators, you also have a chance to see the bird called the anhinga on the Anhinga Trail!
And I did see an anhinga on the way back! It was just standing on the railing with its classic look of wings spread out.
3. Everglades airboat tour
I actually was not planning on doing an Everglades airboat tour since I had done an airboat tour in Central Florida and saw tons of alligators.
But well, when in the Everglades!
And an airboat ride in South Florida was a bit of a different feeling than the Central Florida one I did!
Doing an Everglades airboat tour is riding through the Everglades through tall grasses as seen on TV!
If you ever watched CSI Miami and remember those scenes of an aerial view of a boat ride through the Everglades, that’s an airboat ride!
There are 3 airboat tour companies that are conveniently located along US-41 Tamiami Trail that are also partners of Everglades National Park.
Here is where to go for Everglades airboat tours:
These are the “authorized airboat businesses,” as authorized by the National Park Service to do business in Everglades National Park.
Out of the 3 Everglades airboat companies, I ended up doing a Coopertown airboat tour, more or less because the name sounded less commercialized and more “natural” and “wild” compared to “safari park” or “gator park.” 😜
But well, it turns out Coopertown one also had a “gator show.” (And you might as well go see it because it’s included in your ticket cost!)
The gator show lasts about 10 minutes and they will tell you about the alligators they have in captivity. It’s even said that one of the alligators has a claim to fame with an appearance on CSI Miami! (And other movies and TV shows.)
Aside from that, I asked one group on the tour why they chose Coopertown and one of the reasons they said was because it had the best reviews.
You also do have a chance to see alligators if you do an Everglades airboat tour.
I did see some alligators on the Everglades airboat tour, but the main reason to do this is for the airboat ride, not necessarily for alligator sightings.
According to a park ranger at an Everglades National Park visitor center, the airboat tour seems to be more about the ride than it is about seeing alligators.
More airboat tours in Florida to see alligators
If you will be staying in the Orlando and/or Disney World area in the winter, I do recommend the Kissimmee Swamp Tour. The airboats were smaller and I saw tons of alligators. (The weather was ideal for alligator sightings.)
How much time in Everglades National Park?
It is very possible to do Shark Valley, the Anhinga Trail, and an Everglades airboat tour with one day in Everglades National Park.
The order you will want to do it in will more or less be dependent on what specific activities you want to do (walking, biking, or tram) and when you can get a tour.
If you only have one day with minimal flexibility, then it’s best to book ahead as these things do sell out.
I didn’t book ahead for the Shark Valley tram tour or the Everglades airboat tour, but that was on a Monday. (aka more availability compared to weekends.)
Based on the Everglades National Park activities that require tickets, here is a sample of how the timing can work out for your day trip to Everglades National Park:
- 10am: Anhinga Trail
- 1pm: Shark Valley tram tour
- 4pm: Everglades airboat tour
This is being pretty generous with your time! For example 30 minutes (or less) may be all you need for the Anhinga Trail.
So, this can be a pretty easy-going day trip to Everglades National Park.
I did do a 1pm Shark Valley tram tour followed by a 4pm Everglades airboat tour. In both cases, I showed up to buy tickets and this is how the timing turned out.
So, if you are up for doing more, you can also end your day (or start your day!) with a trip to the far southern end of Everglades National Park that you can drive to!
That’s the Flamingo area of Everglades National Park.
Flamingo is where you want to go if you want a chance to see crocodiles in Everglades National Park.
It’s said that Florida is the only place in the world that alligators and crocodiles co-exist!
The main difference between alligators and crocodiles is that alligators are generally seen as living in fresh water and crocodiles are generally seen as living in salt water. Although it’s also said that both can adapt to either, so they are not exclusively in one or the other.
Flamingo Everglades: Everglades National Park is the best place to see crocodiles in the United States!
According to the National Park Service:
Flamingo is the best place in the United States to see American Crocodiles.
But similar to alligators, you should keep in mind that crocodiles are wild and they do what they want!
While going to Flamingo in Everglades National Park does increase your chances of seeing crocodiles, there is no guarantee!
You should also know that Flamingo is a bit of drive.
From Shark Valley to Flamingo is around a 2 hour drive.
So if crocodiles are your main goal and you don’t see them, you might feel like it’s a waste of a drive.
That said, if you keep your expectations in check (aka understand that you might be driving all that way for no crocodiles), then having even a chance to see crocodiles may be all you need to be motivated to drive to Flamingo!
In that case, you want to specifically go to the Flamingo Marina!
It is common to see both crocodiles and manatees at the Flamingo Marina.
Once you have arrived in Flamingo, head to the Flamingo Visitor Center to talk to a park ranger to ask specifically about where crocodiles like to hang out. Ask about manatees too!
The Flamingo Visitor Center was closed when I arrived. I happened to be in the Marina Store so I asked the employee there, and she was well-informed!
She told me about the bridge near the Marina Store for manatees. (Although I didn’t see any manatees there… or anywhere.)
And she also told me about the boat ramp that was on the far left end when you’re facing the water.
I did see 2 crocodiles there!
It was so interesting because the crocodiles were just chilling there right next to the boat as a guy was getting his boat ready to drive off!
👆 Spot the crocodile in Everglades National Park!
It was my first time seeing a crocodile.
I have seen plenty of alligators in Florida and the crocodiles just looked scary! 😆
And then otherwise aside from those spots, you can walk along the marina to see if you see crocodiles or manatees around in other spots for a nice leisurely stroll around the marina!
Then you can also head over for views of the Florida Bay.
Camping in Everglades National Park
You can go camping in Everglades National Park!
There are 2 regular campgrounds in Everglades National Park for tent camping and RV camping:
- Long Pine Key Campground
- Flamingo Campground*
There is also walk-in tent camping available at Florida Bay. This is right near the Flamingo Campground.
Everglades National Park camping reservations are not made through the National Park Service. Instead, you will book through Flamingo Adventures.
*Asterisk! RV camping for Flamingo Campground opens back up in June 2022.
Glamping in Everglades National Park
You can go glamping in Everglades National Park!
Everglades National Park has “eco-tents” that you can stay at for a bit of luxury tent camping.
During summer (aka hot and humid season), you will basically get only the shelter (aka tent already set up for you) so you will need to bring your own everything when it comes to camping gear.
Outside of the hot and humid season in the Everglades, you get a comfortable bed in your eco-tent!
All year, you will have electricity and a fan inside your tent.
There is no food allowed in the tents to keep away bugs and animals, and there are picnic tables nearby for you to eat your food.
And you do also need to pack enough food accordingly.
Glamping in the Everglades is located at the far south end of Everglades National Park, and is a long drive from everything else. It is located at Flamingo.
Everglades National Park glamping reservations are not made through the National Park Service. Instead, you will book through Flamingo Adventures.
Everglades National Park gulf coast
There is also another section of Everglades National Park that is basically on the opposite coast of Florida.
You can consider Everglades National Park to have the Atlantic side (Miami side) and the Gulf Coast side (Naples side).
All land-based activities in Everglades National Park that you can drive to are on the Miami side.
Miami is on Florida’s Atlantic coast, and this is the side includes Shark Valley, Anhinga Trail, and the Everglades airboat tours mentioned above.
Naples is on Florida’s gulf coast, and this is the side you will find the Everglades National Park Gulf Coast Visitor Center.
You will not actually be within the Everglades National Park boundary by going to this visitor center.
Instead, the way to experience this gulf coast side of Everglades National Park is by water.
You can do the Ten Thousand Islands Boat Tour that starts from the Gulf Coast Visitor Center.
You have a chance to see dolphins and manatees on an Everglades National Park boat tour in the Ten Thousand Islands.
Once again, there’s never any guarantee of seeing wildlife or marine life, but I had a fun dolphin watching boat tour when I did a Ten Thousand Islands boat tour from Everglades National Park in April!
You will want to book ahead for your Everglades National Park boat tour as Everglades boat tours can sell out.
It can make sense to stop by the Gulf Coast Visitor Center (with reservations already made!) to do the Everglades National Park boat tour if you are driving to Miami from the Gulf Coast… or in the opposite direction!
- Marco Island to Miami
- Naples to Miami
- Fort Myers to Miami
- Sanibel Island to Miami
- Siesta Key to Miami
And those are some ideas of things to do in Everglades National Park!
More things to do near Everglades National Park
If you want to be sure to see as many alligators as you can when you’re in South Florida, then you may also want to consider heading just a little west to Big Cypress National Preserve along the Tamiami Trail!
Miami to Everglades National Park to Naples
👆 Alligators laying along the Tamiami Trail. If you will be driving the Tamiami Trail to get to or from Everglades National Park, stop by the Oasis Visitor Center in Big Cypress National Preserve to get a closer look at the alligators!
If a chance to see alligators is VERY important to you, then I also HIGHLY recommend making it out to Big Cypress National Preserve.
While there are many places within Big Cypress National Preserve to see alligators, for the best chance, be sure to stop at the Oasis Visitor Center.
If you are driving to Everglades National Park from Naples FL or Marco Island FL, then you definitely need to stop!
When coming from Naples or Marco Island, you will be driving US-41 (aka Tamiami Trail) to get to Everglades National Park, and you will drive right past Oasis Visitor Center.
You must stop!
There seems to be a very good chance you will see tons of alligators!
If you have more time, then also try the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk Trail in Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, also along the Tamiami Trail.
I did see alligators here in the parking area before even starting the trail.
And then I did see more alligators at the very end of the boardwalk. This is a walk of about 1 mile round trip.
And then a quick stop along the Tamiami Trail for a chance to see alligators is HP Willliams Roadside Park also in Big Cypress National Preserve.
I did also see alligators here.
So you will drive right past all of these stops with a chance to see alligators if you are driving the Tamiami Trail between Naples and Miami:
- Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk Trail, Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park
- HP Williams Roadside Park, Big Cypress National Preserve
- Oasis Visitor Center, Big Cypress National Preserve
Listed in order as you will come across them when driving from Naples to Everglades National Park.
If you are driving to Everglades National Park from Miami, then it will be a drive of about 20-30 minute drive to get from Shark Valley in Everglades National Park to Oasis Visitor Center. (map) And then the other mentioned stops are further west.
See more things to do in the Everglades:
Don’t feed the alligators!
While alligator attacks do happen, alligators are generally not interested in people.
It requires everyone’s help to keep it that way.
Feeding alligators is a way for alligators to become more comfortable with humans… and to learn to approach you (and other humans) for food!
And then alligators can become even more dangerous to humans!
When you see alligators, just observe!
Try not to do anything that would cause them to change their behavior.
HAPPY VISIT TO EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK TO HOPEFULLY SEE ALLIGATORS AND CROCODILES!
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