We finally saw alligators in the wild! After Christmas we took a day trip to Everglades National Park. This park has 9 different ecosystems, giving it a unique landscape like nothing else.
We only had a partial day to visit this National Park, so we began at the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center on the east side of the park. We stopped in and chatted with a park ranger, gathered maps and trail options and the kids perused the visitor center. From here we headed straight for the Anhinga Trail, which is fairly close to the edge of the park. I knew that this short walk would be fabulous based on the reviews I had read on TripAdvisor, but I was a bit apprehensive as the trail was fairly crowded. Although we were visiting on a weekday, it was the week after Christmas and the parking lot was full. We knew this was our only shot at seeing the park, so we began with little hope of being amazed.
Right away we began to see a variety of birds and within five minutes we saw our first alligator.
The park service has done a fantastic job in creating this trail with wooden boardwalks that are not only functional, but blend beautifully with nature.
Although there were many people on this trail, we were able to move around at our own pace and avoid any clustering. As we arrived at the viewing platform at the end of the trail, the views were gorgeous!
Honestly, this trail made the entire trip worthwhile. Right next to the parking lot for this trail is another small trail, the Gumbo Limbo. This was great to walk after the Anhinga trail as it is shaded and small, great for cooling down after being in the sun for awhile. We all thought that the diversity of the landscaping was amazing. Two trails, side by side, yet incredibly different.
We drove through the park and stopped to walk a couple more trails that were along the road, as we made our way toward the Flamingo Visitor Center.
Although we were able to see the diversity of the different ecosystems, there was nothing impressive for us on these trails. After seeing a couple dozen alligators and all the birds on the Anhinga trail, these other trails just did not hold our interest.
My ten and eleven year olds finished their Junior Ranger books on the drive across the park and when we arrived at the Flamingo Visitor Center they were able to earn their badges. There is not a whole lot at this visitor center. The parking lots here are big enough for you to park a large RV but the only action here is the marina, where boats and kayaks depart from. Though we would have loved to take an airboat ride or rent kayaks, we were doing a low budget visit, after having a very expensive month in Florida. Honestly, in less you are taking a venture out in the water, I would skip the 45 minute drive down here and just visit the first part of the park that I mentioned above. If we return again, I would like to visit the west side of the park near Naples and take kayaks out. There is also a third visitor center in the park called Shark Valley, however we did not have a chance to discover this area.
Overall, we enjoyed the park and I am glad that we stopped in. If asked my advice about visiting here, this is what I suggest:
- Stay at Miami Everglades Resort. We stayed here and the location is great. It’s about 30 minutes from the Coe Visitor Center and 30 minutes from Miami. It’s also in a quiet agricultural area that we loved, away from all the busy roads. We loved that it was a safe area!
- Plan to do a local airboat ride in the area. We saw deals on Groupon and there are local coupons you can find. When budgeting, I think $30 per person is a good estimate.
- Walk the Anhinga Trail, but do so very early in the morning before the crowds arrive.
Two days after our visit to Everglades NP, we drove Highway 41 west to Naples. This stretch of road is apparently known as Alligator Alley. Over the course of 30 miles, along the Big Cypress National Preserve, we estimate that we saw at least 150 alligators! It was astounding. There is a creek that runs along the north side of the highway, which is a haven for these crocodilians. In the preceding days, there was a record drop in temperature for South Florida. The crocodiles were out in full force, warming themselves in the sun. This scenic drive was unbelievable. If we take this drive again, I would like to plan a stop at the Oasis Visitor Center. From here, it would be advantageous to walk east a half a mile or so along the highway, to photograph and view these unique creatures. (Not with young children as there is no sidewalk!)
Driving through Alligator Alley and exploring the terrain at Everglades National Park is a one-of-a-kind opportunity. Sharing this with our children gives them a rare opportunity to see these animals in their natural habitat.
See ya later alligator – – – in awhile crocodile!….(I just could not resist!)