November 10, 2023
Not only is the Florida Everglades the largest remaining subtropical wetland ecosystem in North America, but it also consists of nine distinct habitats. These habitats are home to a diverse aggregation of plant and animal life that can’t be found anywhere else on our planet. If that’s not reason enough to spend time appreciating a true national treasure, consider one of the many outdoor pursuits that will give you an up close and personal view of the iconic landscape that is often referred to as the “River of Grass.”
American director, producer, and cinematographer Louie Schwartzberg once said, “Beauty and seduction, I believe, is nature's tool for survival, because we will protect what we fall in love with.” After an experience in the Everglades, you’ll understand why so many are fighting to protect this amazing ecosystem from development, climate change, sea level rise and invasive species.
Learn about six ways to plan an adventure through the freshwater sloughs, cypress strands, mangrove forests, and estuary waters to witness the natural beauty and wonder of the Florida Everglades National Park.
Go on a Guided Swamp Walk
Ranger or guide-led swamp walk eco-tours take you right into the Everglades watery wilderness known as the “River of Grass.” You can make a reservation to go on one of the Big Cypress Gallery's swamp tours where you’ll take a leisurely hike through a submerged trail on the grounds behind photographer Clyde Butcher’s gallery off the historic Tamiami Trail, or you can go on a guided swamp walk through Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park during the fall, winter, and spring months. Be sure to wear a pair of long pants and some old sneakers. It’s also a good idea to take a walking stick or ask your guide if they provide one to help you navigate around downed trees and cypress knees beneath the water.
Take a Responsible Airboat Tour
Airboats are metal flat-bottomed boats propelled by an aircraft-type propeller and powered by an aircraft or automotive engine. These unique boats make it possible to navigate through the marshlands of the Everglades to give you a rare view of the landscape and wildlife that resides within. While airboat tours are prohibited in nearly all the Everglades National Park's 2,400 acres due to concerns about protecting the wetlands ecosystem, there are responsible airboat tour operators who run outside of the park with care and respect for these precious wetlands. Look for an airboat operation, such as Down South Airboat Tours, that runs its tours using only USCG licensed captains who follow existing airboat trails, offer an exceptional amount of conservation education on the ecosystems and do not allow the harassment or holding of any wildlife.
Catch a Peacock Bass
Find a guide or take a freshwater fly fishing or light tackle trip to experience the thrilling jumps and fight of the butterfly peacock bass. Many are misinformed about how and why this colorful and non-native freshwater fish species came to inhabit the waters of South Florida and the Everglades. Peacock bass were stocked in Miami-Dade and Broward County canals back in 1984 for the purpose of helping to control the number of exotic forage fishes, such as the spotted tilapia, in Southeast Florida’s freshwater canals. In other words, not only is the peacock bass one of the most photogenic fish in the Everglades, but they also serve a key purpose in our ecosystems.
Explore a Paddling Trail
One of the most eco-friendly and unobtrusive ways of taking in the sights and sounds of an Everglades brackish marine estuary habitat, is by exploring one of the paddling trails located within Big Cypress National Preserve. Pick an easy to moderate-level trail to start, such as the 3.73-mile Sandfly Island Loop Paddling Trail, that is accessible from the NPS Gulf District Ranger Station in Everglades City. You’ll see the Intracoastal mangrove tree islands, oyster bars and several different species of wading birds in the brackish marine environment.
Get a Glimpse of the Alligators
One of the best places to witness some of the largest gators in the Everglades (at a safe distance) and snap a few fantastic photos is from the Big Cypress Oasis Visitor Center located off the East Tamiami Trail in Ochopee. After walking along the wooden boardwalk and staring in awe at the many reptiles that are often found basking in the sun below, you can stop into the Florida National Parks Association to see exhibits related to the natural history of the preserve or browse through the shop for an authentic Everglades souvenir.
Take a Birding Tour
While it might seem hard to believe, over 360 species of birds have been sighted in the Florida Everglades. This list of species includes osprey, bald eagles, pelicans, roseate spoonbills, egrets, herons, swallow-tailed kites, wood storks, and skimmers – just to name a few. The diversity of avian life in the Everglades makes it one of the best places in country to go on a bird-watching tour. Look for walking tours, like those offered by Everglades Area Tours, that are led by a naturalist to get the most out of your experience. Most walking birding tours are taken at a leisurely pace and well-suited for all ages.
Now that you have six suggestions on what to see and do in the Florida Everglades, get out and responsibly experience the majestic beauty of a true national treasure.
Editors Note: Make sure to bring bug spray, sunscreen, a hat and plenty of water while exploring the Florida Everglades National Park. We also recommend visiting during the spring, summer or winter months for your best chance at seeing wildlife and to avoid a buzzy, bug-filled trip. Stop by visitor centers, snag a photo of a map and check with park rangers to make sure your destinations are open as accessibility is subject to change with weather developments or restoration efforts.