My life has been deeply affected by books. Someone gave me Naha, Boy of the Seminoles when I was little. My parents read that book over and over and over and… If you have children, you understand how many times I asked that book to be read to me. That book inspired me to visit the Everglades. Many years later, I finally had the opportunity.
My husband and I flew into Miami and rented a car and began our road trip of Southern Florida by visiting Everglades National Park. The 1.5 million-acre park is a World Heritage Site, International Biosphere Reserve and a Wetland of International Importance. The park was established in 1947 to preserve the precariously balanced ecosystem that was being threatened by people as they extended farmlands.
The Everglades National Park covers most of the tip of Florida, but there are 3 main entrances–Miami, Homestead, and Everglades City. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Florida City to access the Everglades National Park through the Homestead entrance. We took advantage of the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center information before we headed into the park. The movie provides an interesting overview of the park and its flora and fauna. We ventured into the park to take advantage of several of the trails. Many of the trails are on boardwalks which have been built above the marshy lands to provide visitors with access while minimizing the environmental impact of people traipsing through the waters and grasses. We especially enjoyed the Pa-Hay-Okee trail which is a short (0.2 miles) loop trail ending in a tall observation tower from which visitors can view the “river of grass” that extends as far as the eye can see.
We took time to visit the Everglades Alligator Farm to experience an airboat ride through the marshy environment. The pilot gave us headsets to protect our ears from the extremely loud fan noise and we were off for our 25-minute ride. Many times, it appeared as though we were going to go straight through ground—only to discover that the grass was actually growing in the brown, brackish water. There were lots of alligators, but from a safe distance. The farm has a huge collection of both alligators and crocodiles since the Florida Everglades is the only place on earth in which American Alligators and American Crocodiles coexist. This experience brought out the kid in me since I was reminded of the movie, The Rescuers.
While we were in the area, we also visited the Biscayne National Park which is located closer to Miami and protects a very different ecosystem than the Everglades. It is made up of aquamarine-colored water, islands and coral reefs. Many of its shorelines are covered with mangrove trees that provide shelter for many species of fish and animals. In both the Biscayne and Everglades National Parks we saw diverse birds and animals.
Southern Florida is a fun place for hiking and exploring but I would suggest going in the dry season of November-March when it is cooler and has many fewer bugs. (I would still use sunscreen and take bug spray even during this season!) Also, if you are visiting several national parks, investigate buying a national park pass to save money.
Have you visited either of these national parks or others? Which are your favorites and why? Please share with us in the comment section below.
– Candace Ahlfinger has loved traveling since she was little and has always been on the go whenever possible. Now she is retired and gets to do what she loves best… TRAVEL! Whether it’s traveling with her wonderful husband, or our children and grandchildren, traveling is a great experience that enriches her life. Because she always enjoys reading and hearing about others’ travel experiences, she wants to share her travels with the Ellis DownHome readers.