When Is the Best Time
The Everglades is all about water in many dimensions. I provide you with helpful tips about the best time, boat tours you shouldn't miss, the five most fascinating boardwalks, where to spot alligators, manatees, and birds. I try to answer all questions you may have about the exceptional Greater Everglades along the Tamiami Trail.
Glades is an old English word for an open grassy place. The native Americans, the “Pa-hay-okee”, called it “grassy waters”. Often described as a swamp but it is a huge, slowly moving river. Almost eight million residents depend on this river for their water supply.
The Everglades is a unique landscape of tall grass, branching waterways, swampy land, mangroves, hammocks, and rich in wildlife, all merging into one National Park. These 1.5 million acres huge National Park is located in the south of Florida. The Everglades became the first National Park for its biological value in 1947. There are three entrances to enter the Everglades and four Visitor Centres. With more than one million visitors each year, mainly in the dry winter, some parts of the park get pretty busy.
The best time to visit Florida and the Everglades with fantastic weather and fewer mosquitoes is from December to April, which is also the busiest time. It is the dry and colder winter season though showers occur. Day temperatures are pleasant with lower humidity. Wildlife viewing and especially birding are excellent.
Best Boat Tours in the Everglades
A visit to the Everglades is only complete with water activities. We did the canoe tour in the mangroves and a dolphin boat tour. Sitting in the canoe with a huge alligator in front of us was thrilling. These are my tour recommendations via GetYourGuide. You stay informed with them and really important nowadays is a 100% money-back guarantee if you need to cancel your trip up to 24 hours in advance.
Seasons and Weather
Winter - Dry Season (December-April) – Peak Season
Cooler and pleasant temperatures below 30°C/86°F, lower humidity, clear sky and in addition, a lower water level. Night temperatures range on average between 17-14°C/62-57°F, occasionally temperatures are near freezing. Animals gather around the water holes: fewer mosquitoes and biting flies. Florida has a subtropical climate. However, if the state gets hit by a strong cold front, almost freezing temperatures can occur at night, like in January 2018. Birding is excellent in the winter, with migratory and domestic birds especially wading birds, attracting predators. January, February, and March offer the best opportunities to watch wildlife during the height of the dry season. Usually, April is the mating time for alligators. Their ritual can last from 3-17 days. They may swim or lay together on a bank for days. Some of the mangrove channels are impassable by canoe from February to May due to low water levels. Quick showers occur, bringing a small amount of rain only.
Summer - Wet Season (May-November) - Low Season
The south of Florida has a tropical climate, temperatures are above 91°F/33°C, the humidity is high, and torrential rain and thunderstorms occur. The Everglades is located in one of the most active hurricane areas. You can find damages in the entire Everglades from past hurricanes. However, rain plays a vital role in the Everglades. The prairie gets filled up with water. August is the height of the hot and wet summer. During the entire summer, some campgrounds in the Everglades are closed due to high flooding risks, and mosquitoes are an issue often you even don't want to leave your car or house.
Camping in the Everglades
- Long Pine Key Campground:
Seven miles from the park’s main entrance located offers drinking water, restrooms, dump stations, picnic tables, and grills for tents and trailers.
- Flamingo Campground:
It offers drinking water, restrooms, showers, picnic tables, grills, hookups, and dump stations. Some sites are available by reservation only, and others are first-come-first-served. Registration is at the Flamingo Marina Store. Reservations are highly recommended in the winter from November 20 to April 15 during the peak season. No reservations are needed during the off-season between April 16 - November 19. During the summer wet season, parts of the campgrounds are closed due to flooding. Mosquitoes are an issue here!
Entrances and Visitor Centers Opening Hours
There are three entrances from different directions to the Everglades.
- The main entrance leads to Royal Palm and Flamingo in the south of the Everglades. Open 24/7
- Shark Valley is the entrance in the north, close to Miami. Open 8:30 am - 6 pm - No access after 6; the gate is closed!
- The Tamiami Trail leads from the west, from Naples to Everglades City and the Everglades. Open 24/7
- Gulf Coast Visitor Center (Google Maps)
9:00 am - 4:30 pm (Mid-April through Mid-November)
8:00 am - 5:00 pm (Mid-November through Mid-April)
- Shark Valley Visitor Center; Miami (Google Maps)
9:00 am - 5:00 pm
Entrance Gate: 8:30AM - 6:00PM
Shark Valley Visitor Center offers educational displays, a park video and informational brochures. Books, postcards, and other souvenirs are available in the gift store.
- Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center, Homestead (Google Maps)
8:00 am - 5:00 pm (Mid-December through Mid-April)
9:00 am - 5:00 pm (Mid-April through Mid-December)
Books, films, postcards, and insect repellents are purchased in the bookstore. A series of popular walking trails begin only a short drive from the visitor centre. Restrooms are available.
- Flamingo Visitor Center, Homestead (Google Maps)
8:00 am - 4:30 pm (mid-November through mid-April).
No regular hours off-season (mid-April through mid-November)
Flamingo is the gateway to Florida Bay. The Flamingo Visitor Center offers educational displays, brochures, and backcountry permits. Campground facilities, a public boat ramp, a marina store, and other hiking and canoeing trails are located near the visitor centre. However, it got it by two hurricanes in 2005 and again by Irma in 2017. The reason is that some services are no longer available.
- Royal Palm Visitor Information Station (Google Maps)
The Royal Palm area was the first protected part and is the heart of the Everglades. The popular Anhinga Trail boardwalk and the Gumbo Limbo Trail start here.
Entrance Fee for Everglades National Park
Purchase your Everglades National Park ticket online and save time.
Free Entrance Days at the Everglades
- January 18, 2021: Martin Luther King, Jr Day
- April 17, 2021: First Day of National Park Week / National Junior Ranger Day ·
- August 4, 2021: Great American Outdoors Act Commemoration
- August 25, 2021: National Park Service Anniversary
- September 25, 2021: National Public Lands Day
- November 11, 2021: Veterans Day
Best Months to Visit
Location and Tips
The Everglades consists of a freshwater river and the saltwater of the Gulf of Mexico. This creates a unique ecosystem for a huge variety of animals and birds. Most water comes from the rain. Before 1880 the Everglades were connected with Lake Okeechobee. Due to draining for farming and urban development, only 50 % of the original Everglades remained. The Greater Everglades Ecosystem is an 18.000 square mile of a unique landscape formed by the Everglades National Park, many preserves and nature reserves like Big Cypress National Preserve, Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve, the pristine Ten Thousand Islands, Collier-Seminole State Park, and others. These nature parks are similar and as impressive as the Everglades but less visited and known.
What makes the difference between these parks? Unfortunately, they don’t have the same status. They are not as protected as a national park as the Everglades itself. A broader spectrum of use is allowed in a national preserve, which means oil and gas exploration and production are possible. These nature parks and the Everglades are a treasure trove of quiet beauty and wonders of this water system.
We spent seven days in this area; each day was spectacular, with lots of wildlife sightings and bird spotting. By car is just a fraction of the Greater Everglades accessible. Therefore, to experience the park, you have to walk, take a canoe, or a boat. With patience and luck, you spot many wading birds at Ten Thousand Islands and, of course, alligators in the Everglades, along the Big Cypress Drive, in Fakahatchee, and other parks. More than one million alligators call Florida their home.
7 Travel Tips for the Greater Everglades
- Drive along the scenic Tamiami Trail on HW 41. It’s an awesome road trip with alligators along the road. We spent three nights on the Collier Seminole Campground.
- Visit the Ten Thousand Islands in the afternoon for bird watching. You won’t be disappointed. This 35 thousand acres huge refuge is home to masses of wading birds. It was established in 1996 to protect this unique estuarine ecosystem. Several trails and an observation tower giving a closer look to this birding jewel.
- For me, one of the most beautiful parks in entire Florida is the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve. Walk on one of the hiking trails in the preserve, explore nature along the short boardwalk, or book a guided tour. The Fakahatchee Strand is 20 miles long, 3-5 miles wide and the major drainage slough of the Big Cypress Swamp, the biggest strand in Florida. Even more, it is the largest subtropical strand swamp in the world. This preserve has the largest population of native royal palms, also the largest concentration and variety of orchids in North America. We even got a glimpse of a black bear running away.
- Spend at least half a day at the Big Cypress Nature Preserve. Make a stop at the Visitor Center, drive along the 94 the Long Road Big Cypress, walk the different short nature trails and boardwalks. The giant cypress trees can survive although standing in water. They often form dense clusters called cypress dom. The trees deep in the soil of the centre grow taller than the ones standing on dryer ground. If you ever wanted to see alligators, here are heaps of them.
Take a guided boat tour from Everglades City. During the ride along the channels and residential houses, we already saw alligators and pelicans; when we reached the Gulf Coast, a school of dolphins accompanied us.
- Book a canoe tour and paddle through the mangrove channels and the wide-open slough. Enjoy the quiet beauty and mystic atmosphere from the canoe. This canoe tour was my highlight in the Greater Everglades Park.
Hike on the Royal Palm Hammock Nature Trail Boardwalk in the Collier Seminole State Park. This 0.9 mi / 1.5 km long trail is exceptional with a thick canopy of royal palm hammocks and other trees, which are more common to see in the Caribbean. The boardwalk ends at a platform with fantastic views of the salt marsh and nesting birds.
Activities – 9 Things to Do in the Everglades
- Airboat Tour Airboat rides can damage vegetation and disturb wildlife, the reason that these rides are allowed outside the National Park only.
The inland and coastal waterways are a great way to experience the remote areas of the Greater Everglades. You either need good navigation skills for it or book a guided trip. The tour we booked led from Everglades City through the channels and to the Gulf of Mexico. Our highlight was a school of dolphins jumping next to our boat.
Gliding silently is one of the best opportunities to experience the real beauty of the Greater Everglades. Canoe renting is available at Flamingo and Everglades City. The winter months are the best time for this activity. Some of the most popular canoe trips are Mud Lake, a 6.8-mile-long loop, Nine Mile Pond, a 5.2-mile loop, Noble Hammock loop is 2 miles long or Turner River near Everglades City, which is 11 miles long one way. A two days canoe trip is the West Lake Canoe Trail. It takes 8.1 miles to the Alligator Creek campsite and another 8.7 miles to Flamingo.
Even a 99-mile wilderness waterway exists connecting Flamingo to Everglades City, which takes 7-10 days. You spend the night in your tent on a chickee. These wooden platforms are along the canoe trail providing a dry and safe opportunity for camping. Maps for canoe trips are provided at the end of the article. However, if you are not familiar with the area, we recommend a guided tour. We booked a half-day trip from sunrise to midday, definitely a highlight because of our excellent guide Joshua Lewis. We spotted a racoon in the mangroves, lots of birds, alligators, and the atmosphere along the waterways was incredible.
There is a rental station for kayaks at Flamingo. Single and double kayaks are for rental for two and four hours. Prices may vary during the winter and summer seasons.
There are lots of interpretive boardwalk trails within the park and also some longer day hikes. However, keep in mind that most of the park is rather wet than dry. The most popular tracks are the Long Pine Key Trail, Rowdy Bend Trail, Christian Point Trail, or Coastal Prairie Trail. Continue reading for our 5 best boardwalk hikes.
- Slogging Slogging is off-trail hiking in wet areas. It is permitted in the entire Everglades park. Usually, snakes and alligators are more scared than you, but I have to confess this wasn’t the right activity for us. Rangers also lead this activity. Ask at one of the information centres for the next guided tour.
Shark Valley is great to explore by bike also the Snake Bight Trail close to Flamingo. Another one is the Long Pine Key Nature Trail which is 6.1 miles long one-way. Hikers and bikers share this trail. At some parks, rental bikes are available, but you better bring your own.
Birding is one of the most rewarding activities in the park. Masses of wading birds are nesting in Florida’s wetlands and especially at 10 Thousand Islands.
The Everglades are popular for freshwater and saltwater fishing. You can charter a boat at Flamingo. Nevertheless, first, check out the park’s regulations for fishing. A license for both saltwater and freshwater fishing is required. It is recommended to eat just one bass per week because of its high mercury content. Pregnant women and children shouldn't eat any!
5 Top Boardwalk Hikes
Often people ask if it is worth visiting the Everglades. Yes, even if you have just one day available. To get a glimpse of nature's beauty, walk some of our recommended interpretative trails, and you get overwhelmed. I am sure you will agree it is utterly worth visiting the Everglades. These trails are not strenuous or long, all are well-maintained and even wheelchair accessible, showing how outstanding and important the Greater Everglades are.
- Mahogany Hammock Trail - 0.4mi / 700m long (Google Maps)
Don't miss this wonderful walk. You enter a lush tree island that was hidden from logging activities in the swamp. The forest is wild and beautiful with strangler figs, old mahogany trees, palm trees, and more. We spotted an osprey here on top of a tree. Check out our pictures for a detailed map.
- Pa-hay-okee Trail - 0.2mi / 250m (Google Maps)
You can see the "grassy waters" and bald cypress trees on this boardwalk. You have an even better view from the observation tower. Unfortunately, stairs are leading down from the tower, so not utterly wheelchair accessible. Check out the pictures for a detailed map at the end of the article.
- Gumbo Limbo - 0.4mi / 700m (Google Maps)
The trail leads along a boardwalk is paved in some sections; as long as it is not wet, it should be wheelchair accessible as well. Also, this is a beautiful wild nature trail presenting the best of the Everglades. It is an excellent example to see how the trees mixed up in the hardwood hammock. The trail is shady even in the summer but don't forget the bug spray.
- Big Cypress Bend in Fakahatchee - 1mi / 1.6km (Google Maps)
This wheelchair-accessible boardwalk leads into the heart of a swamp with the real wilderness around. It ends at a viewing platform and pool with birds and orchids around. Bald eagles and owls are often spotted. This walk is a hidden gem not much visited, a nature lover's dream. Most of the walk is under a large tree canopy; therefore, also worth coming here in the summer. There is a nice little gift shop next to the parking and the trailhead. Entrance is free though a donation is requested for maintenance.
Kirby Storter Boardwalk in Big Cypress - 1mi / 1.6km roundtrip (Google Maps)
The wheelchair-accessible boardwalk leads to the heart of a cypress strand and different vegetations. It gives you another view of the unique landscape of the Everglades. Also, this walk is not busy and well known. If you drive too fast, you miss the entrance of this beautiful wilderness walk. We spotted a snake here and many different bird species. There is plenty of parking available.
Packing List for the Everglades
Some areas have few mosquitoes; others have masses. I got more than 50 bites around my ankles on our arrival at the campground in the evening in the winter! My trouser was too short and my socks too thin. We camped on different sites of the Greater Everglades, and none was mosquito-free.
- Insect repellent is essential for the entire year, especially around Flamingo and Collier Seminole!
- Long pants throughout the year or much repellent during the day but sometimes impossible!
- Long-sleeved shirt instead of repellent
- Headcover for the sun plus mosquito net on top to protect your face and neck; this is a life safer even in the winter at dusk and for some areas of the park
- If you plan to camp, bring a headlight for the night
- Binocular for birding; usually, you can spot birds in the distance only
11 Facts About the Florida Alligators
- More than one million alligators call Florida their home
- Growing 6 - 10 inches per year
- A male alligator can reach 14 feet in length but on average 8-10 feet
- Reaching maturity after 6 - 7 years
- They can live without food for long periods by slowing their metabolism, feeding whatever is available, including turtles and birds, roughly 15-20 times per year.
- April is the mating time - Some males mate with several females
- It is the female’s job to build the nest and to protect the hatchlings
- Females lay 30-50 eggs
- Late August, September the hatchlings emerge
- Newly hatched baby gators are 9-10 inches long
- Only 20% of the newborn will reach adulthood
Alligator - Keeper of the Swamp
Gator holes are ponds often created by alligators that play an essential role in the dry season. Fish, birds, frogs, snakes, turtles, and mammals all concentrate in and around these holes. Prey is available when needed, but alligators don't often feed; therefore, they share this vital habitat.
Is Swimming Safe in the Everglades?
Swimming is definitely not safe and only in marked areas. Don’t swim at night or dusk when alligators may be present. Don’t let your pet swim in areas where large alligators may be around. I have to confess we didn’t swim anywhere. We spotted plenty of alligators on our trip.
Wildlife in the Everglades
- American crocodiles: grey to green colour, teeth of upper and lower jaws are visible. Flamingo is home to the rare American crocodile.
- American Alligator: black colour, only teeth of the upper jaw visible.
- Black Bears; over 3000 bears are living in the Greater Everglades.
- Florida Panther is highly endangered and rarely to see moving in the night. Roughly 100 exist here in the Greater Everglades.
- Bobcats; are widespread, but usually, it is more likely to spot their tracks in the mud.
- Racoons; are widespread, often seen in the mangroves or around campgrounds.
- White-tailed deer; the same species as in the east of the US. These deers are smaller because they don't need an extra layer of fat for the winter.
- West Indian Manatees can be spotted in the Flamingo Marina close to the Flamingo Visitor Center.
The Greater Everglades is a haven for bird watchers. However, you mainly spot birds of prey and wading birds. These birds wade through shallow water or along the water’s edge, searching for frogs, fish, and insects. All of them have different feeding techniques.
- Roseate spoonbills are breeding between November and February. Only a few hundred occur in the south of Florida.
- Wood Storks, the more than 3 feet tall stork, is the only breeding stork in the US. It prefers tropical and subtropical habitats, the reason that it inhabits the Greater Everglades.
- Caribbean Flamingos were here in abundance during the 1800s, with flocks over 1000 birds. Nowadays, they are rare to spot due to overhunting locally and in the Caribbean.
- Osprey; You find plenty of nests around the Flamingo Visitor Center area. They nest high above the grounds.
- White Pelicans; thousands of white pelicans winter in Florida Bay. They are often spotted in front of the Flamingo Visitor Center.
- Black Vultures are often seen in larger groups in the swamps.
- Owls; different species of owls occur in the Everglades. They are night active. You may spot an owl roosting high in a tree during the day.
The Greater Everglades Landscape
The mangroves in the Everglades are under threat due to the rising sea level. They form coastal channels, waterways, and islands. They protect the coast from heavy storms, and the roots are a habitat for many aquatic species, the nursery for young fishes. Three different types of mangroves exist.
- The red ones are evidence of saltwater.
- The black mangroves are at a slightly higher elevation where saltwater and freshwater mix up.
- White mangroves are found landward also in a mix of saltwater and freshwater.
The prairie is a wide-open slough that fills up with freshwater during the wet summer months and heavy storms with seawater. The prairie is salt-tolerant.
The biggest islands are hardwood hammocks laying on higher and dryer ground which usually don't get flooded. They are rich in plant and animal life. Often woodpeckers are found on the trees.
In the winter, the bald-cypress trees look bare and lifeless. These conifers shed their needles, becoming green again when the wet season starts. This is their way to cope with the seasonal drought.