Everglades National Park
Those of you that have been following us since the new year, might remember that instead of creating New Year’s Resolutions, we created a MORE / LESS list. One of the items on the MORE side was MORE National Parks. That list along with a wonderful gift of a National Parks Pass from my parents for Christmas we were all set. (Thanks Mom & Dad! We will do our best to put it to good use.) One of the National Parks that we knew we would explore in 2017 was the Everglades. After several fellow campers recommended the Shark Valley Visitor’s Center / Entrance, we added it to our schedule of events during our time here at Big Cypress RV Park. Oh am I glad we did. This place is a must.
Mike & Annette joined us for the adventure and after a 90 minute drive, we arrived at the visitor’s center tucked snuggly in the Everglades. Upon our arrival, we also spotted Tom & Marci who are also camping at Big Cypress RV Park. As motivation to read this post in its entirety (painful, I know!), you will find a link to an awesome video captured by Marci. Oh come on, don’t skip to the end - you can make it through my blabber! Mike & Annette purchased tickets for the 11 AM tram tour and Russ & I had decided to bike the 15-mile paved loop. We had about 30 minutes before their tram tour, so we perused the visitor’s center and took a walk along a short boardwalk loop. Immediately upon starting the walk, we spotted our first alligator right along the walking path. Russ spotted him quickly and the rest of us jumped a bit not expecting him to be so very close! Certainly the closest I’ve ever been to a free alligator.
We ended up at the main path where their were a couple guides giving advice and sharing info. Just within a few hundred feet, we spotted this big guy sunning himself, a bunch of birds, and several other gators. So cool.
When Mike & Annette headed out for their 2-hour tram tour, we hopped on our bikes and headed the opposite direction of the tram on the path. By the time we reached the mid-point of the trail, we had already spotted close to 50 gators! There is a 45-foot high observation deck at this point on the path with panoramic views in all directions. All you could see for miles was the Everglades. WOW! After a quick snack break, we jumped back on the bikes for the remaining 8 miles. This part of the path was curvy and wide-open and we didn’t spot quite as many gators as we did on the west road. However, it was still way more gators than we’ve spotted in any other place we have ever been. They are literally everywhere!
Our favorite spotting was this mama gator with her babies. A few sat on her back while a bunch of others were huddled around the base of a tree. We could even hear their little squeaking noises! Oh my cuteness!
We LOVED our bike ride and would definitely do that again next time. The flat pavement, abundant wildlife, and views of all the flora and fauna make this a top-notch bike trail in South Florida. However, the tram tour would also be a good option as it is narrated by a park-trained naturalist. The open-air trams are covered and stop frequently to point out wildlife. The guides are very knowledgeable and able to provide information on the animals and ecosystem of the sawgrass marsh and trees. The tram tour is $25 for adults with discounted prices for seniors and children.
Based on our visit, here's some tips (insider info) that might make your trip better.
The parking lot is fairly small, so get there early or you will need to wait. You can either park along the main road and walk in to the park (quite a distance) or wait for a car to leave (1 out, 1 in).
Pack yo’ bags with the following: Camera, Water, Snacks, Sunscreen, & a Hat
Visit during the winter months! The dry conditions cause the animals to gather in areas where there is more water. This conveniently is along the bike / tram trail, so viewing is great during this time of year. Additionally, the bugs and sun in the summer would make it much less enjoyable. Still doable though!
The Shark Valley Visitor's Center / Entrance is one of four of the Everglades National Park System. The other three entrances/visitor center border the rest of the 1.5 million acres of Everglades National Park. All the visitor’s centers are open 365 days a year.
Gulf Coast Visitor Center - great for exploring the Ten Thousand Islands
Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center
Flamingo Visitor’s Center
Since you read this long, as promised, let us reward you with an awesome video / experience captured by fellow full-time RVer friends, Tom & Marci, on their blog, RoamingFree2010. Here is a link to her post about their Shark Valley bike trip. Don’t skip out before the end because the video they got of a gator was super cool (close your eyes if you don’t like the harsh reality of nature)! Yes, that’s a teaser….