Sights and Trails
The tiny town of Everglades City (pop. 500) is about as rustic and “Old Florida” as they come, and were it not an ideal stopping and starting point for day-trippers, hunters, fishers, and campers on Everglades adventures, there would be almost no reason to stop here.
The only sights you will encounter, the 80-year-old Rod & Gun Club (200 Riverside Dr., 239/695-2101, www.evergladesrodandgun.com, accommodations from $110 d) and even older courthouse building, can be seen in a quick spin around the “downtown” area.
Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge
Nearly two-thirds of the 35,000-acre Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge consists of mangrove forest. Unsurprisingly, hundreds of fish and bird species call the area home, as well as otters, dolphins, and several endangered species like loggerhead turtles and manatees.
The best (and really only) way to experience the islands is by boat. Launch facilities are available in the towns of Goodland (near State Rd. 92) and Port-of-the-Islands (near the Tamiami Tr.).
Flamingo Visitor Center
About an hour south of the park’s main entrance is the Flamingo Visitor Center (7:30 a.m.–5 p.m. daily Nov.–Apr.), which has an educational area inside, and a marina from which you can take boat tours of the nearby area or rent canoes or kayaks to take on the beautiful mangrove-thick water routes on your own. The short Eco Pond Trail is pleasant and wheelchair-accessible.
Shark Valley Visitor Center
For many visitors, a trip to the Everglades means making a beeline to the Shark Valley Visitor Center (36000 SW 8th St., 305/221-8776). By far the most developed and busiest of all the park’s visitors centers, Shark Valley is right on the busy Tamiami Trail that links downtown Miami to Naples. The center offers boat cruises, guided walking tours, and for the truly wildlife-averse, tram tours.
A popular 15-mile cycling loop trail originates here, and bicycles—as well as canoes and kayaks—can be rented nearby. While Shark Valley offers a sort of one-stop shopping for the Everglades experience, the heat, crowds, and relative lack of wildlife make it less than optimal for those who want anything beyond a superficial visit to the River of Grass.
Royal Palm Visitor Center
The Royal Palm Visitor Center (4 miles west of Ernest Coe Visitor Center on State Rd. 9336, 305/242-7700, 8 a.m.–4:15 p.m. daily) is the starting point for two of the park’s most popular walking trails, the Anhinga Amble Trail and the Gumbo Limbo Trail. The 0.8-mile Anhinga Trail is thick with visible wildlife, and you’ll almost certainly see alligators and, in the winter, dozens of species of birds, including the trail’s namesake, which can be spotted using its long neck to assist in hunting for fish.
The Gumbo Limbo Trail is half as long, and instead of swampy marsh grass, walkers along this trail will be strolling through a lush hardwood hammock. Both of these trails are well-maintained and wheelchair-accessible, so you won’t be roughing it.
© Jason Ferguson from Moon Florida, 1st Edition