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An Overlander’s Guide to Everglades National Park 

 September 4, 2023

By  Patrick @DarkSkyOverland

Everglades National ParkEverglades National Park is a one-of-a-kind place that offers overlanders endless adventures.

Spanning over 1.5 million acres across southern Florida, this vast subtropical wilderness features sawgrass marshes, mangrove forests, tranquil rivers, and sapphire blue waters.

As the largest tropical wilderness in the United States, the Everglades ecosystem is incredibly biodiverse and home to a variety of rare and endangered species.

Overlanders who make the journey to Everglades National Park will be rewarded with countless opportunities to experience nature at its finest.

From camping under the stars to navigating the “River of Grass” by kayak to hiking through pine flatwoods, adventure awaits at every turn in this lush wetland paradise.

This overlander guide covers everything you need to know to plan the ultimate overland adventure in Everglades National Park.

We’ll go over the best times to visit, top attractions and activities, where to camp, safety information, and more.

Whether you’re visiting for a weekend or spending weeks immersed in “swamp life,” use this guide to make the most of your overlanding experience in the magical Everglades.

Getting to Everglades National Park

Entrance Sign to Everglades National ParkEverglades National Park has three main visitor centers that provide access to different sections of the park:

1. Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center (Homestead, FL): Main park entrance off FL-9336 with access to the southern and central areas. Located 38 miles southwest of Miami.

  • Click HERE for Google driving directions to Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center.

2. Shark Valley Visitor Center (Miami, FL): North entrance off Tamiami Trail with access to Shark Valley area. Located 38 miles west of Miami.

  • Click HERE for Google driving directions to Shark Valley Visitor Center.

3. Gulf Coast Visitor Center (Everglades City, FL): West entrance off Route 29 with access to the western coastal region. Located 35 miles southeast of Naples.

  • Click HERE for Google driving directions to Gulf Coast Visitor Center.

Overlanders can reach the park by driving the major highways that border Everglades National Park. The Florida Turnpike provides access from Orlando or Miami. Those coming from the Gulf Coast can take I-75 to Route 29 heading south.

The nearest major airports are Miami International Airport and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on the east coast, as well as Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers to the west.

Best Time to Visit

Everglades National ParkWith its subtropical climate, Everglades National Park can be visited year-round. However, the tropical weather patterns do bring pronounced wet and dry seasons which impact activities. Following is an outline and what you can expect from each season in Everglades National Park.

Dry Season (December to April)

The dry season from December to April is the most popular time to visit the Everglades. During these cooler, drier months, temperatures average a pleasant 70-77°F.

With less rainfall, wildlife congregates at watering holes, making animals easier to spot. It’s also breeding season for wading birds like egrets, herons, and anhingas, leading to large congregations of these species.

The winter dry season is busiest with visitors, so make camping and lodging reservations well in advance.

Wet Season (May to October)

The wet season brings hot, humid weather with afternoon thunderstorms and rainfall. Temperatures reach over 90°F and the humidity can be intense.

However, the crowds thin out somewhat, aside from summer vacationers. With abundant water, wildlife disperses into the swamp making it harder to spot. But the scenery is lush and green.

Bring rain gear and bug spray for wet season adventuring. May and October are good shoulder months with fewer bugs than summer.

Peak Visitation (November to May)

The most ideal weather draws the highest visitation from November to May. Mild temperatures range from the 60s to 70s, perfect for hiking and camping.

Book reservations for lodges, campgrounds, tours, and recreational activities well in advance for these months. Arrive early in the day to beat crowds at popular sites like Shark Valley.

Consider visiting on weekdays if possible.

Avoid Summer (June to August)

Summer in the Everglades brings extreme heat, humidity, mosquitos, and thunderstorms. Daytime temperatures exceed 90°F and 100% humidity is common.

In addition, summer is peak season for hurricanes.

Avoid visiting Everglades National Park during the hottest and stickiest months of the year.

Camping Options

Flamingo Campground at Everglades National ParkThe Everglades has plenty of frontcountry and backcountry camping options for overlanders:

Frontcountry Campgrounds

1. Flamingo Campground has 274 drive-in campsites with picnic tables and grills. Hot showers and restrooms with flush toilets provided. Mangrove forest setting with access to wilderness trails and canoe/kayak launches. Although there are plenty of campsites available at Flamingo Campground, there are only 41 electric hookups.

2. Long Pine Key Campground has 108 drive-up tent and RV campsites. Hot showers, restrooms with flush toilets. Each site has a picnic table and grill. Camp store sells firewood and supplies. No hookups. Close to nature trails.

Reservations to either campground can be made through FlamingoEverglades.com.

Backcountry Camping

Overnight camping permits are mandatory for all backcountry trips in the wilderness area.

Overlanders can reserve permits ahead of time through the Recreation.gov. Advance bookings can be made 3 months prior to your start date.

After reserving online, you’ll get a confirmation email that serves as your permit. Please print or download a digital copy to bring with you. Walk-up permits are also available but may be limited.

Note that many wilderness campsites require a boat or canoe to reach. Use the park’s Wilderness Trip Planner to ensure you pack properly for your backcountry adventure.

Checking details like weather, terrain, and trip duration will help create a safe, fun wilderness experience. Proper preparation is key!

Lastly, make sure you follow Leave No Trace principles when dispersed camping. Be prepared for wet, humid conditions and reserve sites early during peak seasons.

Must-See Attractions

Shark Valley at Everglades National ParkWith over 1.5 million acres to explore, the Everglades has endless highlights. Don’t miss these top attractions and activities:

Anhinga Trail – This world-famous boardwalk trail offers incredible wildlife viewing mere steps from the Royal Palm Visitor Center. Spot alligators, turtles, anhinga birds, and other species in the sawgrass marsh.

Shark Valley – Bike or take a tram tour along this 15-mile paved loop road. Sawgrass prairies, alligator holes, and wooded hammocks reveal the diversity of the River of Grass ecosystem.

Gulf Coast Visitor Center – Launch canoes and kayaks from this visitor center to paddle through the Ten Thousand Islands mangrove forests and explore remote bays and beaches along the Everglades’ wild outer coast.

Mahogany Hammock Trail – A short hike through a rare dense forest of towering mahogany trees draped in air plants and bromeliads. Feel transported back to prehistoric times.

Florida Bay – Paddle across the shallow, island-dotted bay and watch for dolphins, manatees, and abundant wading birds. Search for seashells along remote sandy beaches.

Flamingo Visitor Center – Explore Florida Bay by boat, trek through mangrove estuaries, visit alligator holes, and enjoy saltwater breezes from this most remote area of the park.

From world-famous trails to secluded bays, the Everglades offers unique ecosystems, wildlife, and outdoor adventures. Don’t miss these top highlights to experience the best of this vast subtropical wilderness.

Wildlife Encounters

Alligator at Everglades National ParkThe Everglades ecosystem contains a wealth of biodiversity, offering many opportunities to see unique plants and animals. Some of the most iconic wildlife includes:

Alligators – These large reptilian predators can be spotted basking along trails and waterways throughout the park. Give them space and don’t feed them. Peak viewing is February to April.

Florida Panther – This critically endangered subspecies of cougar prowls upland forests and swamps. Getting a glimpse of the elusive big cat is rare but possible. Look for tracks and claw marks.

West Indian Manatee – October to March, manatees congregate in warm inland springs and rivers. These gentle herbivores peak visitors’ interest as they surface to breathe.

Roseate Spoonbill – The bright pink plumage of these striking wading birds makes them easy to spot around marshy ponds and estuaries as they feed.

American Crocodile – Found in Flamingo and Cape Sable, this rare saltwater-adapted crocodile is the only place they occur outside the Caribbean.

Sea Turtles – Several endangered and threatened sea turtle species nest on Everglades beaches. Hatching season is May to October.

The diversity of habitats in the Everglades, from sawgrass prairies to cypress swamps, mangroves to pinelands, provide a haven for an incredible diversity of wildlife species. Exploring the park offers ample chances to encounter iconic Everglades animals.

Hiking Trails

Mahogany Hammock Trail at Everglades National ParkWith over 150 miles of hiking trails, Everglades National Park offers exceptional opportunities to immerse yourself in this unique ecosystem. Top day hikes include:

Pinelands Trail – This easy 1-mile loop trail near Long Pine Key campground passes through pine flatwoods habitat. Interpretive signs discuss fire ecology.

Pa-hay-okee Overlook – A short 0.3-mile boardwalk leads to panoramic views stretching across vast sawgrass marshes dotted with hammock tree islands.

Eco Pond Loop – Spot alligators, turtles, herons, and other wildlife along this 1.3-mile trail encircling a wetland pond. Shady oak hammock and pine rockland forest.

Christian Point Trail – Hike 2.3 miles through tropical hardwood hammocks and red mangrove estuaries on this forested loop trail.

Snake Bight Trail – Starting at Flamingo Visitor Center, this 1.5-mile loop passes through captivating coastal mangrove forests fringing Florida Bay.

Remember to prepare properly for hiking by packing plenty of water, using sun protection, spraying for mosquitoes, and maintaining awareness for alligators, venomous snakes, and other wildlife encounters. Exploring the park on foot allows intimate experiences with the Everglades’ diverse ecosystems.

Boating and Kayaking

Airboat at Everglades National ParkPaddling through the “River of Grass” provides an intimate experience with the Everglades ecosystem. Top water trails include:

Nine Mile Pond Canoe Trail – Launching from Flamingo Visitor Center, this trail winds through mangrove tunnels and open freshwater ponds ideal for wildlife viewing.

Wilderness Waterway – This 99-mile signed canoe route connects Flamingo and Everglades City. Requires 7-10 days for full traverse through remote wilderness.

Shark River Slough – Paddle through iconic sawgrass marshes dotted with tree islands on this route rich with alligators, wading birds, and other wildlife.

Florida Bay – Weave a kayak or canoe through a maze of mangrove islands harboring abundant birds and marine life. Access from Flamingo or Gulf Coast.

Safety is paramount for Everglades paddling. Alligators, changing tides, strong winds, storms, and motorized boats require caution. Plan routes and check conditions carefully. An experienced guide provides an added safety net for beginners. Immerse yourself in the “River of Grass.”

Fishing in the Everglades

Fishing at Everglades National ParkThe vast freshwater marshes, estuaries, and bays of Everglades National Park provide phenomenal fishing opportunities. Anglers can hook into some of the region’s most popular gamefish.

Largemouth Bass – These hard-fighting fish thrive throughout the freshwater marshes and canals. Top lures include plastic worms, spinnerbaits, and lipless crankbaits.

Snook – Target these prize inshore fish around mangrove shorelines and passes using live baitfish or retrieves.

Redfish – Robust “reds” patrol the flats and channels of Florida Bay. Bait shrimp or jigs work well.

Tarpon – Acrobatic “silver kings” run thick off the Gulf Coast. Cast large swimbaits or drift live bait to hook one of these giants.

Bluegill – Abundant in canals and marshes. Catch these scrappy panfish on small jigs, spinners, or worms.

Make sure to purchase the appropriate Florida freshwater or saltwater fishing license. Light tackle and artificial lures work best. Fish early morning and late afternoon for more action. Heavy mosquito populations warrant long sleeves, pants, and repellent. With diverse fisheries, the Everglades provides world-class fishing.

Stargazing the Night Sky at Everglades National Park

Stargazing at Everglades National ParkWith its remoteness and lack of light pollution, Everglades National Park offers exceptional opportunities for stargazing. On clear, moonless nights the views of the cosmos are simply breathtaking.

Be sure to look up after sunset to take in the dazzling display overhead. Billions of stars in the Milky Way are visible arcing across the sky. Star filled vistas go on forever.

Bring binoculars or a telescope to get better views of star clusters, nebulae, galaxies, shooting stars and planets. The winter skies feature brilliant Orion rising in the east while summer brings the Swan, Eagle and dense star fields toward the center of the Milky Way.

Catch meteor showers like the prolific Perseids in August or December’s Geminids. Or simply spread out a sleeping bag, relax and get lost scanning the heavens. Dark overlooks like Pa-Hay-Okee provide ideal stargazing spots.

Wake before dawn to catch the sunrise and planets like Venus and Jupiter glowing brightly in the morning sky. Enjoy a day immersed in wilderness beauty followed by an equally magical night under the stars. The celestial show never disappoints.

Safety Precautions

Rattlesnake at Everglades National ParkWhile undeniably beautiful, the untamed wilderness of the Everglades also poses potential hazards to be aware of. Take these safety measures when visiting:

Stay Hydrated – The heat and humidity lead to rapid dehydration and heat exhaustion. Drink plenty of water and replenish electrolytes.

Wear Bug Spray – Mosquitos thrive here, and can transmit diseases like West Nile, Zika, and chikungunya. Spray skin and clothing.

Watch for Alligators – These large apex predators inhabit waterways throughout the park. Give them space, never feed them, and avoid nests during breeding season.

Avoid Snakes – Be alert for cottonmouths, rattlesnakes and coral snakes when hiking. Wear long pants and shoes for protection.

Know Trail Conditions – Some trails can flood quickly during rainfall. Conditions vary between wet and dry seasons.

Tell Someone Your Plans – Much of the park lacks cell service or reception. Share your hiking plans in case of emergency. Consider a satellite messenger.

Pack Essentials – Carry food, water, maps, sun protection, first aid kit, layers, and other essentials in a day pack for hiking and boating.

While caution is warranted, following basic safety measures allows overlanders to fully experience the Everglades safely. Focus on adventure while taking reasonable precautions.

Leave No Trace

To protect the unique yet fragile Everglades ecosystem, it is crucial to strictly follow Leave No Trace principles when visiting:

Plan Ahead – Proper preparation and planning for self-sufficient off-road camping helps avoid unnecessary impact. Know regulations, route finding, weather, etc.

Stay on Trails – Staying on marked trails and camping only in designated sites prevents erosion and vegetation damage.

Pack Out All Trash – No littering. Carry out and properly dispose of all trash, even biodegradable items like food scraps.

Proper Waste Disposal – Avoid contaminating water sources. Carry out human waste or bury 6-8 inches deep and 200 feet from waterways.

Leave Nature Undisturbed – Do not touch, feed or disrupt wildlife behaviors. Avoid damaging live trees and plants or introducing invasive species.

Be Considerate – Respect other visitors, campers and resources. Let nature’s sounds prevail.

Practicing Leave No Trace principles on every Everglades visit ensures these fragile ecosystems remain pristine and protected for future generations to experience and enjoy. Obtain proper permits and follow all regulations. Tread lightly.

Connecting with the Local Culture

Miccosukee Indian Village at Everglades National ParkLearning about the diverse cultures and communities tied to the Everglades greatly enhances a visit to the park.

Seminole Tribe – This federally recognized Native American tribe has lived in the Everglades region for centuries. Visit the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum on the Big Cypress Reservation to explore their history through exhibits and interpretive films. Shop for traditional patchwork clothing, dolls, and crafts at gift shops.

Miccosukee Tribe – Known as the “People of the Small Cypress Log,” the Miccosukee have communities within Everglades National Park borders. Take an airboat ride or eco-tour led by Miccosukee members to gain their historical and ecological perspectives.

Homestead – This town southwest of the park has an agricultural history growing vegetables, tropical fruit and dairy. Stop for tasty, authentic key lime pie, stone crab claws, and other Florida cuisine. Support local businesses around town for lodging, dining and supplies.

Everglades City – Founded in the late 1800s as a cotton trading post, this small city on the park’s western edge retains its old Florida fishing village ambiance. Look for preserved historic buildings like the Rod and Gun Club Lodge.

Experiencing the cultures that have long relied on the Everglades offers a meaningful connection to the “River of Grass.”

Nearby Attractions

Entrance sign at Biscayne National ParkExtend your Everglades adventure by visiting more of the amazing parks, preserves and destinations in the region:

Biscayne National Park – Just east of the Everglades, this park protects emerald bay waters perfect for snorkeling, diving, paddling among mangrove islands, and spotting coral reefs and tropical fish.

Big Cypress National Preserve – Adjoining the Everglades to the north, Big Cypress protects vast freshwater swamps, sloughs, and alligator holes, excellent for hiking, camping, and spotting wildlife.

Florida Keys – The iconic island chain stretching southwest from the Everglades offers laid-back island living, watersports, and the festive streets of Key West just 90 miles away.

10,000 Islands Mangrove Coast – Paddle through the winding mangrove forests and remote islands along this pristine coast bordering the western Everglades and Gulf of Mexico.

Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park – Just west of the Everglades, this lush jungle-like swamp is the orchid and bromeliad capital of North America and great for rugged hiking.

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary – Old growth bald cypress trees tower over this scenic sanctuary northeast of the park, with excellent boardwalk trails and birdwatching.

With Miami and Naples nearby, the Everglades make the perfect basecamp for exploring South Florida’s abundance of parks, swamps, beaches, and small island charm.

Conclusion

A road trip to Everglades National Park offers overlanders infinite opportunities to camp, hike, paddle, fish, and revel in raw, untamed wilderness beauty. By using this guide and respecting the fragile ecosystems, you’re sure to have an epic adventure discovering the wonders of the “River of Grass.”

As the largest subtropical wilderness in the continental United States, the biodiverse habitats of the Everglades are unparalleled. Sawgrass prairies, cypress swamps, pine rocklands, mangrove forests, estuaries, shell islands – the diversity is astonishing. Likewise, the wildlife viewing opportunities are non-stop, with a chance to see alligators, crocodiles, panthers, manatees, spoonbills, and much more.

Whether boating the Wilderness Waterway, watching the sunset from Flamingo Visitor Center, hiking through mahogany hammocks, or landing a big bass in the freshwater marshes, the magic of the Everglades will provide memories to last a lifetime. Plan your visit in detail, prepare properly, follow regulations, and tread lightly.

Return home with a new appreciation for unspoiled wilderness areas after your overlanding journey deep into the swampy heart of the Everglades. This subtropical ecosystem deserves our protection. By escaping into its wild beauty, you help ensure the “River of Grass” flows eternally.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best way to see wildlife in the Everglades?

The best way to spot wildlife is by quietly paddling or hiking through the Everglades waterways and trails. Go early morning or after sunset when animals are most active. Bring binoculars and a camera with zoom lens. Alligators, wading birds, turtles, and other species are often seen from main park roads as well.

Are there mosquitos in the Everglades?

Yes, mosquitos are common across Everglades National Park, especially near water and at dawn/dusk. Use a strong DEET insect repellent, cover skin with lightweight clothing, avoid camping near stagnant water, and stay in breezy areas to deter mosquitos. The wet summer season has peak populations.

Can you swim in the Everglades?

Swimming is strongly discouraged due to dangers like alligators, snakes, swift currents, underwater hazards, and contaminated water. Avoid wading in marshy areas. Coastal areas of the park offer beach swimming options like the Gulf Coast beaches with calmer waters.

What should you not do in the Everglades?

– Do not feed or approach wild animals like alligators or panthers.
– Avoid going off trail into wilderness areas due to disorientation.
– Never drink untreated water due to risk of waterborne illnesses.
– Don’t light ground fires or burn trash.
– Don’t litter – pack out all trash and belongings.

Is there cell phone reception in the Everglades?

Cell reception is unreliable and spotty throughout most of Everglades National Park due to the remote wetlands. Some frontcountry areas have signals, but do not rely on phones in the backcountry. Bring emergency communications like satellite device, PLB, or radio. Download maps offline.

Do you need a permit to camp in the Everglades?

Yes, backcountry camping requires free permits reserved ahead of time from visitor centers. Frontcountry campgrounds can be reserved through Recreation.gov. Research campground rules and follow all food storage restrictions to minimize wildlife encounters.

What trails should beginners avoid in the Everglades?

Some trails like the 99-mile Wilderness Waterway or multi-day backcountry treks require advanced skills. Beginners should avoid isolated trails and instead start with shorter interpretive routes like Anhinga or Shark Valley first. Research trail difficulty and conditions before attempting longer challenging hikes.

Can you see manatees in the Everglades?

Yes, manatees congregate in warm inland freshwater areas like Blue Spring during cooler months. Manatees also live around the coast, inland bays, and Ten Thousand Islands region of Everglades National Park. Follow wildlife viewing guidelines and avoid disturbing these gentle giants.

What are the most important items to pack for an Everglades trip?

Some essentials include a water filter, DEET insect repellent, sun protection (hat, sunglasses, sunscreen), hiking shoes, raincoat, flashlight, first aid kit, fire starter, knife, camping gear, and plenty of water. Prepare for wet, hot conditions in remote areas without resources.

Have you visited Everglades National Park? If so, what did I miss in this overlander’s guide?

Share your thoughts in the comment section below. Thanks for your input! It is greatly appreciated!

Patrick @DarkSkyOverland


Dark Sky Overland is an overland lifestyle brand that was created to support the various trips I take to National Parks and other designated Dark Sky Parks within the United States. It was also born out of a strong desire to simplify life after my wife of over 24 years passed away from a three year battle with inflammatory breast cancer (IBC). You can learn more about my story at https://darkskyoverland.com/about/.

Patrick @DarkSkyOverland

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