The Pine Island section of Everglades National Park is one of the park’s most popular areas. It offers a visitor center (Royal Palm) along with several trails. We walked two of its trails: the Anhinga Trail and the Gumbo Limbo Trail. This part of the park is very close to the town of Homestead. Park visitors staying in town can take a trolley for free from the city right to the visitor center! Get all the details on the trolley HERE.
The Gumbo Limbo Trail wanders through a wooded area, and the Anhinga Trail is out in the open near the water. Both are suitable for all ages, and neither is too long. There are lots of birds, including Anhinga, of course, and lots of gators.
In the parking lot, you might be a little surprised by the number of cars covered with blue tarps. We were certainly wondering what was up with this odd phenomenon! Turns out that the tarps are provided by the park service to protect visitors’ cars from vultures. For some reason, the vultures in this one parking lot like to come by in the mornings and chew on anything rubber on cars! One of the stranger bird behaviors we’ve ever heard of. But the park service loans the tarps and bungees, which is awesome, and all is well. And so weird.
The Gumbo Limbo Trail, which is just plain fun to say — go ahead, say it right out loud, you’ll see — is an interior, wooded trail that is somewhat shaded and humid and quite green. It winds though gumbo limbo and other trees and vegetation. We were expecting to see, or at least hear, some birds on this trail, but we didn’t. We were on this trail around noon though, which isn’t the best time of day for birding; there may be birds here at other times. The path in this section is flat and paved.
The Anhinga Trail is more open (read: sunny and hot) and goes around and across a lagoon where we saw lots of water birds, including Great Blue Heron, Purple Gallinule, a Wood Stork, Anhinga (of course), and Egrets. The birds are obviously habituated to people because they were quite close to the trail and definitely unperturbed by the people. Often we could stand within feet of them and just watch them wading and hunting. The trail is paved/boardwalk and fully accessible.
The boardwalk goes through the lagoon and we saw lots of gators when we were there. Most of them were slowly swimming past, with just their nostrils and eyes sticking up from the water’s surface. It was interesting to be able to watch them swim from above. Mostly their tails do the work, swirling slowly but obviously powerfully back and forth. On one end of the lagoon we counted five gators of different sizes sunning themselves in a small area of a grassy bank, so they don’t seem to be too territorial — not that I’d challenge them!
On the boardwalk we also saw an Anhinga with a fish. The fish was quite big, and since Anhinga usually swallow their prey whole, we were wondering how this was going to work. First the bird spent quite a lot of time beating the fish to death on a branch. Anhinga have a little sharp toothy kind of thing on the end of their bill which helps them hold onto slippery, wiggly fish, so the fish was sort of speared there and the bird was slapping it back and forth on the tree. Then every so often it would try to swallow the fish. It would hold its head back and open up its throat and try and try and try, and then it wouldn’t work, and it would try to beat the fish up some more. We watched this process for about fifteen minutes before moving on, and we’re still wondering if it ever worked out for the bird. It surely didn’t for the fish!
This area of the park, like the others we visited around Christmas, was crowded, but it wasn’t uncomfortably so. There was plenty of room for everyone to see and plenty of room to give the animals their space. For a less crowded visit, avoid the weeks around Christmas, as those weeks are the park’s busiest.
We have also visited the Everglades in the summer, and unless summer is your only chance to see the Everglades, it’s probably not the best choice. We did get to see gators up CLOSE that time, as they were right on the path and we had to skirt around them, but we also saw mosquitoes — through our headnets! That’s how bad it was. There was even a Mosquito Meter near the Flamingo area of the park. Funny to look back on, but the clouds of mosquitoes following us — and swarming our car — wasn’t so much fun at the time!
If you’re looking for some short, easy hikes in the Everglades that everyone in the family can do and that offer opportunities to see wildlife up close, we’d definitely recommend these two hikes. Enjoy your week or your weekend on the trails!