Most travelers who visit Florida’s Everglades National Park only see a fraction of the park, and most of that fraction is on the park’s east side. While most of the western side is accessible only by boat, the park’s northwest corner provides access to some of its lesser-visited areas.
When we visited the Everglades in December of 2014, our first stop was in Everglades City on the Gulf Coast, the gateway to the Ten Thousand Islands section of the park. We began our visit at the small Gulf Coast Visitor Center, complete with its educational displays, films, and brochures. It’s also the spot to secure backcountry permits and tickets for boat tours!
The 90-minute boat tour into the Ten Thousand Islands is run by a park concessionaire. Although there was no park ranger on our boat, the captain was very knowledgeable about the area and its wildlife. The cost of the tour is $37/adult ($19/kids 5-12, 4 and under are free). It’s not exactly a budget option, but since it was the only way we’d be able to really experience this shallow mangrove area, we opted to do it. We were glad we did!
It was a beautiful day and we were able to see many different kinds of birds — including a giant flock of (smelly!) pelicans — as well as several dolphins! The captain would slow the boat and wait around to see if the dolphins would come near and play — which they often did!
Manatees are often seen there as well, but we didn’t get to see any on our trip. One thing Erin tries to remind herself often when we are in parks is that a national park is NOT a zoo, and we shouldn’t ever expect to see wildlife, we should just be delighted when we do. (We call it the zoo mentality, and it’s a hard one to shake, but she’s working on it.)
The Ten Thousand Islands area of the park stretches from Everglades City down to Flamingo (about 90 miles) and is accessible only by boat: motorboats, sailboats, kayaks, and canoes traverse its waters. There are several backcountry campgrounds along the route, too. Jeff is all fired up to kayak this and camp along the way. (Erin thinks the crocodiles might be too hungry for her liking.) The ranger said this route is really only doable between January and Easter, since there are too many mosquitoes the rest of the year. Luckily, that means Erin’s off the hook for a few years at least, since we’re teaching from January to Easter. There is a car shuttle service for people who do this trip so that you can start at one end and have your car waiting for you at the other end.
If you’re planning to visit Everglades National Park, consider a stop in its quieter northwest corner. Do you have a favorite off-the-beaten-path destination in a national park? Share it in the comments below.
Enjoy your next national park adventure, whether it’s for a week or a weekend!