Travel Guide: Everglades National Park Shark Valley
Moving to Florida was never part of my plan, but I love my job so— Here I am! I find myself going back and forth between loving and hating life in South Florida. Anytime I feel particularly keen on leaving and I need to refresh my enthusiasm for life down here I take a trip to the Everglades. There are a handful of different ways to experience the Everglades for yourself. My personal favorite way to visit the Everglades is on a bike from the Everglades National Park: Shark Valley Visitor Center (advanced warning there are no sharks). I am a strong believer in supporting our national and state parks systems so I purchased the $80 annual national parks pass, and always recommend others always opt to support the parks over other tourism options first. Here are five reasons why I think this is the best way to visit the Everglades:
It is a totally unique ecosystem from the other parts of the national park! Each spot you visit in Everglades National Park is going to be a totally unique ecosystem because it is an absolutely massive amount of land that encompasses some of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. Shark Valley is right in the middle of an endless slow-moving flow of water that starts at Lake Okeechobee and empties out eventually in the Florida Keys. Here you will see alligators, snakes, birds, fresh water fish, and all kinds of small mammals. The Shark Valley Visitor Center is in the heart of the sawgrass marsh ecosystem that most people associate with the Everglades. One misconception I would like to clear up now is that this is not a swamp. It is generally about 15 degrees cooler in Shark Valley than nearby Miami will be because you are surrounded by slow moving freshwater.
You can do it on a bike! The fifteen mile paved loop is a gorgeous (very flat) ride. With some preparation this is a great way to burn out older kids or yourself. You can rent bikes ($9 per hour https://www.sharkvalleytramtours.com/) or bring your own. I love going on the bike because you can stop to look at stuff as much and as long as you want. On a trip in February I was lucky enough to see an exceedingly rare sight: A big alligator eating a really big invasive python. I was really thankful I was on a bike because I needed to spend a long time gawking. If you are not familiar with the issue of invasive animals in Florida pythons are at the top of the list of problem animals. Hundreds of Burmese pythons escaped a breeding facility during Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Since then the population exploded into the thousands and are wreaking havoc on ecosystems in the Everglades. Pythons are currently winning the predator war by eating small alligators and their eggs before they can get big enough to fight back. They have also decimated the small mammal population. So seeing this small victory for native species first-hand was extra cool.
There is a great guided tram tour if you aren’t feeling up for the bike ride! ($25 per person from the same company in the park ) I did the guided tram tour with my family when they came to visit back in November. I was so pleasantly surprised by how much fun we all had. We were on a tram tour full of bird watchers so we all got a kick out of being part of the excitement of seeing rare birds and learning about all the birds visiting for the winter.
The observation tower! There is an observation tower where you can view the park from 45 feet up. This might not sound impressive, but keep in mind the highest natural point in South Florida is Hobe Mountain which is a staggering 86 feet above sea level. To be clear I am saying South Florida is very flat so even a little bit of elevation takes you a long way down here. From 45 feet up you can see miles and miles of the famous River of Grass.
ALLIGATORS!!! I am not from Florida and I think my obsession with alligators makes that very clear. You can see these prehistoric wonders up close in the wild here and it is truly a wonder to behold. Obviously you want to use common sense and caution, these are awe inspiring wild predators. More importantly I would hope you would never disturb wildlife (teeth or no teeth).