Shark Valley, Big Cypress, and Everglades City, Florida

The North entrance to Everglades National Park is Shark Valley, just under an hour from Miami on the historic Tamiami Trail. Here is a 15 mile paved scenic loop trail and there multiple means of exploring it. You can take the two hour tram ride, bicycle – bring your own or rent, or set out on foot. It is hot and exposed, so whatever you are doing be sure to wear a hat, sunscreen, bug spray, and bring water.

It is excellent for wildlife viewing, you will see HUGE gators, baby gators, gator scat – ALL THINGS GATOR.

Also plenty of birds and turtles.

There are two short trails spur off of the loop – Bobcat Boardwalk which goes through a sawgrass marsh and Otter Cave Hammock Trail which has neat solution holes and a tropical hardwood hammock.

There is a 65-foot observation tower that allows you to see for miles and miles.

Outside of the Everglades National Park border, there are other preserves well worth visiting in the area:

Big Cypress National Preserve

Oasis Visitor Center is a good place to start your exploration, grab a map and go! I highly suggest the safari-like experience on the 26-mile well maintained gravel Loop Road. You will see incredible vista strands of cypress trees, countless wading birds, and of course more gators all without leaving your car.

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If you’re looking for a hike there are a few options to get outside of your car on the loop:

Tree Snail Hammock Trail was wild early in the morning, we heard the splashes and squawks from the car. Gators and wading birds were present on the .3 mile hike, but the big draw was the colorful tree snails!

We saw so many of the pretty creatures. The trail is easy to miss, look for signage across from the Loop Road Environmental Education Center.

Gator Hook Trail is an old logging road that travels through dwarf cypress trees goes out 2.4 miles one way.

The trail is unique though a bit rough on the feet, you’ll be walking over logs and limestone bedrock, it can be very muddy as well.

Along the way are gorgeous wildflowers and plenty of birds.

The trail can be narrow and a bit overgrown at times, it is very exposed so dress appropriately. Eventually, the it became too watery to continue for us folks not in waders!

Along the Tamiami Trail

Kirby Storter Boardwalk is a one mile round trip trail through a cypress strand – still a part of Big Cypress National Preserve. Expect beautiful air plants, bromeliads, and keep on the look out for gators.

H.P. Williams Picnic Area is a scenic spot to take a lunch break. You can also spot gators and wading birds here.

Clyde Butcher’s Big Cypress Gallery

Check out the works of a world renowned photographer who takes impeccable black and white shots of the landscape using an 8×10″ view camera. The gallery offers guided swamp and cottage rentals. Although I didn’t get to visit, this is on the top of my list for next time! If you go, tell me how it is.

Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park

Not a part of the National Parks System, and completely free (aside from any donation you’d like to make). This 2,000 foot boardwalk is very scenic and has panels teaching about the flora.

You are likely to see gators and a variety of birds. The end of the trail is a swamp vista where I saw my first wood stork in a dramatic display.

I have seen many since, but none so close and hunting in this manner.

Where to get dinner?

Triad Seafood in Everglades City was a perfect end to the day. Right on the water we watched the pelicans hunt as we waited for our food. The local stone crabs were divine, the meat was undeniably fresh and sweet.

We also tried gator bites and had a killer blackened fish sandwich. Key lime pie was homemade and super tasty too. Service was fast and friendly, this casual spot was a favorite meal from our entire trip!

*If you made it all the way out to Everglades City are staying north of Miami, it may be quicker to take Alligator Alley (I-75) back home.*

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