Everglades National Park protects an incredibly large ecosystem that is home to many rare and endangered animals. It is also home to more than 350 species of birds, 50 species of reptiles, 40 species of mammals and 300 species of fresh and salt water fish. At 1.5 million acres it is the third largest national park in the US and the largest wilderness area east of the Mississippi. It is also a World Heritage Site, International Biosphere Reserve, a specially protected area under the Cartagena Treaty and one of only three Wetlands of International Importance in the entire world! It’s safe to say this park is a special place that deserves all the protection it can get! No matter how you visit you are guaranteed to leave amazed and wanting more.
The NPS website says it best, “Biscayne National Park is within sight of downtown Miami, yet worlds away.” To truly experience this park you’ll need a boat or kayak. Water makes up 95% of the park and it protects a rare combination of aquamarine waters, emerald islands, and fish-bejeweled coral reefs. For a true experience you’ll want to spend a night or two camping on Elliot Key.
My time in these parks would be very short but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to stop by during our Key West trip to celebrate one of Ellie’s best friends 10th year in remission of cancer and her 30th birthday!! I flew into Miami a day before Ellie and drove my rental car directly to Biscayne National Park! I took a red eye flight so I could hopefully catch sunrise from the Dante Fascell visitor center. I made it just in time and was able to walk to the end of the only trail on the mainland, Convoy Point.
The sunrise was gorgeous and I had company to enjoy it with. I couldn’t tell if it was an alligator, crocodile or manatee.
This shouldn’t even count as a visit but I’m glad I could catch a nice sunrise. I’ll certainly be back for a real Biscayne experience camping, hiking, snorkeling and paddling around Elliot Key.
Next stop was the southern section of the Everglades. I felt there was more to see here than in the northern section considering my limited time and I was very happy with my decision. Before entering the park I stopped at Robert is Here fruit stand for some apple bananas and the greatest milkshake of all time! A combination of dragon fruit, coconut and banana.
My main goal was to see as much wildlife as possible and that started minutes after entering the park when I spotted an alligator napping right off the side of the road.
I heard the best place to see gators was the Anhinga Trail and they were absolutely correct. It was still early so I had the place to myself and there was a nice cool breeze keeping the mosquitoes at bay.
This area is considered a slough which is a slow moving channel of water flowing through a sawgrass prairie. You can come to know the inhabitants of the slough by being patient and observant. It was only after my second lap of the one mile trail when the gators came out to play! I ended up seeing over 20 fascinating gators just this morning.
I already felt completely fulfilled but I was excited to see what else the Everglades had in store. I first had to see if the huge gator I saw off the road was still there. He was and even gave me a wink! Either that or he messed with Chubbs.
It was only 10:30am and I just couldn’t help myself so I made one more stop at the Anhinga Trail. It was much busier then so I said hello to the few gators close to the trailhead and then moved on.
Nearly 80% of an Alligators weight is made up of muscle and armored skin, just like me!
I would have loved to get on the water but I figured I could see more of the park by foot so I set out to hike every trail along Main Park road. Next up was the Gumbo Limbo Trail, a paved half mile interpretive walk in the shade with lots of great smelling plants. That was followed by the half mile Pinelands Trail which is a pretty walk past tall pines and huge ferns.
Another short drive away was the half mile Pa-hay-okee Trail. The name is a Seminole phrase for “grassy water” and you will have a chance to look out on a vast expanse of pa-hay-okee in the Shark River Slough from the observation platform half way through the walk. I enjoyed the view while having lunch.
Next up was the Mahogany Hammock Trail which is a half mile boardwalk through a jungle like old growth forest. You’ll find gumbo limbo trees and the largest living mahogany tree in the US!
The last trail before the Flamingo visitor center was yet another half mile boardwalk that took me through mangroves to West Lake. Unfortunately the boardwalk was destroyed near the lake.
After a million half mile walks it was time for a break. I stopped at the visitor center, filled up water at the marina and took an hour nap in the back of my car. I woke up with the feeling I was being watched like a hawk. Turns out I was:
Once awake I took a two mile walk on the Gus Bradley Trail which starts from the visitor center and ends at the campground. It was very lush with tons of pretty palm trees.
I then took a short walk around Eco Pond and saw a flock of American Black Vultures.
It was finally time to settle down for the night and find a spot to camp. I had a permit to camp along the Florida Bay so I took a walk and found a nice flat spot right by the water. I didn’t realize until I started taking sunset pictures that there were Ospreys protecting a nest in a nearby tree!
The sunset was all time!
The weather was perfect too so I slept without the rain fly on and enjoyed the star spectacular! I was up at 5:30am the next morning and quickly packed up and drove 45 minutes to the Anhinga Trail. I got a few laps in before, during and after sunrise to end my time in the Everglades on an extra high note! The Anhinga Trail delivered once again with wildlife all around!
Eventually I had to say goodbye to my new scaly friends to go meet up with my human friends. My time here was short but it exceeded all expectations! I’ll definitely be back to paddle the Wilderness Waterway and really experience the Everglades!
Before I dropped off my rental car in Miami I made one more stop at Robert is Here fruit stand for that glorious milkshake. Once picked up by Ellie and our friends we were off to celebrate Melanie in Key West and it was an absolute blast!
I would have loved to visit the Dry Tortugas National Park too but like the other Florida National Parks you shouldn’t rush especially when the ferry is really expensive. Instead we went back to Orlando with Mel and Scott and had the pleasure of hanging out with Binx until we flew home!
This trip was a lot of fun! Half nature fun and half party fun! I’ll certainly be back for the parks and people!