Long ago, before I lived in Florida I lived in southern Arizona. It’s desert and mountains and there’s not a swamp or air plant to be seen. So watching shows or reading about the Everglades it was completely foreign to what I knew, it seemed like something in another country. I knew better, but it was just so different from what I’d always known.
The Everglades National Park is now less than 5 hours away, but I never visited just because there are so many things closer to me that I’ve also wanted to do. Until recently that is.
We were in Maimi and decided to stop ‘in the Everglades’ on the way home. Shark Valley Tram Road wasn’t far out of the way so that’s were we went. It’s a 15 mile loop with a observation tower at the halfway point. You can walk the trail, bike, or take a tram (as you may have guessed by the name). We chose to rent bikes because we wanted to stop and take a lot of pictures but didin’t want to walk that far.
The bike rentals are hourly and a quick search online said the trip is 2-3 hours. You can bring your own bike if you prefer, but this was the only thing we did in the area that involved riding so it made sense for us to rent. We ended up being out for 5 hours because we rode slow and stopped often. I also spent almost an hour at the observation tower because there was a ranger there who was extremely interesting to listen to and of course knew a lot about both the park and some of its inhabitants.
The park opened at 8:30 and we were there when it opened. The east and west roads out to the tower are very different. Biking you head out on west road, which is a road running next to a canal built before the Everglades National Park opened in 1947. The road is long and straight, and along the right side (going out to the tower) there is what I think is the canal. It just looks like a long, somewhat shallow depression to me. Due to the canal, there is an ‘unnatural concentration’ of wildlife here. Or at least I read that on a sign at the visitor’s center. We saw too many alligators to count, turtles, and a lot of different birds. The east road meanders through the grass, there is much less wildlife on this side but I still saw about 10 alligators and plenty of birds.
The entire loop is asphalt and flat, it’s an easy ride but I wouldn’t do it in the summer as there is very little if any shade and no water but what you bring with you. Fortunately, the bike I rented had a basket where I put my water bottle. I was able to refill it at the observation tower. If it had been summer time I would have needed a few more water bottles and a LOT of sunscreen.
The viewing tower is mid-ride and is pretty amazing in and of itself. From the top, you can see for miles. Looking down there is a waterway where I saw several alligators, a crocodile, hard and softshell turtles, and large fish swimming along. I’ve only been there once, so I don’t know if it’s typical to see so much in such a short time.
There’s a $30 entrance fee per vehicle, or you can walk in for $15 (as of January 2020). I didn’t realize at the time, but you can also get an Everglades National Park Annual Pass for $55, which I would have got had I done some advance research as I do intend to be back a few times in the next year and it covers the entire park. Between the entrance fee and the hourly bike rental fee for 2 bikes, it wasn’t exactly a cheap trip but if you BYO bikes and have an annual pass you could take the same trip for free. Just be sure to get there early, I’ve read that the parking lot fills up fairly early and they will run out of rental bikes as well. That just means waiting near the visitors center for some to come back, so it’s not that big of a deal as long as your day isn’t time-sensitive.