3 Free Epic Everglades Experiences!
When we think of Florida, we think of Everglades National Park. Pictures of big swampy marshes and hungry gators swim through our imaginations. So it was quite a surprise to find out that Everglades National Park actually doesn't have any marshes and actually is home to 9 different habitats ranging from pine forest to marine estuary all connected by a slow moving river of water! This water is not marshy but incredibly clear and clean as we found out soon enough!
There is only one main road through the park, so the only way to really explore this incredible place is to get out into the wilderness! Thankfully, the park offers many ways to do this safely and in most instances, they provide everything you need! Here are our three favorite free ways to explore Everglades National Park. Read below and watch our video to see all three!
3 Free Ways To Explore The Glades
1. Take A Bike Hike
A few of the first habitats we experienced upon entering the park were the pinelands and wet prairies. As you may have guessed, we thought we were lost because surely this is not the Everglades we had seen in movies! It looked more like something out of the flatlands of the mid-west. So we figured we needed to explore it to better understand it. And what better way than by bike!
We decided to join one of the park's free ranger-lead bike hikes. The park provides helmets and different sized bikes for your comfort as well as a very competent ranger guide to teach you about the unique environment and animals. And boy did we learn! Did you know that Miami used to be covered in pine forest before it was decimated by development? A far cry from the Miami we know today!
The ranger took us on the Lone Pine Bike Trail and we soon found ourselves 5 miles into true wilderness, surrounded by butterflies, mating wasps, colorful snails, calls of many many birds, and even caught a quick glimpse of a cottonmouth snake. The whole tour took about 2 hours and was definitely a great way to see this part of the park.
It gets pretty buggy back on the pineland trails, so we were very happy to avoid most of the bugs by zipping past them on bicycles. We felt bad for the hikers we passed swatting mosquitoes every few seconds. This bike hike totally transformed our vision of this place and was really fun! We felt like little kids again, racing through the forest. Highly recommended! Make sure to sign up near the main gate at the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center as reservations are required.
2. Canoe Through The Mangroves
The next free way to explore this park is to take a Canoe Tour with a park ranger through the mangroves. Now this is more like it! We were super excited to do this!
The tour provides paddles and metal canoes that feel safe enough if an encounter with a gator should happen- which it did 9 times! We soon found out that gators really don't care to interact with us humans as movies would portray. We actually floated over a big 10 footer in less than 2 feet water and it didn't do much except open its eye and close it again. I almost had a heart attack cak cak cak and it couldn't be bothered. lol!
Much of the tour was winding through these tighter areas of mangroves. It felt like we were explorers, discovering these parts for the first time. It was really cool and this is where we saw most of the gators!
This tour took about two hours and we canoed through the mangroves and flooded prairies, known as the “River of Grass”. At one point our ranger had us stop and remain silent for a few minutes just to take in the sounds of the wildnerness and the absence of man-made noise. The abundance of wildlife that could be heard was incredible and quite memorable.
After seeing many birds and more alligators, we came across a 14 foot crocodile! Did you know that the Everglades is the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles share the same water? Really incredible.
We had so much fun on this canoe trip and would have done it every day if we had time! If you want to do the Canoe Trip, make sure you sign up at the Flamingo Visitor Center when you arrive as it fills up fast!
3. Absolutely Do A Slough Slog
What the heck is a 'slough (pronounced “slew”) slog'? We kept hearing that in order to really get to know the Everglades we had to slog the sloughs to the Cyprus domes...what?
We found out that Cyprus domes are wetlands, usually swamps or shallow lakes hidden in a grouping of trees formed when a depression happens in limestone bedrock, allowing water to pool. From the outside these trees look like they form a mound shape because the closer the trees get to the middle of this depression, the taller they grow forming a dome.
And rangers take visitors on a free tour through the shallow lakes beneath the cypress tress. Well okay then! Sign us up!
For this tour, prepare to get wet and muddy! The water level ranged from ankle deep to thigh high as we made our way carefully through the Cyprus dome. We couldn't stop laughing as we would quickly sink knee deep in mud, nearly losing a shoe with each step! Muddy water ran clear as we reached the center of the dome where a shallow freshwater lake sat. We hoped to see a water moccasin or gator, but only saw fish and osprey nests.
It was something out of an Indiana Jones adventure! Trees towered over us and ferns and Spanish moss flanked us. It felt wild, exotic and daring.
Because of the adventurousness of this tour, very few people actually do it, so its really a unique experience. It was by far our best memories of this park and maybe our whole cross-country trip! We are so glad we braved the slough slog, muddy shoes and pants and all!
It was a pleasure to discover the true nature of the Everglades, to see what it is really about, and to dispel the false picture of the park we had in our heads. The ranger programs are excellent and run by very skilled and knowledgeable rangers. The fact that they provided all the equipment and all we had to do was show up sealed the deal for us! We loved these free ways to explore Everglades National Park and we hope you will like them too! Let us know what you think, and if you have any other free ways to experience the glades comment below!