Most people head to Florida for one of two reasons, Disney World or the beautiful white sand beaches. Tucked away at the very tip of Florida though is a state treasure that is neither. Everglades National Park is home to both exotic wildlife and beautiful flora and fauna that can not be found anywhere else in the US. Encompassing over 1.5 million acres–with a whopping 8 foot elevation gain throughout the park–there is enough space here to social distance to your heart’s content.
What To Do
Our top pick for the park is probably a pretty obvious one–an airboat ride! You just can’t go to Everglades National Park without taking one. It’s one of the most popular activities in the park and it is a great (and safe!) family activity for all ages. There are three authorized airboat operators in the park (Coopertown, Everglades Safari Park, and Gator Park) and all are located within the same geographical area. So if this is top on your list, be sure to plan accordingly!
This is such a great way to see the wildlife while skimming across the top of the water at speeds up to 25mph. Your family will also enjoy slowly trolling under the canopy of trees while looking for up to 360 different types of bird species. In fact, there are actually nine distinct habitats within the park, so taking an airboat ride is a great way to see many of them!
If hopping on a boat and flying past alligators is just not your cup of tea, then opt for a tram tour instead! Shark Valley Tram Tours is a great option for a much slower paced activity that will take you around the Shark Valley area, over the course of about two hours. It is also recommended to book these tours in advance as they can be quite popular!
There are 40 different mammal species within Everglades National Park, so be sure to bring your binoculars and keep your eyes open. It would be a pretty amazing experience if your family could spot the elusive and endangered, Florida panther!
Mahogany Hammock Trail
This is a great boardwalk loop that is both stroller and wheelchair accessible and is approximately a half mile long. Young children will be excited to walk into the lush jungle and be in awe of the towering Mahogany trees. Be sure to look for owls and other birds of prey as you make your way further from the wetland area and closer to the hardwood hammock that the trail is named after.
Nike Missile Tour
For any history buffs in the family, be sure to make a stop at HM69 Nike Missile Base. An important base constructed after the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 in order to shield the South Florida area from air attacks from the South. The base has been left almost untouched from when it was in use from 1965-1979. Visitors can see three different missile barns, a missile assembly area, and two Nike Hercules Missiles themselves. The tours are only available in the Winter and Spring months, so be sure to check opening times before you go!
We felt we should devote an entire section of this article to what we know everybody is already thinking. What about gators!? Alligators tend to elicit a fearful response from pretty much everyone. Their stone cold stare and statue-like stance can send chills through even the bravest among us. They are the epitome of an apex predator remaining almost unchanged from their ancestors from millions of years ago. So much so, that many people refer to them as modern-day dinosaurs. The National Park Service estimates that there are currently over 200,000 alligators in the park alone. Many can be seen sunbathing along the banks and sides of the road with their mouths gaping open. But while alligators ARE incredibly dangerous, attacks on humans are actually extremely rare. Viewing them while in their natural habitat is a great opportunity to teach kids about how to respect and be safe around wildlife, while also learning some really cool facts! And what kid doesn’t want to see a real-life dinosaur!?
When To Go
While most tourists will head to Florida during the hot summer months when the kids are off school, we recommend visiting the park during the winter months. Between the hurricanes, mosquitoes, and the heat, you will have a much better experience when it’s a bit cooler and you’re not sticky with bug repellent the entire time (or running from the latest storm in the Atlantic!). In fact, the Everglades actually gets an average of 60 inches of rain per year, so if you go during the rainy season, be prepared to possibly get wet!
What to Eat
Florida might be one of the best places to eat fresh seafood. And we do mean fresh! Caught early that morning and served up anyway you like just a few hours later, your tastebuds will literally thank you! If you want something a little more exotic than look for a restaurant that also serves gator. From gator tacos to gator caesar salad, you can find almost any kind of dish with alligator meat at a bunch of South Florida restaurants. Definitely something for the kids to brag about to their friends when they return home!
Please adhere to the safety guidelines and rules put in place by the park. Keep a close eye on children and do not let them wander off. Visiting the park can be both fun and educational, but you are in the wilderness and there is wildlife always nearby. Stay on designated paths, follow the signs, and DO NOT approach the wildlife.
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