Just a few years ago, I visited Everglades for the first time. When I came home and raved about how much I'd enjoyed it, many of my friends were mystified that I could be so fascinated by "a swamp." Since then, I've visited several times.
Like a lot of outdoor places, Everglades is more complex than meets the eye. At first, like my friends, I thought it was just a big swamp, pretty much the same from one end to the other. Not true- it varies from the mangrove-covered islands along the gulf coast to the sawgrass prairies and rivers father north. An elevation change of just a few feet completely changes the wildlife and vegetation mix, because the available water changes correspondingly.
Many birds that are rare sights elsewhere are easily spotted in the Everglades
Tours by various aquatic vessels are offered everywhere, so even a visit of a few hours can be worthwhile. My favorites are the slower vessels. A drive around the perimeter of the park would make one believe that airboats are the only way to see it. Actually, airboats aren't allowed in the National Park itself. The tourist traps around the park promote them heavily, but they will neither get you into the park or even get a good look at typical Everglades wildlife and terrain. Most commercial airboat trips are oriented towards impressing the riders with the performance of the boat rather than offering any chance to see the park or its inhabitants. The slower vessels offer a better trip.
The very best way to see Everglades is with your own boat. A canoe or kayak opens up all kinds of possibilities. You can also rent canoes at Flamingo. Remember, there is very little dry land in the Everglades. Most Everglades back country campsites are "chickees", which are wooden platforms over the water, on which your tent can be erected. Most of them have a tin roof. Chickees have definite advantages over the rare dry-land campsites, especially in the evening when the mosquitoes come out. Watching the sun set from your chickee campsite while hauling in a bass or bonefish is a fine way to end a day.
Pearl Bay chickee by day or by evening
Visit the official site.
Favorite hikes: Anhinga Trail. Bear in mind that there isn't a lot of dry land in the Everglades and hence aren't many hikes. In the Everglades, think of water trails. My favorite is the Hell's Bay canoe trail.
Read: Killing Mister Watson by Peter Mathiessen.
Best place to stay: Flamingo campground if you're traveling by car; Pearl Bay Chickee if you have a canoe.
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