The Everglades National Park covers 1.5 million acres of South Florida and spans three counties. There are three ways to access the park by car. The main entrance located in Homestead, Florida, connects visitors to the Royal Palm Area and the Flamingo Area. The Shark Valley entrance is located in Miami, Florida and the Gulf Coast Entrance is located in Everglades City.
We stayed at the Hampton Inn, Homestead so we could be close to the park entrance. The drive from the hotel to the Ernest Coe Visitor Center entrance took around 15 minutes. The visitor center has a car park, some exhibits and some helpful rangers, but you can’t buy tickets there – you need to continue driving into the park and pay at the entrance booth. So you can probably skip the visitor center and head straight for the real entrance. The entry fee was only $10 (per vehicle not per person) and that ticket is good for the following seven days. I think that price is a bargain, considering the many paved walkways and other facilities that are available – despite this, there weren’t many vehicles on the roads and the trails weren’t busy. I’d sprayed myself with DEET before our visit and had also been taking vitamin B tablets, but I didn’t see any mosquitoes or other bugs on any of the trails. This was end of February and perhaps things liven up as temperatures increase or after rain.
First stop was the Royal Palm parking area (with restrooms). There are two trails here; Anhinga and Gumbo Limbo. The parking area has signs that say something like ‘cover your vehicle with tarps to avoid vulture damage’ there was also a large bin containing ‘tarps’ – which turned out to be what is called tarpaulin in Europe. By the time we figured out what to do, all the ‘tarps’ had been used – so we decided that Mr. Hertz would have to take his chances with the vultures.
The Anhinga trail was a nice open air mostly-boarded trail over the swamps. This was the only trail where we saw alligators – there were plenty to see, although none were crossing the path as I’d seen in some tourist photos. The birds were really friendly – I thought they were the Anhinga birds that gave their name to the trail – but they weren’t! The Gumbo Limbo trail was a winding paved trail through the woods – it was nice enough but not much too see and only worth walking as we were there already. Both trail walking time estimates were about 1.5 times longer than they actually took – it seemed the same for all the trails.
Back to the car and no sign of vulture damage. Next stop was the Pa-hay-okee Overlook. The parking lot was smaller, almost empty and no ‘tarps’ boxes. The walk was boarded and the overlook was like looking out over the African savannah. A really worthwhile stop.
Next stop was Mahogany Hammock trail. Again a small parking lot and no ‘tarps. The walk was boarded and went through an interesting wood with one particularly huge tree. Another worthwhile stop.
Still no sign of vulture damage and next stop West Lake trail. Small parking and no ‘tarps’. The walk was boarded and took us through a fascinating mangrove swamp. We were really enjoying our visit but were looking forward to sitting down for some food.
Next stop was the Flamingo Visitor Center. This is huge, large parking area, a marina and was busiest part of the park so far. There is an open-air burger restaurant, called the Buttonwood café, that immediately won the bugadvisor award for having bug screens all around. So it was good to sit back and watch the lake without any bugs (not that there were many) bothering us. Cost was $25 for two burgers and two beers.
We were almost on the West coast of Florida, but it didn’t feel like we’d driven so far. Getting back to our hotel took less than an hour and the car was still vulture-damage free. I’d recommend this trip to everyone – even those who are worried about bugs and/or alligators.