Every once in awhile, I get my expectations blown out of the water by some unexpectedly beautiful destination. Everglades National Park was one of those places. Never had I imagined a wetlands landscape would be so mysterious, wild, and stunning. There are no other Everglades in the world- so I shouldn’t have been too surprised. My Everglades National Park Guide will take you through all the unique ecosystems of the everglades.
Everglades National Park
We entered Everglades National park at the Ernest F. Coe East Visitor Center and spent the day driving through the park in our Camaro convertible. Driving down State Hwy 9336 (Main Park Rd) is a journey, so buckle your seat belts!
Go Bird Watching
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Elevation in the Everglades is typically measured in inches instead of feet. The highest elevation in the park doesn’t exceed 8 ft. so when I saw this elevation sign at 4 ft it made me laugh a little..
The elevation levels in the park define each habitat, from the lowest freshwater marsh to the higher tropical hardwood hammocks.
This was our favorite trail we did during our day in the park. It was the first hike as you entered the park, so it was quite busy. The 0.8 mile hike was the best area to spot wildlife. We saw alligators, turtles, varies birds, and lots of unique fish.
A word of caution- at the trailhead parking lot there are vultures that are waiting to feast on your vehicle. They’re quite fond of the rubber window seals for some reason, and they WILL destroy your car if you do not cover it with a tarp. The tarps are provided with straps by the bathrooms and rest area.
Gumbo Limbo Trail
After we finished the Anhinga hike we made our way over to the Gumbo-Limbo trail. A short 0.4 mile hike takes you into a dense tropical hard-wood hammock. The trail was not crowded, and it was a nice break into the trees from the sunny Anhinga hike. Forests like this can survive only because of the tropical conditions. About 70% of the 700 native plant species of the park are of tropical origin.
Take a short walk along this 0.4 mile trail through a sub-tropical pine forest. You’ll be walking through one of the most diverse habitats in south Florida. You’ll see the scenery changing as hardwoods are taken over by young pine. Higher areas in the Everglades eventually become large hammocks, unless they are destroyed by fire first. Fire preserves the natural diversity of the Everglades, and is crucial to the regrowth process of the various ecosystems.
Formerly, 52 color varieties of tree snails lived in the hammocks of South Florida. They came from the West Indies, dispersed, and settled in separate tree islands. After years of inbreeding, many multi-colored varieties came about. After gathering many of one variety, collectors sometimes would burn the hammock, destroying any left and making their collection more valuable. Thus putting at least four kinds of tree snail into extinction.
A short walk will guide you to a beautiful overlook known as Pa-hay-okee. This ecosystem of freshwater marsh is a wide, shallow, slow moving “river of grass”. It’s amazing how large this green river of grass really was. It seemed to expand forever into the horizon- with the occasional tree sprouting out.
Water is the lifeblood of Everglades National Park, this river of grass is dependent on the seasonal rise and fall of fresh water. It is also dependent on people. For over 100 years we dredged, dammed, and drained the landscape. Controlling the ebb and flow of this life-giving force. In doing so, we endangered the Everglades and the life dependent on it.
Mahogany Hammock Trail
This 0.4 mi walk takes you through a jungle-like island forest. Tropical Hardwood Hammocks as seen above grow in Everglades National Park The hammocks create dense island forests that grow out of the freshwater marshes.
Mangroves are found in the coastal channels and rivers of Everglades National Park where fresh & salt water intermingle. The mangrove forests stabilize coastal lands, provide homes for marine life and nesting birds, and are the first line of defense against storms from the sea. I hope you enjoyed reading my Everglades National Park Guide and it inspires you to take your next adventure.