The Best Day Trip Itinerary For Everglades National Park

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The Everglades is one of three national parks in South Florida, covering approximately 1.5 million acres, making it the third-largest national park in the contiguous United States and the largest remaining subtropical wilderness. The Everglades makes a great pit stop on a Florida to New York drive or as a day trip from Miami. It is renowned for its unique and diverse ecosystem, encompassing vast wetlands, sawgrass prairies, and mangrove forests. While its size is large, the park is mostly wetlands and marshes that are best discovered by boat. Without a boat, you’ll find a day trip is all you need to experience some of the best aspects this park has to offer.

Visitors can experience wildlife, including alligators, manatees, and a variety of bird species. The park offers opportunities for airboat tours, hiking, and bird watching, while providing an immersive encounter with nature. 

In this Everglades one day itinerary, you’ll learn about the different areas of the national park, how far away they are from each other, the best things to see and do in each area and how long you’ll need to enjoy all three areas of Everglades National Park. Plus some frequently asked questions and tips for your day trip to the Everglades,

The Everglades Entrances

There are three entrances to Everglades National Park, each in a different city.

The Main Entrance

The Homestead entrance is the main entrance for Everglades National Park located along State Road 9336, 11 miles from Homestead.

There are two main visitor centers at this entrance. The Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center located at the entrance to the park and the Guy Bradley Visitor Center (also known as Flamingo) located 38 miles past the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center.

This entrance is open 24/7. Bikes, kayaks and boats are available to rent at the Flamingo Marina area and there is a new casual restaurant at the recently completed Flamingo Lodge, both located near the Guy Bradley Visitor Center. 

Shark Valley Entrance

The Miami or Shark Valley entrance is closest to the Greater Miami Area, and is located along US 41 (Tamiami Trail).

The Shark Valley Visitor center is located at this entrance as well as the Shark Valley Tram.

This entrance is best for walking or biking as cars are not permitted past the parking lot. 

The gate is opened for parking access from 8:30 a.m – 6:00 p.m daily.

This entrance is closest to the airboat tours which adds an exciting activity to your Everglades day itinerary. 

Gulf Coast Entrance

The Everglades City entrance also known as the Gulf Coast entrance is located along FL 29, 4.75 miles south of US 41. This entrance is closest to Naples, Florida.

This entrance is on the west side of the park and is best for visitors with personal watercraft or who want to go primitive camping in the Ten Thousand Islands.

The Gulf Coast Visitor Center was under construction at the time of my last visit and was closed before that after damage from hurricane Irma. Amenities are currently limited. I recommend skipping this section of the park and heading to the east side to enjoy your Everglades day trip. 

The park entrances are 1-2 hours away from each other and all require a national park fee. You can not drive through one section of the park to get to another other area without exiting the park first so it is tricky to visit more than one area in a day if you do not get an early start or if visiting in the high season (December-Easter) when crowds are thick and parking is limited. 

The best entrance to Everglades National Park is the main entrance in Homestead which is open 24/7. The Shark Valley, Miami Entrance is also a great entrance for spending the day in the Everglades but gets busy in winter and does not allow parking access when the parking lot becomes full. The gate at this park is open from 8:30 a.m-6:00 p.m. 

Everglades One Day Itinerary 

If you get an early start you will be able to see both east sections of the park in one day. If you only have 4-6 hours I recommend sticking to either Shark Valley or the Homestead area so you are not rushed. 

The Everglades is best seen by boat so renting a kayak and going on an airboat tour are two highly recommended activities in the Everglades. 

You can do this itinerary in reverse, but if you are visiting in the winter (dry season) the park gets busy and parking at Shark Valley is very difficult in the afternoon.

Shark Valley Tram or Bike Ride

Start at the Shark Valley entrance right when they open. 

This area offers a two hour guided tram tour, bike tours and a 15 mile biking or walking trail to an observation tower known for its abundance of wildlife sightings. You can bring your own bike or rent bikes for a self guided experience. Book bikes and tram tours online in advance here. Allow 2-3 hours to bike the 15 miles with multiple stops.

Shark Valley is the best area in the park for wildlife sightings especially at the observation tower so getting here early is the best way to secure a parking spot to immerse yourself in nature.

Everglades Airboat Tours

Next up is an airboat ride, something the Everglades are known for. There are three operators that work with the National Park all located one after the other along US 41 about 15-20 mins east of the Shark Valley Entrance. This is the only area of the park where airboat rides are permitted. I recommend choosing from Coopertown, Gator Park, or Everglades Safari Park since they work with the National Park. Other operators may not be following the regulations set forth for Everglades restoration.

I took a tour with Gator Park because it was cheaper than the Everglades Safari Park. I had a great experience. The tour cost around $30 per person and included a wildlife show.

You can buy your ticket online (it is not time specific) or purchase tickets for the next available tour upon arrival. The tours are first come first serve, departing every 20-30 mins and last about an hour. 

Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center

After your airboat tour it’s an hour drive to the main everglades entrance and the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center. It is another 40 mins to the Guy Bradley Visitor Center (at Flamingo) at the southern tip of the park.

You can stop for food in Homestead or hold off until you reach the Flamingo lodge in the Everglades. There is a casual restaurant offering sandwiches, wraps and smoothies. This is the only restaurant in the Everglades National Park.

Stop at the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center if you need to use the restroom or want information about the Everglades, otherwise keep heading towards Flamingo and Guy Bradley VC along the 38 mile Main Park Road. 

There are a few stops along the way but honestly, there was only one stop I’d do again.

The Anhinga Trail

The Anhinga Tail, in the Royal Palm area is the best stop along the scenic 38 mile road. This area offers a 0.8 mile trail with a wooden boardwalk over marshes and wetlands filled with birds and lily pads. I thought this was the most scenic area of the park and enjoyed my walk very much. 

I took lots of photos of purple gallinule and herons (birds) but did not see any crocodiles even though a ranger recommended this area (as well as the Flamingo Marina) as the best area in the park for croc sightings.  

Gumbo-Limbo Trees Trail

Located in the Royal Palm area, this is a short 0.4 mile walk along a paved path through a forest of trees, ferns and palms. It was not very exciting so I turned back early but its another option to see some of the native palms and tress the Everglades is known for.

Mahogany Hammock Trail

Mahogany Hammock Trail, a ½ mile board walk through a jungle of trees. I walked this board walk because I wanted to observe the barred owls that are known to visit these trees but I did not see or hear them. The walk itself is not very scenic and this trail is known for biting flies and mosquitoes, so come prepared!

Pa-hay-okee Overlook and Paurotis Pond

Pa-hay-okee overlook, as well as Paurotis pond, are quick stops for a grassy scenic view. I did take some photos, but otherwise these stops were a little boring. There are picnic tables at Paurotis pond so if you brought a lunch it’s a good, relaxing area to enjoy it. 

There are some other hiking trails and scenic pullovers along the main road but most of the trails were wet and muddy even in the dry season, so I did not stop. The most scenic and popular trail per the park ranger is the Anhinga Tail, and I couldn’t agree more!

Flamingo Marina

Once at the Flaming area head to the marina to search for manatees. I saw at least 6 in the marina waters. One was resting right under a dock. 

This is a great area to rent a kayak or go on another boat ride. They offer bike and kayak rentals and boat tours from the Flamingo marina. 

Guy Bradley Visitor Center

To use the restroom, get more information or enjoy a ranger led program head over to the newly redone Guy Bradley visitor center (formally called the Flamingo Visitor Center)

There are a number of trails from the visitor center, some may be under water or muddy so choose wisely. None of them were too exciting but offered views of the Florida bay. I enjoyed watching the birds and taking photos at nearby Eco Pond. 

Flamingo Lodge

You can walk from the visitor center or drive to the next parking lot to get to The Flamingo Lodge and Restaurant. This space is new as of 2023. You can rent rooms overlooking the water and dine at the indoor/outdoor restaurant and bar. 

By now, your day trip to the Everglades is coming to an end. Head back out the way you came and consider a side trip to the Florida Keys or Miami while you are in south Florida. 

Additional Things To Do in the Everglades in One Day

Guided Tours

If you are looking for a guided tour or have a few days to spend in the everglades you can book tours and other guided experiences with the Everglades National Park Institute. They offer a collection of paddling and walking tours suited for many interests including a Cypress Dome wet walk where you walk in rubber boots though sawgrass prairies and cypress domes in the Everglades National Park.

Big Cypress Oasis Visitor Center

If you did not get to see many alligators during your visit to the Everglades, consider heading back out towards Shark Valley along US 41 and visit the Big Cypress Oasis Visitor Center.  

There is a canal that runs along the road with a lot of gators in it. On sunny days they will be sunning themselves on the banks. There is only a chain link fence separating you from the canal so you can get really close to them (it’s the closest I have ever been).

All of the alligator photos in this post are from the Oasis Visitor Center. I’ve only ever saw a few gators while in the Everglades and they have all been from a distance while on an airboat ride.

Tips for Visiting Everglades National Park

  • Bring bug spray, refillable water bottle
  • Entrance Fees are $30 per car
  • Best way to see the everglades is by boat or kayak
  • Stay hydrated, wear cool loose-fitting clothing, and use sun protection such as hats, sunglasses and sunscreen.

Frequently Asked Questions:

When is the best time to visit the Everglades National Park?

The dry season, December- April is the best time to visit the Everglades. Even though it’s the high season, the temperatures in summer are so hot and humid and biting flies and mosquitoes are more prevalent making it hard to enjoy being outside.

Also, there are daily thunderstorms during summer and the rising water makes wildlife viewing harder.

How hot is it in the Everglades?

In the summer, temperatures reach the mid 90s with humidity over 90%, and a heat index of over 100°F. 

During the dry season (December-April) temperatures reach average highs of 77°F and lows of 53°F. Skies are mostly clear, wildlife viewing is better and there are considerably less bugs.

How much time do you need in Everglades National Park? 

You need at least one full day to enjoy the main areas of the Everglades but a half day, around 4 hours is enough to visit either the Main Homestead entrance or the Shark Valley entrance for wildlife spotting, hiking and boating excursions.

***

No matter how much time you have to visit the Florida Everglades, you’ll enjoy all the serenity this park offers and diverse wildlife encounters around every corner. Come prepared with a hat, sunscreen and bug spray but expect to enjoy a day filled with natural beauty and adventure. From the diverse wildlife to the serene waterways, a day trip to the Everglades offers a glimpse into the beauty and importance of preserving these precious wetlands.

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2 Comments

  1. Great tips, especially the bug spray! I personally made the mistake of heading down there one afternoon in August a couple of years ago. Opened the door along a stop and thought I heard helicopters. Turned out it was the mosquitos! They seemed like they were the size of small humming birds! LOL (LOVE the blog!!!)

    1. Those swampy areas in Florida can get pretty intense with skeeters! I was lucky not to experience much this last visit in February but a few people told me to watch out for the black biting flys, mosquitos, horse flys and no-see-ums. It sounded like a biting bug convention lol I’m glad you enjoy the blog. I’ve been working tirelessly on it the past few months to stay at a 3x a week posting rate and it’s always SO NICE to hear positive responses!

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