- Glide through the Everglades on an airboat
- Gain a birdseye view of the Everglades from a 45-ft observation tower
- Drive the Loop Road through Big Cypress National Preserve
- Encounter diverse wildlife such as alligators, otters, and turtles
Pack a picnic, your sunscreen, and some insect repellent before starting today’s adventure - you should also ensure you have a full tank of gas. Eating options are limited in the park, so bring lunch, snacks and plenty of water (we recommend bringing a cooler if you have one).
You’ll take the Tamiami Trail (US 41) out of downtown Miami. About 20 miles west of downtown, at Krome Avenue, you’ll see the Miccosukee casino and head into the 'glades. Arguably the best way to see the wetlands, airboat tours are forbidden in the majority of the park due to extensive preservation efforts. There are, however, three airboat companies that are authorized by the National Park Service (we recommend Coopertown), all clustered before the visitor center at the main northern entrance to the park. Airboat tours are approximately 40 minutes and will take you on a thrilling ride through the wetlands, and your guide will point out the alligators and wildlife you’re sure to see along the way.
About 20 miles further is the Shark Valley Visitor Center, the actual entrance to the park ($30 per vehicle). Of the three main park entrances, Shark Valley is known for its abundance of wildlife and is one of the best spots for animal viewing. The Tram Road is a great option to explore here: you’re sure to spot turtles, birds, and alligators on this 15-mile trail! How you encounter them is up to you - you can walk, bike, or take the tram. Halfway out, you’ll find a 45-ft observation tower that provides 360-degree views for 20 miles in every direction over the impressive surroundings.
This flat, paved loop is great for biking and takes 2 - 3 hours including stops (you can rent bikes at the Visitor's Center for $9/hour); you can also explore a number of shorter unpaved trails along the way. Please remember to bring your own drinking water, as there are no refill stations along the route. Another option is to take the 2-hour round-trip open-air tram, but it’s important to remember that tickets often sell out, so you’ll need to book in advance for a specific time slot. The tours run hourly from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm and are guided by park naturalists who can point out the wildlife and provide impressive insights into the ecosystem as a whole. Alternatively, you can walk some of the trail if that is your preference, although we do not recommend that you walk the entire length in order to save time for the other stops on your agenda.
Take a break for lunch at one of the picnic benches near the Visitor's Center. Once you've refueled, you'll head 20 minutes further west on the Tamiami Trail to take the Loop Road (otherwise known as County Road 94; an easy-to-miss left turn from the Tamiami at Monroe Station) through the Big Cypress National Preserve. You’ll likely come across alligators, deer, and even otter in this off-the-
beaten-track loop off the main road. However, it is best not to make this detour during the summertime, as parts of the gravel road can be completely submerged. At mile 5, don’t miss Sweetwater Strand, well-known for the beautiful setting created by deeper water and large cypress trees. The short (⅓ mile) Tree Snail Hammock Trail is located at mile 15.6. Hunt for shells on the leaves of the hammock trees for the snail for which the short, easy trail is named. There are longer hikes available with trailheads along the road, but they are not for the faint of heart - if you decide to venture down any of these trails, be sure to prepare for ‘slough slogging’: a wet hike through ankle- or even knee-deep water.
When you reach the junction with the Tamiami Trail at mile 24, it's an easy 60-minute drive back east along US 41 to the heart of Miami.
Have more time?
Head further south to the Flamingo Visitor Center. Here you’re able to take kayak tours out to the Florida Bay for the opportunity to see manatees and the American crocodile.