Florida – 05/2017
It’s So Green
Take your children here to readily see the necessity of environmental preservation. This park offers opportunity for children to learn about the inter-connectedness of humans to their environment on a massive scale. Exploring both the park and the surrounding areas offers exceptional insight into ecosystem health as it pertains to wildlife and ecosystem services. Everglades National Park is quintessential for the protection of wildlife, and humanity as well. The inter-coastal tide-ways are a unique interdependent area. Their health equates to the sustainability of coastal fisheries where abundant sea life is harvested for human consumption. The sheer volume of recreational participants including all manner of boaters, snorkelers, divers, fishers, and sun bathers is overwhelming in this part of Florida, outside the park boundaries. Additionally, homes and farms of every sort absorb available spaces against the turquoise sea. A little exploration and contemplation makes it apparent that preservation of every square inch of this national park space is paramount to the success of this regional ecosystem, and economic system.
Your children will feel like jungle explorers, and both of you will get the chance to try wildlife photography with plentiful opportunities to see alligators (safely up close), numerous birds, and other wildlife. Everglades National Park offers an ocean expanse of places to see. The presence of 200,000 alligators, 2,000 crocodiles, and “sloughs” (freshwater land channels) will keep you on the guided paths. However, the numerous boardwalks and paths throughout allow you to explore different areas of the park while still feeling immersed in the open space.
- Unique biomes like mangroves, hardwood hammocks, sloughs, and estuaries
- Animal Adaptations
- Extinction and the early 1900’s feathered hat debacle
Mosquitos! Wear repellant. While there are many “natural” alternatives available, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends only those with high active ingredients of DEET, Picaridin, IR3535, Oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthan-diol, and 2-undecanone. Speak with your doctor, but unless you have a medical condition or allergy, I highly recommend OFF! Deep Woods Insect Repellent worn daily while you are vacationing in the area. It is made with 25% DEET and provides up to 8 hours of protection. Speak to your pediatrician regarding younger children as, for them, certain repellants are not recommended.
The Everglades National Park and surrounding areas are home to numerous mosquitos because they thrive in the warm moist climate. West Nile Virus (transmitted by mosquitos) is a rare but exceptionally dangerous infection that can result in brain swelling, known as encephalitis. A very close family member contacted this disease in Colorado, so it is not unique to Florida. This disease can be deadly and leave lasting complications such as paralysis. Symptoms can include high fever, headache, or neck stiffness. Seek medical attention immediately. Additionally, Zika Virus (also transmitted by mosquitos) has been actively transmitted in Florida. Zika Virus primarily targets unborn children. Please discuss protection with your doctor and check out the CDC website for advice to people traveling to South Florida.
There are three main park visitor centers and they are located at vastly different accessible areas. These are: Ernest F. Coe, Shark Valley, and Gulf Coast. The Flamingo Visitor Center is relatively inactive after suffering hurricane damage, but it can be accessed via the Ernest F. Coe entrance. Choosing your entrance is imperative to the areas that you will see. A long day could incorporate two centers. Realistically, if you wanted to explore each, you would want to take three days. With limited time availability, we chose the park entrance at Ernest F. Coe, which was nearest to the other two national parks we were visiting this trip (Biscayne and Dry Tortugas).
An example day trip itinerary:
Pack a lunch. Make your first stop at the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center to pick up your Junior Ranger book and watch a video about the park, find ranger led activities, and pick up a park map. Proceed to Royal Palm where you will get your first great opportunity to see an alligator up close walking along the Anhinga Trail. This trail/boardwalk offers an incredible opportunity to see wildlife. Counting 14 alligators, we also saw birds and a variety of awesomely enormous grasshoppers. We covered our heads from the brief rain shower and took the Gumbo Limbo trail as well. It was tropical, hot, and humid and we viewed not much other than incredible plants and an enormous Liguus Tree Snail.
Take a lunch break under the verandah at Royal Palm with your packed lunch while the kids try to spot alligators.
Drive to the Pa-hay-okee Overook Trail. This was a favorite as the views were expansive. The mist across the slough and the plentiful trees were savannah like in their serenity. It was a great opportunity to enjoy the stillness of the park and an active hawk offered opportunity to enjoy the wildlife.
Drive to Mahogany Hammock and enjoy this fun, twisty boardwalk in the trees. It is a great adventure for kids!
Drive to the Flamingo Visitor Center, a pink structure against the turquoise sea. It is beautiful here, but after Hurricane Irma, it is only partially open. As such, this was a short stop for us. If we had more time, we could have looked for the elusive American Crocodile. There are only 2000 in the park itself!
Head back to the entrance and enjoy the views. Be sure to head back to the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center before it closes (5:00 PM for our visit) to hand in completed Junior Ranger books and get badges for the kids.
Where to Stay
If we don’t have our RV, we gravitate to Holiday Inn Express. We enjoy the free morning breakfasts, and they usually have a pool or hot tub to enjoy in the evenings. Comfy beds, reasonable prices, and plentiful locations make this our go to hotel. During this trip, we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Florida City-Gateway to Keys. It offered us quick access to the Everglades and Biscayne.
Where to Eat
Stop at Robert is Here fruit stand on your way into the park to purchase crazy, fun fruit to enjoy during a lunch picnic inside the park boundaries. With things like key lime milk shakes, jack fruit, and asian guavas, it is an adventure for your taste buds and a fun way to start the day. Look out back at the petting zoo!
When to Go
Avoid peak hurricane season, between August and October. We went in late May, and it was perfect!