Experiencing Everglades National Park in just one day can seem impossible considering the fact that it is the largest subtropical wilderness in all of the US. At over 1.5 million acres, experiencing all that Everglades has to offer in a single day is inconceivable. However, with our help you can plan a one-day itinerary, in which you select the points of interest and activities, that will give you your best Everglades experience.
Visiting Everglades National Park for just one day can seem impossible considering the fact that it is the largest subtropical wilderness in all of the US. At over 1.5 million acres, experiencing all that Everglades has to offer in a single day is inconceivable. However, like us, many of you will only have a single day to spend in the park. Here we outline our family’s essential one-day Everglades itinerary. It is not a recommendation for where one should visit or what you should do there. Rather, it demonstrates how to create a one-day itinerary for visiting a large park, like Everglades. Since you cannot experience it all, you need to decide what is essential to your visit. Select attractions that interest you, pick a park entrance and plan for any activities. We hope you find it useful in creating your own essential one-day Everglades itinerary.
First Things First: Select an Entrance & Visitor Center
Everglades National Park has three main entrances leading to five visitor centers, which are unique to their location within the park. We recommend you begin to create your Everglades one-day itinerary by selecting one of these visitor centers as a starting point. Your selection may be based upon your interests in the park. Are you interested in experiencing the park from the water? Perhaps you should consider a boat or paddling excursion from the Gulf Coast or Flamingo Visitor Centers. Or would you rather view wildlife while hiking or biking? You might consider visiting the Shark Valley, Ernest F Coe or Royal Palm Visitor Centers. Conversely, you might select your starting point based upon location. Here is a little information about each of the visitor centers:
Gulf Coast Visitor Center
The Gulf Coast Visitor Center is located southeast of Naples & Marco Island and serves as an entrance for exploring the Ten Thousands Islands, a group of mangrove islands and waterways accessible mostly by boat.
Flamingo Visitor Center
The park’s southernmost visitor center, Flamingo, takes its name from the flamingoes that nest in the area. The Flamingo Visitor Center overlooks Florida Bay and offers paddling as well as hiking opportunities amongst the mangrove forests lining the bay. Flamingo is accessible via the main park road; which visitors enter approximately 40 miles to the east.
Ernest F Coe & Royal Palm Visitor Centers
At te main park entrance you will find the Ernest F Coe and Royal Palm Visitor Centers. Located about an hour southwest of Miami, these two centers are within a short distance of numerous hiking trails through freshwater prairie and hardwood hammock forests.
Shark Valley Visitor Center
Finally, about an hour east of Miami, in the northern portion of the park is the Shark Valley Visitor Center. This center is located in the heart of the Everglades, a slough of sawgrass prairie and marsh that drains into the Shark River. From the visitor center a 15-mile park road leads to the Shark Valley Observation Tower. Visitors can walk, bike or ride a tram along the road while observing the park’s wildlife.
The Visitor Center Where We Began
Since we were driving from the Florida Keys, the Ernest F Coe Visitor Center was the closest to our planned travel route. Additionally, it is within close proximity to numerous short hiking trails, ideal for our young children.
The center offers an informational film about the park, educational displays, and fun hands-on exhibits for kids, like the one shown above. The center also includes displays by local artists. This stunning tile mosaic embedded in the floor, shown below, depicts the various ecosystems of Southern Florida.
Next, Select Points of Interest: Hiking Interpretive Trails at Royal Palm
A short drive from the Ernest F Coe Visitor Center is the smaller Royal Palm Visitor Center. The center is located at the trailheads for two interpretive hikes: the Anhinga Trail and the Gumbo Limbo Trail. These trails were ideal points of interest for our family because they are relatively short in length and offer opportunities for viewing wildlife as well as learning about Everglades vegetation.
We hiked the easy, 0.8-mile Anhinga Trail first. The trail begins along a dirt path that borders sawgrass marsh. Here we saw turtles, herons, egrets, and of course alligators.
A short distance in, the trail turns to boardwalk, leading you through the marsh. Again, an amazing array of wildlife is viewable from the boardwalk. Trees filled with anhingas and many more alligators!
We’re not going to lie, this relatively short and easy hike wiped our kids out! They are not acclimated to the Southern Florida heat & humidity.
Gumbo Limbo Trail
After a short rest at the Royal Palm Visitor Center, we hiked the Gumbo Limbo Trail. This trail is also perfect for kids; 0.4 miles long, with plenty of shade since it leads through a jungle-like hardwood hammock. Wildlife is not the highlight of this trail, but rather the trees! There were so many unique trees: peeling gumbo limbo trees, of course, as well as royal palms, pine and this amazing fig tree.
Make a Fun Pit Stop: Robert Is Here Fruit Stand
One of the reasons we love road trips is because of the fun pit stops we make along the way. When researching the Everglades, we came across a recommendation for a fruit stand just outside the park’s main entrance. The fruit stand, Robert Is Here, was started in 1959 by a 7-year old boy, Robert, selling fruits and vegetables. You can read about him here. Since then the fruit stand has grown to sell all kinds of rare, exotic fruits, mostly grown nearby. As well as the most delicious fresh fruit milkshakes and smoothies.
Upon leaving the Royal Palm, we stopped at Robert is Here. While the girls napped in the car, the boys and I perused all of the fruits and veggies. We found jackfruit the size of Joe! We drank some of the most delicious milkshakes. And we sampled guanabana because we couldn’t resist trying a fruit, they claimed tastes just like cotton candy! Oh, and we also met Robert who was indeed there!
Add an Adventure Activity
Biking Shark Valley
After spending the morning in the Royal Palm area, we planned to visit Shark Valley. It’s often touted as having the greatest concentration of wildlife in the park. Visitors can observe alligators, turtles, and a multitude of different birds why walking, biking or taking a tram tour along the 15-mile trail to the Shark Valley Observation Tower. We had planned to walk a portion of this trail. Sadly, our drive up to the Everglades from Key West took longer than expected. Thankfully, we had seen so much wildlife along our Anhinga Trail hike, that we didn’t feel like we were missing out.
We were a little bummed that we were unable to bike the Shark Valley Trail. But, it was simply not an option for our family. Only 2 of our 5 kids can bike. We’ll be saving this activity for the next time we visit the park. If you, however, are not strapped with young kids, you might consider a bike tour of the area.
Airboat Tour of Shark Valley
For us, a better way to experience the Shark Valley Slough was an airboat tour.
If you asked me prior to this trip, a “swamp tour” was not amongst the things that I was most looking forward to. While I knew that the boys would enjoy the experience, cruising through a swampy marsh, with insects and alligators didn’t exactly sound like fun to me. But I’m so very glad we booked it because every single person in our family loved the airboat tour.
We booked an hour-long private tour through The River of Grass Adventures. We cannot recommend them highly enough. They were incredibly knowledgeable about Everglades wildlife and ecology. But more importantly, they were great with our kids, engaging them throughout the tour.
We saw birds, turtles, and alligators galore! Even Emily, who I was worried might meltdown mid-tour, was smitten by the baby alligators.
Viewing the Everglades from an airboat was truly amazing! Leaving the roads and trails, you get a better sense of the park’s vastness. While I’m sure we did not go very far, it seemed like we were in the heart of the slough. If you have the opportunity to take an airboat tour while visiting the Everglades…do it! It was an experience unlike any other.
Book a Sunset Airboat Tour
Our Everglades airboat tour was about 2 hours prior to sunset. The wetlands were gorgeous late in the day when the sun starts getting low. I can only imagine their beauty as the sun is setting.
Visiting the Everglades in April, we were unsure if we would need insect repellant. We did! Thankfully, we packed it. The mosquitoes were especially pesky when hiking, so best to apply before hitting the trail.
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