Date Visited: 12/09/2020 – 12/12/2020
We saw a top-secret missile base, car eating vultures, a horde of tree snails, the largest soft-shelled turtle we’ve ever seen and a whole lot of beautiful scenery during our three days stay at the Everglades National Park.
We chose to visit Everglades during the winter while the temperatures were mild so we could camp inside the park. This is known as the dry season and the busiest time at the park. When we made our reservations, we weren’t aware that the area was pretty flooded from an incredibly long and wet rainy (hurricane) season. Some areas of the park were closed, such as the highly popular Shark Valley Visitor Center. Although we were slightly disappointed, we arrived after the annual reopening of the Nike Missile Site HM-69, which was cause for celebration because we both really wanted to tour the facility.
About the Park
Everglades National Park is the largest remaining subtropical wilderness in the United States, and also one of the least visited national parks. At 2400 square miles it’s the third largest in the lower 48 states. That’s a total of a little over 1.5 million acres!
The park was established December 6, 1947 and was the first national park set aside specifically to protect native Flora and Fauna, as opposed to protecting a geological feature.
Over time the “River of Grass”, as it is known, was recognized not only for the importance of its tropical and subtropical properties, but also as the home to over 30 threatened and endangered species like the American Crocodile and the highly endangered Florida Panther.
The diversity of its nine interdependent ecosystems provides important breeding habitats for roughly 350 species of birds and is one of the most significant breeding habitats in the United States.
All of these factors, and many more, have secured the parks a place on the Biosphere Reserve list (1976), as a World Heritage Site (1979), and on the list of Wetlands of International Importance (1987).
Things to do
Obviously, this is a go to for the nature enthusiast with a wide range of activities to keep busy:
- hiking trails (both short and long)
- wildlife and birdwatching opportunities
- kayaking and canoeing
- tram tours
- access to the Nike Missile Site HM-69
- slough slogging
- ranger-led programs
- and dark sky photography
We spent most of our time exploring the trails and getting to know the little nuances that make this park so special. We took in the feel of the Gumbo Limbo tree;
and the oddity of the Liguus Tree Snail which turned into a pseudo Easter Egg Hunt for adults. We strolled through the various habitats on paved and unpaved trails and raised boardwalks.
We enjoyed the sweet-smelling air that seemed to be perfumed by the surrounding river of slow-moving water. We dipped our fingers in the Florida bay, listened to the sounds of the night crawling creatures, and learned just how close Florida was to all out nuclear destruction during the Cuban Missile crisis. We gazed upon old growth Mohogany trees, Skelton forests, and watched a rainbow reflect its light upon the still waters of Long Pine Key.
I think what we learned most on this trip was even though we live in Florida and have grown accustomed to the everyday scenery, there is a whole lot about our local flora and fauna to be discovered and even more that we have taken for granted. It may have been here that we realized that we need to not just visit nature, as we discovered on that first trip back in 2018, but to be present in the moment while we are there.
If you’re interested in seeing a few of trails we walked to get an overall general feel for the park watch the video below.
We had a great time here. If you really want to take in all the park has to offer, try to spend no less than four days exploring the park. If you’re a paddle enthusiast check out the NPS website (below) for information on the numerous paddling opportunities inside Everglades National Park.
The next leg of our journey takes us to Big Cypress Swamp where we finally get to see some alligators and we spot the incredibly cool Big Cypress Foxtail Squirrel.
Until than… Take care!
Long Pine Key Campground - Everglades National Park 25.400255058952432, -80.65472703305731 Everglades National Park Entrance 40001 State Road 9336 Homestead, FL 33034 Phone: (305) 242-7700 Website
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