Quick and Easy Way to Tour Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park is located about an hour west of downtown Miami, Florida. On our recent visit, we looked for a hotel that was the quickest and easiest to get out of town. We booked a room at the Marriott Residence Inn located in Doral. It’s only a few miles away from the airport. If you’re flying in or driving in, this is a great location. The rooms were excellent.

The Shark Valley entrance to Everglades National Park was almost a straight run west of the hotel, an easy 40-minute drive into the grasslands. There are a few other entrances/visitor centers, so be mindful of which entrance you are looking at when you plan to tour the park. The Shark Valley Visitor Center is the most popular and, in my opinion, the easiest to get to for out-of-town visitors.

On the way out of town, you will pass a Casino and, as you near the park, you will find several airboat tour companies. If we had more time, I would have booked a tour. I love a good airboat ride!

We visited the park in February, as the Everglades are extremely hot in other seasons. That said, there is a consistent breeze across the mostly open expanse of water year-round.

We experienced a very warm February day; it was in the low 80’s but overcast and very comfortable. We are Floridians, so this is great weather for us.

We made a reservation for the tram tour a few days in advance. It is highly recommended to make reservations for the tram tours. The tour costs $30 per person and is narrated by excellent tour guides.

There is also an entrance fee for the park which is paid at the gate upon entry which is also around $30 per person. The day we went, however, their systems were down from a power surge or something. So, they let us in for free! We did pay in advance online for the tram tour to reserve our spot.

The tour follows a paved loop that runs about 15 miles total, which includes a stop halfway to walk up the tower that overlooks the park.

It was a very easy and comfortable ride. We sat in the last seat which afforded a little more legroom.

The tram stops for nature sightings of birds and alligators and to point out areas of interest. There are also many cyclists on the paved path so they will slow to accommodate a congested area of bikes.

We saw many birds and only a few gators in the canal along the ride back. The silence was beautiful along with the persistent gentle breeze that will easily blow your hat off on the tram ride.

The visitor center is a small building with a ticket window for bike rentals and a small gift shop and educational center as well as bathrooms. For all the glory that is the Everglades, there are only a few educational areas to take in, so it is a very quick tour of the Visitor Center.

There is also a short boardwalk trail in front of the visitors center that is a popular spot to go while waiting for the tour. You can see if on google maps as noted above. I’d say it took a leisurely 15 minutes or so to walk it.

The two hour tour gave us the most information and was equal to a National Geographic Documentary, at least on the day that we went. Also note that tipping of the guides is encouraged. They have a dropbox for tips in the front car of the tram.

Staying in a hotel in Miami close to the Shark Valley Visitor Center entrance and booking the tram tour was, for us, the quickest and easiest way to experience Everglades National Park.

The Little Blue Heron

Continuing to get to know my Florida wildlife a little better today with my friend here. When I was first told he was a little blue Heron, I thought they meant a baby Heron. Alas, that was the proper name.  You will find Little Blue Herons in the shallows of marine and freshwater marshes. I found this friend above wading in the everglades. Notice the slate blue plumage and the long neck and legs.
This little guy was on the banks of the Saint Lucie River in Stuart, Florida. He looked like a Heron, but where was his long neck? He was simply just sitting with his neck tucked in. I didn’t realize they could do that. I clearly have not been paying that much attention to my featured friends. At first I thought this was a different species of bird. I’m learning! I didn’t realize Herons could change their appearance so drastically. Now that I do know, I think that’s pretty impressive, giraffes certainly can’t do that.

Herons are an unusual looking bird, yet a common sight around Florida waterways. However, there were twice as many of these beautiful birds 40 years ago. Their population is in decline due to loss of feeding habitat.

This is another bird that I wasn’t exactly sure what he was. As I noted in the purple gallinule post, I decided to get to know the subjects of some of my photos better and to keep track of new birds I encounter.

The Little Blue Heron gets marked off my Checklist of Florida Birds.

The Purple Gallinule

Came across this fellow in the everglades. He’s a Purple Gallinule. It may sound like I knew his name upon sighting, but I really had no clue what he was, which is why I decided to write about him. I often take photos of creatures and places I know little about, but those photos inspire me to get to know my world a little better. So, here’s a little bit of info that I learned about this bird.

The Purple Gallinule is otherwise known as a Swamp Hen or known locally as a Yellow Legged Gallinule.

Purple Gallinules are members of the Rail family and found in tropical wetlands. Their long toes help them navigate the lily pads in their wetland environments.

I also found this great Checklist of Florida Birds while researching this water bird and decided to see how many I can spot.

Port St Lucie, the town I live in, is actually a bird sanctuary. So, there you go, great place for amateur birding to begin.