Florida Everglades National Park

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Map of US National Parks

Map of US National Parks

Is the answer, “advertising?”

Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot to ask the question. The question is, “Why don’t I hear more people talking about taking a vacation to one of America’s National Parks?”

I often hear people talk about their trip to Disneyland, a theme park, a NASCAR event, a water park or some other touristy destination. But rarely do I hear someone talking about the incredible experience they had at one of our nation’s 380 plus national parks–These include the well known, large national parks such as Yosemite, Grand Canyon, The Blue Ridge Parkway (the most visited national park), Yellowstone National Park (the granddaddy of them all), as well as the National Landmarks, National Historic Sites, National Battlefields, National Seashores and over 20 other national designations.

Did you know that at over 13 million acres, the Wrangll-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska is our nation’s largest National Park? At .02 acres our smallest National Park is the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial in Pennsylvania? I grew up about 20 miles from this memorial and had never even heard of it until listening to an NPR special several months ago. I’ll let you follow the link to find out why we have a memorial to Thaddeous, a rare and remarkable person!

National Parks are truly one of the crown jewels of our nation. They provide a phenomenal, unique and educational experience for a modest cost. They are open and accessible to all and have something of interest for everyone of every age, physical ability or educational background. Their employees are knowledgeable and dedicated. Their facilities are top of the line. Their educational programs and displays rival the best museums and science centers of the world. So why don’t I hear more people talk about their trip to a national park?

Is the answer, “advertising?”

View of the Everglades

View of the Everglades

I don’t know about that, but I do know that the Florida Everglades National Park is a fantastic place for you to experience. Did you know that the Shark River Slough, that flows through the everglades, can be as wide as 20 miles? That the flat topography of Florida means that the river can flow as slowly as 1/4 mile in 24 hours? That it could take a drop of water over four years to go from the top of the Kissimmee chain of lakes to the southern tip of Florida?

The Everglades National Park is huge and has four different visitor centers. Mrs. LanceAround, Number One daughter and I visited the Ernest Coe and the Shark Valley visitor centers.

Observation Tower

Observation Tower

At Shark Valley, the main attraction is a 15 minute round trip tour that goes deep into the vast Shark River Slough. Since the water is so slow moving, this area is often misnamed as a marsh or swamp. You can walk, ride a bike (they have them for rent) or take a guided tram tour seven and a half miles to a very futuristic looking tower that allows you as much as an 18 mile 360 degree panoramic view of the wilderness river slough. It is easy to take in this view and imagine what it must have been like for the first native settlers of this land to encounter such a harsh wilderness.

Even Number One daughter, who had resumed her teenage angst after the exhilarating time we had snorkeling the coral reefs that morning, perked up considerably as she leaned out of our tram to grab a photo of the seven foot alligator sitting with mouth agape just in front of our tram.

Alligator on the side of the road

Alligator on the side of the road

Along the tour, you will see many alligators who use the macadam road to catch some additional heat, lots of bird species, and perhaps other wildlife such as a turtle or the elusive Florida bobcat. Yes, if you are on a bike you could even come face to face with a gator. You will discover that if you follow Florida law and do not feed or harass the gators and you stay at least 15 feet away, they are no trouble.

Forty miles away, The Ernest Coe visitor’s center is more like a museum. There is an excellent movie that teaches about the natural diversity of the Everglades but also gives a sobering picture of how man’s attempt to alter the Florida environment for the sake of development has almost destroyed this essential habitat and how we are now scrambling to save it. After the movie, you can take a short walk with an park ranger and view many of the diverse wildlife, including lots of gators and birds, while the ranger expertly teaches you about what you are seeing.

Mrs. LanceAround was not in the mood for the brief walk along the boardwalk pathway with the park ranger. She gamely went along anyway and by the end of the walk she and Number One daughter were excitedly snapping photos of the multiple alligators lying heaped upon one another in the wetlands below the boardwalk.

This blog tells only of our modest, car riding experiences within the park. For the more adventurous, there are multiple campsites, canoe or kayak routes, boat tours, walking paths and campfire programs.

National Parks don’t engage in flashy advertisements in an attempt to entice the almighty tourist dollar. But for the savvy traveller wanting a well rounded experience, they are worth putting on any travel itinerary.

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4 Responses to “Florida Everglades National Park”

  1. Coach Safari at Forever Florida « Lance Around Orlando Says:

    […] to travel several hours south to explore Florida’s Everglades National Park.  I have written a blog about this excellent […]

  2. Beth Says:

    Where did you get the map?? I’ve been looking for one of those!

    • Maureen Carruthers Says:

      We got it on the website of the national parks service–if you click on it you can download a PDF version.

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