A world away from Miami’s nightlife and beaches, the nearby Everglades cover millions of acres of remote swampland and marshes that form one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems.
With its silent wetlands, remote islands and deserted beaches, it’s no surprise that every day in Florida’s Everglades National Park brings a new adventure. Known as the River of Grass and designated a Unesco World Heritage site, this extraordinary landscape stretches from Lake Okeechobee near Miami right to Florida’s southern tip. Make every vacation second count by sampling kayaking, fishing, snorkeling, sailing and hiking in North America’s largest subtropical wilderness.
Get away from it all by paddling a kayak around the postcard-perfect mangrove islands scattered off the Gulf Coast. With nothing for miles except endless blue sky, stained-glass green foliage and silky-smooth water, this is the best way to see one of Florida’s most unspoilt areas. Watch for diving dolphins, chattering birds and snuffling manatees, then explore secret bays and slivers of deserted beach perfect for picnicking.
Despite its name, you won’t spot any sharks in this idyllic valley, but astonishing wildlife sightings of other kinds are pretty much guaranteed. Hike, cycle or take the tram across the unique wetlands that are home to 40 species of mammals, hundreds of birds and countless alligators, the largest creatures living in the Everglades. Visit in the morning for the best chance of seeing wildlife in the watery wonderland below.
There is nowhere quite like Chokoloskee for fishing enthusiasts. Neighboring Ten Thousand Islands, this laid-back residential island over the bridge from Everglades City offers the chance to catch trout, bass, mackerel and more in its sheltered waters. Head out to the Gulf of Mexico or choose tranquil days fishing on the inland rivers, beaches or creeks: wherever you go, you won’t return empty-handed.
Get closer to the incredible Everglades ecosystem on one of the world’s most spectacular drives. The Tamiami Trail is the southernmost 275mi (443km) of Highway 41 between the Gulf Coast and Miami, weaving through the heart of the Everglades marshes. Take a short detour on the curving 15mi (24km) loop road across Shark Valley at the northern entrance to the national park to glimpse alligators, turtles, herons and other exotic birds.
Walkers of all abilities can tackle the Gumbo Limbo Trail, a half-mile round trip from the Royal Palm Visitor Center near Homestead. The paved trail coils through the hardwood hammock, a coastal forest dense with tropical vegetation, scurrying wildlife and the distinctive gumbo limbo tree. Known for its red, peeling bark, it is often nicknamed the tourist tree because of its resemblance to painful sunburnt skin.
Take a break on the Tamiami Trail to climb the winding 65ft (20m) observation tower, built in 1965 and the highest accessible point in the Everglades National Park. From the top, catch your breath gazing over unbeatable panoramic views across the distinctive sawgrass prairies. These flood during the rainy season, and are therefore known as the river of grass – or Pa-Hay-Okee in the Mikasuki language.
Expect blinding blue water and bone-white sand on Marco Island, the largest of the Ten Thousand Islands just north of the Gulf Coast entrance to Everglades National Park. The warm Gulf waters and gentle conditions make it a snorkeling paradise, whether you’re a seasoned pro or want to try the activity out for the first time. Either way, Marco Island’s silent underwater world of rainbow-colored fish, sea turtles and manatees will leave you spellbound.