As one of the larger national parks in the lower United States, Everglades National Park includes 1.5 million acres of tropical wilderness wonder. It is also home to scarce wildlife such as the manatee, the American crocodile, and Florida panther. I’ve was always been curious about this incredible park every time we took a road trip across Alligator Alley in South Florida. So, we grabbed the cameras and waters and jumped in the car and made our way south to take a mystical journey through Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve!
Everglades The Park
The Florida Everglades have always been a little bit mysterious in many people’s eyes. Together with its unknowns and unchartered open wilderness, this park has lured both wildlife and early settlers to the area. The peoples most familiar with the territory early on, are American Indians; the Calusa and Tequesta and later the Seminole and Miccosukee. This was home to them.
During the early years (1800s – 1900s) many thought this land was a worthless swamp. However, it didn’t take too long for them to learn how precious this wetland region is. Everglades National Park was established in 1947 after several developments caused what is now the park, to dry up. However, the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan is now working to create the historic flow of water as it was in the past. These efforts are showing results with several birds and wildlife returning to their nests.
The survival of this park depends upon minimal human interference. The park is in a very natural state; even the welcome center at the Gulf Coast entrance is just a small trailer as well as a dock. There is also a small parking area with minimal black top and mostly dirt roadway. The restrooms are simply mobile small trailers. We certainly enjoy experiencing parks that are very remote and little to no development.
There are a couple of other entrances and visitor centers at Everglades including Shark Valley Visitor Center and Flamingo Visitor center. These are located closer towards the greater Miami Area. The Gulf Coast Visitor Center offers a boat tour among the 10,000 islands region of the park. Of course, there are several other local air boat tours, kayak and canoe rentals, and adventure excursions.
Big Cypress National Preserve
To say the least, we’ve only just tapped the surface of Everglades National Park, as we plan to continue our exploration further southeast deeper into the park at a later time on another visit. We proceed on to check out some of Big Cypress National Preserve which is located adjacent to Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park and Picayune Strand State Forest.
We begin our venture with a friendly welcome by a napping alligator right near the dirt parking areas here. We gander at him for a while and take a few photos quietly. Then we proceed to the Big Cypress Boardwalk which is a point of interest stop directly off of U.S. Route 41/Tamiami Trail.
Tamiami Trail History
The concept for the Tamiami Trail (aka US 41) began in the early 1900s. After several designations and sections added, US 41 is coming to fruition. In the 1950s, the newly configured US 41 was extended eastward and northward, first to downtown Miami along US 1 in 1950, then to Miami Beach along US 1 and SR A1A in 1953. While US 41 and SR 90 have not significantly changed since the 1960s, its importance to travelers of southeastern Florida has changed since the opening of Alligator Alley to the north in 1968. Resulting in some easing of traffic outside of urban regions as these areas still deal with congestion to this day mainly in particular areas.
The plant and animal life are pretty amazing here. You will find two trees growing into each other; one of them is wrapped around the other. It is quite interesting to see. There is a nice variety of trees and plants here and the wildlife enjoy it as well. As you slowly peruse along the boardwalk, you will notice how very peaceful and quiet it is. Don’t plan on doing a lot of talking on your phone, as there may not be cell phone service throughout much of this park because of how remote it is.
This park is truly extraordinary in ways that you may not be aware of. You ask the question, ‘why care about a swamp?’ Well, it is very simple. Water is the key. Fresh water is the most vital thing to all of us and much of the life on earth. This is what makes the state of Florida so critical to the livelihoods of all residents as well as our environment all around. The ecosystem that makes up the Everglades region is extraordinary!
The primary reason Big Cypress National Preserve was created in 1974 was to protect the fresh water’s natural flow from the Big Cypress Swam into the Everglades. Water, as well as wild life and plant life are critical to this environmental ecosystem. There are however, a few animals that are on the endangered species list including the Florida panther.
It is extremely rare to see a panther as the park information displays explain and include reminders to keep an eye out if you do happen to see one. Burmese pythons are another species that have been affecting the ecosystem here. Because they could no longer could control their snakes, python owners released them. Many escaped from properties damaged by Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
Well, by now I hope I haven’t scared you away from exploring this extraordinary park. In addition to all the natural highlights here, there are also several fun things to do! Take a journey out on a swamp walk or hiking trail; you’ll notice the air plants living on trees, mangroves, and saw palmetto plants just about everywhere.
You may also want to take in a peaceful kayak ride or a canoe through mangroves. A bike ride will no doubt be exhilarating on the wilderness trails and beyond! Camping is also available, and the air boat rides are a blast!
Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve make up part of the 400 parks in the national park system. They are both unique yet each play a critical role in the overall diversity in the Everglades swamp ecosystem. You will find amazing adventure, endless exploration, and new discoveries that you never thought possible! I find the Everglades somewhat mysterious and a little eerie. You will definitely leave with a new appreciation for water.
Everglades National Park
40001 State Road 9336
Homestead, FL 33034
Big Cypress Swamp Welcome Center
33000 Tamiami Trail East
Ochopee, FL 34141
Oasis Visitor Center
52105 Tamiami Trail East
Ochopee, FL 34141