After Singer Island and Key West, the next stop on my grand south Florida adventure (after a mini-visit to Miami) was the Everglades! I have always wanted to check out the Everglades and see what they’re about, so this part of the trip was very exciting for me.
There are a few different entrances to Everglades National Park. I entered through the Homestead entrance because this location seemed to offer to most to do in a short amount of time. The timing of my arrival was perfect – I was able to participate in some amazing activities!
When you arrive via the Homestead entrance, you come across the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center first before driving through the rest of the park. I definitely recommend stopping off here before heading into the park because here you’ll find the list of park activities for the day and learn a bunch about the Everglades themselves. There are a bunch of friendly park rangers to answer questions, too! After looking at the board of listed park activities for the day, I noticed that the “Wet Walk” was starting in about 30 minutes. A ranger at the information desk informed me that it was a walking excursion through the Everglades and that you needed long pants and lace-up shoes – you were going to get wet! At first, I was admittedly hesitant… but I realized that the experience would definitely be worth it. I’m so glad I changed my mind because it was!!
After signing up for the wet walk, I had to quickly drive to the meet-up point. At the Homestead entrance of the park, you drive down a single road through the rest of the Everglades; along the way are stop-off points for hiking trails, ponds for kayaking, canoe trails, and nature areas. I drove to the Royal Palm stop, where the education center was to meet with the ranger who was leading the wet walk. He actually had us drive even farther into the Everglades before our group got out and began our adventure. The timing was definitely perfect because it ended up being the last wet walk for the entire season!
Ranger Jim Allen was super knowledgeable about the plant life, wildlife, and overall workings of the ecosystem in the Everglades. He led us out on the “drier” part of the Everglades and informed our group about the cypress trees and small organisms that make up the “ground” of the Glades. Then, we walked deeper and deeper into the Glades and eventually into a cypress dome, where we suddenly found ourselves walking through quite a bit of water!
I used a tall walking stick I was given to test the depth of the water as we all walked through it, checking for deep spots and also for any wildlife that might have been hiding beneath the surface. One woman accidentally stepped on a snake that came up out of the water!
I forged ahead at full force, eager to find gators and not caring how wet I got. We spotted some really interesting things but, unfortunately, didn’t encounter any gators in the water (or, fortunately, depending on how you look at it!).
In some parts, the water went almost up to my waist. We had people of all heights and ages in our group, and it was very nice to see everyone equally excited about slogging through the Everglades together!
Ranger Jim pointed out beautiful plants as we walked through the water. Apparently, orchids also grow wildly in the Everglades (and they had recently arrested someone who tried to steal a bunch of them) and, although we couldn’t find any where we were, we did see some other beautiful plants 🙂 One woman also spotted a snake skeleton fully intact. We talked a bit about the invasion of non-native snakes in the Everglades and how they’re affecting the wildlife population there now. It was a great adventure and learning experience.
One of the coolest things that happened during the wet walk was hearing an alligator bellow. As our group was walking through the water, there was a loud roar near us. I honestly thought it was a panther at first! Ranger Jim explained that it was an alligator bellowing – letting other males in the area know that he was around (April is mating season). It was so cool to hear! It was a very loud growl/rumble/roar. We kept our eyes open for the gator, but didn’t see him. As we exited the cypress dome and got ourselves out of the water, though, we did see a gator lying right near the side of the road – close enough for us to get close and get a good look.
When the wet walk ended, I decided to continue exploring the rest of the park. I had noted earlier at the visitor center that there was a starlit gator walk at 8:30pm, so I had a few more hours until then to explore more of the Everglades. Ranger Jim recommended a few places and off I went!
I made a few stop-offs along the road through the Everglades and checked out the nature trails and lakes. I saw a lot of wonderful birds and amazing sights. I kept my eyes peeled for any wild panthers as I drove, but didn’t see any. I did, however, eventually come across more gators than I ever thought I’d see!
After driving through the road through the Glades, I made my way back to the Royal Palm stop to prepare for the starlit gator walk. I decided to check out the area myself in the daylight first and this is where all the gators were! There were gators lying on the side of the walking path, so you could literally get just feet away from them. They were everywhere! I even witnessed a gator go after and eat a bird – so cool!
It seemed that around every turn of the walking path were more and more gators. It was definitely an amazing sight! I made sure to be back at the education center in time for the starlit walk, though. Ranger Erin Wolf led a discussion and then the walk. It began to storm, though, so our walk took place in some really heavy rain in the dark… She was able to show our group the reflection of the gators’ eyes at night and tell us a bit more about them. When the lightning got closer, though, we had to turn around. It was still a great experience and I definitely recommend doing it if you can.
I wish I had more time to explore the Everglades but I am very, very happy about the adventures I was able to do in the time I had. There are some truly amazing things to see in the Everglades and so much to learn about. I’m hoping to go back soon and see and learn even more!