Everglades National Park is one of the most unique landscapes you will ever see. At over 1.5 million acres, it is home to the American Alligator and American Crocodile (only place they coexist), along with hundreds of bird species, turtles, manatees, and even the rare and elusive black panther!
Aptly nicknamed the “River of Grass”, this park is actually a slow moving river that flows south from Lake Okeechobee at depths of up to 3 feet and nearly 112 miles wide. In most places the depth of water is just 6 inches!
The “River of Grass” slowly flows 100 feet per day through what is estimated to be over 10,000 islands, and into the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Florida and Gulf of Mexico. This flow brings to life entire ecosystems in the plains of sawgrass and mangrove estuaries.
The highest elevation in the park is less than 10 feet above sea level which makes the experience all the more unique. Unlike many other of its fellow National Parks, the Everglades boasts no magnificent vistas (although Shark Valley Observation Tower was really cool!) or strenuous hilly hikes.
Starting in the mid-1800s, development and expansion of the railroad started to drain billions of gallons of water per day. It was estimated that in 1990, 17.9 billion gallons of water PER DAY were drained from the Everglades for agricultural and other human development uses. Much of this depletion has allowed salt water from the ocean to infiltrate into freshwater aquifers.
In 1832, naturalist John James Audubon likened the darkened sky to nighttime as thousands of flocks of birds flew overhead. In 1930, this area was home to over 265,000 colonies of wading birds, where estimates today are only 18,500 (down 93%). While our visit here was motivated by wanting to see an Alligator, the majestic egrets, storks, herons, and ibis were very much sights to be seen.
In 1947, the Florida Everglades National Park was created and became the first National Park created to protect an ecosystem. And in 1989, Congress extended the eastern park boundary to further protect the area and address the area’s growing concern with water quality and quantity issues.
This trip really did appeal to our whole family. It was like going on a safari and seeing a landscape like no other. If your travels take you to South Florida, I’d highly recommend one of these excursions:
Based on on-line reviews and proximity to Fort Lauderdale, we chose Sawgrass Recreation Area. We saw lots of alligators up close & personal, had a great ride, and really enjoyed the wildlife area afterwards.
We went on the Tram Tour to the Observation Tower and walked the Bobcat trail and nature area near the ranger station. The tour was really great! We saw alligators, egrets, storks, ibis, turtles, alligator nests, and more. The view from the observation tower went for miles and miles across the grassy landscape. We could see an approaching thunderstorm way in the distance, lightning streaking to the ground and all – great view.
It’s hard to pass these up. While the teenagers are getting to be at the older end of this program’s ‘target audience’, they still learn so much from the activity book (FREE!) and you get that coveted photo-op with the Park Ranger as they get sworn in for their badges.
All in all, the Everglades National Park was a great day trip for our family. We did the fan boat ride in the morning and Shark Valley Tram in the afternoon – well worth one less “beach day’ to see this American treasure!