Everglades National Park is the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States and is the third-largest National Park in the lower 48 (and tenth largest overall). Located on 1.5 million acres of southern Florida, the Everglades is HUGE, but it’s easily accessible through Miami, Everglades City, or Homestead. Keep reading to find out how to spend a day at Everglades National Park with kids.
When we visited south Florida, not only did we do an airboat tour of the Everglades, but we also visited the Shark Valley Visitor Center in Everglades National Park. Exploring the Everglades by both water and land gave us a much better look at the park as a whole.
Shark Valley Tram Tour
Shark Valley is the only place in the park to take a tram tour, and you know we love guided tours when we travel, so of course, that’s where we started!
As the in-park concessionaire, Shark Valley Tram Tours handles all of the booking/scheduling for the two-hour tram tour through the northern part of the park. With naturalists on every tour, the guides are able to point out wildlife and explain the ecosystem as you see the Everglades from the open-air tram.
Alligators are the largest creatures that call the Everglades home and we saw several small ones that were about two years old. On the tour, we found out that the best time to see alligators is during the dry season (November through April) – and that’s also peak season for park attendance. The dry season brings with it lower humidity, fewer mosquitoes and biting flies, and larger numbers of animals and birds gathering near water holes.
Often referred to as a swamp, the Everglades is actually a VERY slow-moving river. The “River of Grass” connects Lake Okeechobee in central Florida with the Gulf of Mexico and travels at a speed of about 1 mile per 2.5 days (compared to the Mississippi River which flows at roughly 2MPH).
Shark Valley got its name because the water flows towards the Shark River (which does sometimes have sharks, including bull sharks!), southwest of the park. And Shark Valley really is a valley. The valley sits in a geological depression between the coastal ridges of South Florida and is lower than the surrounding area- but only by about ten feet!
Off in the distance, we caught our first glimpse of the highest accessible point in Everglades National Park. While we opted for the tram, you can also ride your bike (or a rental) out to the tower on the 15-mile paved road.
On our way to the observation tower, we actually walked right past this huge gator without even noticing. We ran into a park ranger who asked if we saw the alligator on the side of the trail and we headed back down to check it out.
Shark Valley Observation Tower
The Shark Valley Observation Tower is the highlight of the park for many visitors – and one of the main reasons that we opted for the Shark Valley area of the park rather than a more southern entrance.
Interestingly, the Shark Valley observation tower is the sister to Clingman’s Dome in Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
From the 65 foot tall Shark Valley Observation Tower you can see for roughly 20 miles in any direction on a clear day.
Even if you don’t see any wildlife in the park (which is highly unlikely!) the view from the tower is worth the visit!
Like most National Parks, Everglades does have an entrance fee of $30 per vehicle and provides 7 consecutive days of admission via any of the park entrances. If you’re planning to visit more than one or two National Parks in a year, we always recommend checking to see if you qualify for a free Annual Pass (Military, Veterans/Gold Star Families, 4th Graders, Handicapped) and if not, getting the $80 Annual Pass.
Things to Remember for a Trip to Everglades National Park with Kids
- There are four visitor centers in the park:
- Make sure to pack appropriately for the season. During the rainy season, ponchos and insect repellants are necessary. Always have enough water.
- If you’re interested in doing the Shark Valley Tram Tour or renting bicycles, make sure to set that up ahead of time here.
Have you been to the Everglades?? Do you prefer exploring by land or by water??