Here are no lofty peaks seeking the sky, no mighty glaciers or rushing streams wearing away the uplifted land. Here is land, tranquil in its quiet beauty, serving not as the source of water, but as the receiver of it...With these words, President Harry S. Truman formally dedicated Everglades National Park on 06 December 1947 in a ceremony held at Everglades City.
It's true, this park is like no other parks in US. Most famous for its backcountry kayak and canoe adventures, the park offers a truly unique experience.
Tip - visiting Everglades National Park during "wet season" is ...unpleasant, if to say the least. Best time to visit the Everglades is December through April, with low humidity, clear skies and less mosquito.
A recent trip to Everglades City, where the park's Gulf Coast Visitor Center is located, made me rethink the whole idea of how most people visit our national parks.
The dream of paddling along the Wilderness Waterway, a 99-mile path between Everglades City and Flamingo, is ...still a dream.
Tip - if you are short on time, go for a boat trip
I only had a day to explore the area, and that's why I decided to do a typical "touristy" activity - boat tour.
There are numerous tour operators in the area, but since Everglades National Park has been declared a Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Site and a Wetlands International Alliance, only Everglades National Park Boat Tours is allowed to operate in its waters. All other companies operate on privately owned land/water which makes trips shorter with fewer chances to see wildlife.
There are two "official" tours - 10,000 Islands and Mangrove Wilderness.
I've always wanted to see the dense swampy part of the Everglades, and to get a face-to-face with an alligator, manatee or even the famous Burmese Python.
Tip - if you are venturing into Everglades wilderness, use bug spray/insect repellent...and A LOT OF IT ! Mosquito, horse and deer flies will eat you alive !
Tip - keep your expectations low.
It's not like the wildlife will come out to "meet and greet" you. The gaters we saw were usually no more than a pair of cold eyes staring out from the still green water, a few manatees here and there, but mostly it's the frequent calls of birds, the occasional splash of jumping fish, and the wind whistling through the leafy ceiling overhead.
Back to my thought about how most people visit our parks...
Unlike Rainier or Olympic National Parks, you can't just roll into the Everglades to snap a few pictures and call it a day. To really appreciate this park you must "go deep".
Paddling your kayak or canoe deep into the marshy backcountry waters, with claustrophobic tunnels of mangrove trees and giant cypress trees around you is the Ultimate Everglades Adventure !
Though the park's ranger station offers maps and tidal charts for sale, Paddler's Guide to Everglades National Park is the most comprehensive guide to paddling the Everglades.
The Wilderness Waterway is poorly marked, and it's easy get lost. Mangrove waterways have a tendency to look very much alike, and no place to camp besides the designated sites. So, plan accordingly, and use all means of navigation ( maps, charts, GPS, location beacon...) or hire a local guide.