This is the first of three posts being published during National Parks Week, all about a recent trip to various parts of the Everglades National Park in Florida.
Spending some time in southern Florida this past, I knew I had to check out the Everglades. Up to now my only experience of the area had been driving along the stretch of I-75 nicknamed ‘Alligator Alley’.
Before heading into the ‘Glades I sourced out some must-do activities. As I didn’t have enough time to venture deep into the waterways by canoe or kayak, I had to settle for hiking trails and more accessible options. Three things kept coming up as highly recommended. One was to take an airboat tour, the second was to walk the Anhinga Trail and the third was to take the tram tour or rent a bike in Shark Valley.
I arrived at about 2:30pm for the 3pm Shark Valley tram tour (and was actually lucky to get a ticket as it was fully reserved, but a few people cancelled – advance bookings are almost essential during peak times). To get here, it is an easy drive along highway 41 from Miami or Fort Lauderdale on the east coast, or Naples on the west coast of Florida.
Bike rentals and tram tours here are actually run by a concession so you have to pay your $10 entrance fee to the Everglades (good for 7 days), then pay $18.25 for the tram tour or $7.50/hr for bike rentals. I had originally planned to rent a bike, but was a bit short on time, so took the tram tour and hiked around for an hour afterwards.
I think hiking or renting a bike is the way to go if you want to stop frequently or go at your own pace. It is more than 15 miles / 24 km of trail though, so be prepared with later and plenty of time if you choose that route. The issue I had with the tram was that it did not stop often, and when it did, it was too short a time to get any decent photos of the wildlife. The trams really only stop for 15-20 minutes at the observation tour. The tower is 65 feet tall and provides a great panorama view of the grassy Everglades.
The two benefits of taking the tram tour over the bike or hike option:
- You get an informative narrative by the driver, educating you on the local flora and fauna, the history of the Everglades and fun trivia such as why the area is called Shark Valley.
- Protection from the sun and rain. It is humid and hot out there, without any stops for water. The tram offers the only leisurely ride option for those who don’t want to sweat too much, and comes in handy for rain protection during frequent downpours.
Why is it called Shark Valley?
Ok, you won’t see any sharks here. The name of Shark Valley does cause some confusion. With the Everglades being a ‘river of grass’ it is extremely flat, you wouldn’t think this area is in a valley, but it is. An elevation change of just 1ft here makes a big difference, so Shark Valley is in a very wide, very gradual, low-lying valley. The Shark reference comes from the Shark River. The mouth of this river is at the Gulf of Mexico, and the Shark River Slough is the main source of fresh water for this part of the Everglades. If you were to venture along the river far enough towards the gulf, you would encounter sharks – they just never make it to the Everglades.
In terms of what I did see at Shark Valley – dozens of alligators including baby ones, a bunch of turtles, herons, anhingas and other birds. Most of these were spotted while walking along the main loop pathway, however I also took the short Otter Cave and Bobcat trails. It was a great introduction to this huge wilderness park. Did I like it more than the Anhinga Trail? You’ll have to wait for the next Everglades post to find out.
A few more photos from Shark Valley
Watch for part two and part three of this Everglades series coming soon.