This past weekend we traveled from Tampa to Everglades National Park for a hiking and camping trip.
Here is a quick summary of our trip:
- Great, worth while trip for the time and money
- Weather was ideal, I imagine it would have been much less enjoyable if it was much hotter or less windy
- Travel was broken up enough that it didn’t feel bad until the drive home Sunday evening
- Trails were beautiful, tons of wildlife to see
- Great camping spot, views of Florida Bay
- Once the moon set, the views of the night sky were incredible
Wind – Consistent 20-25mph (helped w/ bugs)
Moon – Waxing Crescent – 39% (took away from stary sky)
On Friday after work my wife and I drove down to Naples where we stayed in a decent enough hotel for the night. Although it set us back $140, it was well worth the price since it greatly shortened our travel time for the next morning. On Saturday we woke up early and drove through Big Cypress National Park on our way to meet up with my wife’s family at the Ernest Coe Visitor Center, which is the entry point to the Everglades. The drive took us through some beautiful open swampland with plenty of trees, birds and alligators to observe along the way.
Ernest Coe Visitor Center
Once we arrived at the visitor center, we got the low down from the local Park Rangers on what was best to see and where to camp. We also learned some interesting facts from the variety of displays to be seen at the center.
Anhinga and Gumbo Limbo Trails
The Anhinga Trail is an elevated boardwalk that takes you directly over some pristine marshland. We were able to get spectacular views of the birds, alligators and turtles that inhabited this area.
The Gumbo Limbo Trail was a paved surface trail that weaved through the thick foliage adjacent to the swampland of the Anhinga Trail. The Gumbo Limbo trees are a beautiful red color that was truly incredible to see!
Long Pine Key
The campground at Long Pine Key was tucked in a beautiful forest of tall pine trees with plenty of camp sites. We considered setting up our camp here but opted to venture further south to check out the camp sites at the Flamingo Campground.
Flamingo Visitor Center
After our quick stop at Long Pine Key, we made our way the rest of the way down through the Everglades to the southern tip of the FL peninsula at Flamingo Visitor Center. Here we again spoke with the Park Rangers who told us that the Flamingo Campground should be a great choice due to the weather being in our favor. We had consistently strong winds (20-25 mph) which kept the mosquitoes at bay. We also learned that there are often times crocodiles to be seen at the marina which offers boat rides for those who are interested. Given the high winds and choppiness of the FL Bay, we opted to pass on the boats.
Our final stop before making camp was at Eco Pond. To be honest, there wasn’t much to see here. Some of the bird watchers we ran into at the pond said that it used to be a paradise for all types of birds prior to one of the major hurricanes coming through and disrupting the habitat. My recommendation would be to pass on this location.
We decided to make our camp at the Flamingo Campground site. We really lucked out with this one!! We were able to pin down a great location right along the shore of the Florida Bay in the Walk-In Tent Camping area. There were 2 restroom facilities outfitted with showers and both were relatively clean compared to others I’ve seen in the past. The site came equipped with a fire-pit and 2 picnic tables. We really enjoyed the peace and relaxation of grilling our vegan dogs and veggie burgers on an open fire. As the sun went down we watched as more and more stars became visible in the night sky. It wasn’t until the moon set below the horizon however that we were really treated to a spectacular view of the Milky Way! We even saw the International Space Station zip by overhead!!!
The next morning we were peacefully awoken by the warmth of the rising sun jetting through our tent window.
Coastal Prairie Trail
After we packed up camp, our first stop on our way out of the Everglades was the Coastal Prairie Trail. This trail runs along the coast of the FL Bay. The entrance to the trail runs through a thickly covered wooded area which the mosquitoes were using as a safe haven to hide from the wind. Once they got a sniff of my NE Pennsylvania blood they swarmed to me like bees on honey. I didn’t make it 15 feet into the trail before I had to turn and run for my life. I’m still scratching the bite marks!
Mahogany Hammock Trail
After escaping the mosquitoes, we made our way up to the Mahogany Hammock Trail. This was another boardwalk trail that took us through a “Hammock” habitat which is an area where trees can grow due to a slight increase in elevation from the surrounding swampy vegetation. There was a lot of different types of trees to see and some were even worth a quick climb!
Pa-Hay-Okee Lookout Tower
The Pa-Hay-Okee Lookout area has another boardwalk trail that takes you across a sea of grassy marsh and up into another Hammock. At the peak of the trail, there is a tower that grants you beautiful views out over the landscape. The round trip hike is only 0.16 miles so it is well worth the quick stop.
As we exited the Everglades National Park we took another stop at the Anhinga Trail to get one last glimpse of those incredible alligators!
Miccosukee Indian Village
On our way back home to Tampa from the Everglades we stopped in to visit the Miccosukee Indian Village. They had a gift shop, a museum and some people demonstrating different types of craft making. The highlight of this village was the alligator demonstration.
Our trip to the Everglades was a fantastic one that we won’t soon forget. For the time and money invested, it was a worthwhile trip and a great way to spend some time in the great out doors. I would highly recommend it for anyone within a 6 hour drive for a nice weekend trip.