Everglades National Park is huge, and there is so much to see and do. The best Everglades itinerary includes one day in each district, allowing you to see the best of what the park has to offer.
Here’s how this Floridian spent 4 days in Everglades National Park and my full Everglades itinerary.
Everglades Itinerary, Day 1: Gulf Coast
The Gulf Coast area of Everglades National Park is unlike the rest of the park in many ways. Instead of gators and crocodiles, you’re more likely to spot dolphins and manatees.
This side of the park has two major attractions: boat tours and canoe/kayak trips.
There are a variety of waterways and canoe trails located here. Most famously, you can glide through the Ten Thousand Islands area.
Rangers offer guided canoe trips in the busy winter season, but you can also rent your own at the visitor center. More information about ranger-guided trips and programs is listed here.
Boat tours head out into the Gulf of Mexico for the potential of spotting larger sea mammals. This includes Bottlenose dolphins and the adorable manatee. You’ll also see a diverse array of birds.
Tours are run exclusively by the park’s concessionaire, Everglades Florida Adventures. You can reserve tours here. Soon, they’ll be offering an additional tour through the mangrove forests in the area.
Where to Stay: River Wilderness Waterfront Villas, Everglades City Motel, Ivey House
Everglades Itinerary, Day 2: Shark Valley
On the second day, you’ll drive to Shark Valley via Big Cypress National Preserve.
First, stop at the Big Cypress Welcome Center in Ochopee. Here, you’ll have a chance at viewing manatees, alligators, and wading birds.
Continue along the Tamiami Trail toward the Oasis Visitor Center on the other end of Big Cypress National Preserve.
You’ll pass by the world’s smallest post office on your route, which is worth a quick stop for photos. It’s about the size of an outhouse!
There are also short trails and interpretive waysides that are worth stopping at if you have time.
Lastly, pop in the Oasis Visitor Center for another chance to see alligators. I’ve never stopped here and not seen dozens of them basking in the sunlight. It’s a great location for birdwatching as well.
If you can, add the Loop Road to your itinerary – we saw an incredible number of creatures on our drive, including birds, alligators, and turtles. The road begins a few miles west of the Oasis Visitor Center and will lead you back to US-41 near Shark Valley.
Once you arrive at Shark Valley, grab tickets for the Shark Valley Tram. You can also reserve online in advance.
If you’re interested and can adjust your schedule accordingly, the tours at 11 a.m. include a park ranger. The best side of the tram is the left side, behind the driver.
If you don’t want to pay for the tram, you can also hike the Tram Road or rent bicycles and bike your way to the Observation Tower in the middle of the road. In total, this loop is 15 miles.
Next, go for a short walk on the Bobcat Boardwalk Trail. This boardwalk will lead you through a typical South Florida landscape of tropical forests and sawgrass.
Shark Valley also offers a wide variety of ranger programs. Read more here.
Where to Stay Near Shark Valley: Miccosukee Resort, Best Western Plus, Holiday Inn, Courtyard, DoubleTree
Where to Stay Near Royal Palm: Long Pine Key Campground: Hoosville Hostel, Best Western, Quality Inn, Travelodge, Baymont, Garden Inn
Everglades Itinerary, Day 3: Royal Palm
Next, begin day 3 of your Everglades itinerary down the main road through Everglades National Park. Drive south from Shark Valley to reach the Homestead entrance of the park.
Begin at the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center, exploring the exhibits offered here. If you haven’t yet, consider picking up a junior ranger book and completing the activities to earn a special badge. If you complete the books at all three Florida national parks in the area (Everglades, Biscayne, and Big Cypress), you’ll even receive a free patch!
Next, drive a short distance to the Royal Palm Nature Center. Here, two excellent trails begin: the Anhinga Trail and the Gumbo Limbo Trail.
Both are short and easy to complete quickly. The Anhinga Trail provides great opportunities for viewing wildlife and is another place I’ve seen too many gators to count on my visits to the Everglades.
The Gumbo Limbo Trail will walk you through another traditional Floridian landscape filled with beautiful gumbo limbo trees.
Read my Everglades hiking guide for more great trail ideas.
If you have time, consider a stop at the Nike Missile Base Historic Area. Rangers conduct guided tours here in the afternoons from December through March. Check the park’s calendar to review dates and times.
If you’re up for a longer walk, check out the Long Pine Key Trail. It begins at the end of the Long Pine Key Campground.
The next stop along your drive is the Pa-hay-okee Overlook. Another short boardwalk trail, this will lead you to a platform to overlook the “river of grass” that is Everglades National Park.
Depending on the amount of time you have left, there are some additional stops on your way to the park’s Flamingo district. Take another short stroll at Mahogony Hammock, eat a picnic lunch at Nine Mile Pond, or go for a walk at West Lake.
Where to Stay: Flamingo Campground, Flamingo Eco Tents
Everglades Itinerary, Day 4: Flamingo
On your final day in Everglades National Park, spend the majority of your time in the Flamingo district, my personal favorite.
If you didn’t take a ranger-guided canoe trip on the Gulf Coast, why not go on one here? Canoes are provided free of charge. Tours last about 3.5 hours and meet at 8 a.m. More information is available here.
You can also rent a canoe or kayak and adventure out on your own. There are plenty of canoe trails in the area, including Nine Mile Pond, West Lake, Hells Bay, and Noble Hammock. Stick to these marked trails unless you’re skilled at reading nautical maps.
If you’d prefer not to take part in water-based activities, there are also some hiking trails.
A popular option is the Coastal Prairie Trail, which goes along the coast through forest and prairie landscapes for 7.5 miles (one-way). It leads to a backcountry campsite, which you can reserve with a backcountry permit.
The Snake Bight Trail is another popular and shorter option. It’s quite overgrown and can be muddy. Don’t forget to check out more things to do in the Everglades!
Another excellent option in the Flamingo area is birdwatching. Hundreds of tropical wading birds flock to Everglades National Park, especially in the winter.
A great place to seek out some exciting species is Eco Pond. If you walk the Snake Bight Trail, you may be lucky enough to see a flamingo. It’s extremely rare to see flamingos, but this area is the best chance for sightings in the United States.
If you’re hoping to see a specific species or you’re interested in what has been seen lately, this is a great resource. Some of my favorite species include the Wood Stork, great blue herons, flamingoes, and burrowing owls.
Where to Stay in Flamingo: Flamingo Campground, Flamingo Eco Tents
Where to Stay Near Homestead Entrance: Hoosville Hostel, Best Western, Quality Inn, Travelodge, Baymont, Garden Inn
What to Pack for Everglades National Park
Packing for a trip to the swamp can be tricky. Depending on the time of year, temperatures can range from over 80 degrees Fahrenheit during the day to 50 degrees once the sun goes down. If you’re visiting in the summer, it may rain every day. Here’s a list of things you may need, with some items varying based on the season you decide to visit.
General Packing List
- A reusable water bottle
- Moisture-wicking Layers: You’ll want short- and long-sleeve shirts to wear underneath your jacket. In the summer, you may also want a tank top. Choose polyester over cotton.
- Jacket: I always have a packable down with me on trips. I also love this new jacket I got a few months ago, as it’s very light yet warm. Synthetic is a good alternative to down if you’re worried about rain or snow.
- Hiking Pants or Shorts: My favorite hiking pants can be found here. As a taller woman, I also love Columbia’s pants because they offer long sizes.
- Hat: Depending on the season, you’ll need a winter hat or summer hat.
- Gloves or Mittens: Gloves are critical if you’re visiting in the winter.
- Wool Socks: Smartwool is my favorite brand for wool socks. Make sure to get wool so your feet stay warm and dry.
- Camera: I had my trusty Canon Rebel T5i, my Canon Powershot SX620, and a GoPro with me on my most recent trip to the Everglades.
- Tripod: If you’re hoping to take decent photos of sunsets or wildlife, I’d strongly recommend carrying a tripod with you.
- Hiking Boots and Sandals: I love my Keens, and will never choose another brand for my everyday boots. I always camp in Crocs because they’re comfortable and lightweight.
- Backpack: I recommend this simple North Face pack, but you may also want this water-resistant Patagonia pack if you’ll be doing a lot of water-based activities. Check out my post on the best daypacks for women for more options.
Every hiker should always carry the ten essentials with them. These include:
- Navigation systems: map, compass, and/or GPS
- Sun protection: sunscreen and/or ballcap
- Insulating layers: synthetic or down jacket, rain jacket, hat, gloves, and leggings
- Illumination (flashlight or headlamp)
- First-aid kit
- Something to light a fire: lighter, waterproof matches, and/or fire starter
- Repair kits and tools: pocket knife, duct tape, screwdriver, and/or scissors
- Emergency shelter: tent, bivy, tarp, and/or space blanket
- Nutrition: food for both meals and snacks
- Hydration: water bottle, water treatment (LifeStraw or SteriPen), and water
For Camping: The Basics
- Tarp or ground cover
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad
- Camp pillow
- Light source: flashlight, lantern, or headlamp
- Cook set, stove, utensil, and fuel
For more of my recommendations, check out my post on my favorite outdoor gear.
Everglades National Park Gear
When visiting someplace new, it’s always fun to read the guidebooks and become more acquainted with the area. Maps are handy, too. I also love to read more about its history. In the Everglades, you can’t visit without reading about Marjory Stoneman Douglas’s fight to save the river of grass.
- Trails Illustrated Map of Everglades National Park: This map is waterproof and provides a great overview of the park
- Falcon Guide to the Everglades: Great for learning about hiking, biking, and paddling opportunities
- Paddler’s Guide to Everglades National Park: Perfect if you plan to explore the park’s waterways
- Discover Florida: Lonely Planet’s quick guide to the Sunshine State
- Florida: A more detailed Lonely Planet guide
- USA’s National Parks: Another Lonely Planet guide focusing on our nation’s treasures
- The Everglades River of Grass: A book all about Marjory’s infamous love for the Everglades
- Nine Florida Stories: Another one written by Marjory Stoneman Douglas
- Marjory Stoneman Douglas Voice of the River: Have no idea who this Marjory is? This book is a good place to start.
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