Florida's most pristine wilderness lies in the Everglades, a subtropical wetland known as the “River of Grass.”
More than 607,000 hectares of the Everglades, which stretches 160 kilometers from Lake Okeechobee to the state's southern tip, are protected and designated a national park, which is less than an hour’s drive from Miami. Though it's possible to make the trip in a day, consider an overnight stay to experience more adventures the area has to offer.
Get From Miami to the Everglades
To get to the Everglades, drive west from Miami on the Tamiami Trail, which is also known as U.S. Highway 41. You'll pass through Miami's outer suburbs before entering the largely undeveloped wetlands. The Miccosukee Tribe of Seminole Indians has a reservation and casino along the route. Native American outfitters offer airboat tours of the wetlands.
The vast section of wetlands that comprise Everglades National Park lies south of the Tamiami Trail. Drive 65 kilometers along the trail to reach the Shark Valley Visitor Center, which has educational displays, a park video and gift store. Shark Valley Tram Tours offers guided tours, bicycle rentals and a gift shop.
Sightseeing on an airboat tour through the Everglades
Lunch With the Miccosukee Tribe
Before touring the park, eat a casual meal at Miccosukee Restaurant, owned by the Miccosukee Indian Tribe and located 160 meters past Shark Valley Loop Road. The dining room offers diners a close-up view of the sawgrass marshes and an adjacent narrow waterway. The menu includes traditional Native American fare, like Indian fry bread, and regional favorites, such as fried frog legs and catfish.
See Shark Valley
After lunch, head to Shark Valley's sawgrass prairies, keeping an eye out for the Everglades' abundant wildlife like alligators, crocodiles, gray foxes and river otters. A 24-kilometer road circles through Shark Valley. Explore the plants and animals around the loop road by taking an educational tram tour led by a naturalist, renting a bicycle or walking. Beware: It can be a steamy tour under the hot Florida sun, no matter the time of year. An observation tower stands midway along the loop road, offering shade and a 360-degree view of the Everglades. Bring binoculars and try to spot the alligators and birds living in the wetlands.
Explore Big Cypress National Preserve
After viewing Shark Valley's wetlands and wildlife, return to Tamiami Trail and continue west toward Everglades City. Take a detour to experience the serene expanse of Big Cypress National Preserve. Turn left onto Loop Road, which is a 43-kilometer loop.
The road, which is both paved and unpaved, offers an easy drive through some of the Everglades’ most spectacular scenery. Spy looming cypress trees cloaked in Spanish moss and swamplands filled with herons, ibises and pelicans. Watch the side of the road for sleeping alligators. You'll encounter very few cars along the road, so you can stop as often as you'd like to take photos; be careful not to disturb the wildlife.
Tall cypress trees looming over the Everglades
Spend the Night in Everglades City
After exiting the loop road, you'll find yourself back on Tamiami Trail, driving west toward Everglades City and the park's western entrance. Only 400 residents live in Everglades City, which sits in the midst of tranquil, winding waterways. Spend an overnight at the low-key and comfortable Everglades City Motel.
Relax with a sunset drink and smoked fish dip appetizer at the famous Rod and Gun Club, overlooking a pretty stretch of the sparkling waterway. After dark, eat dinner at funky Camellia Street Grill, a local favorite on the river. Order your meal at the counter and enjoy it in an outdoor courtyard filled with kitschy décor and twinkling lights hanging from trees. There’s live music and dancing, too.
When you’re refreshed in the morning, drive 2.2 kilometers from the hotel to the Gulf Coast Visitor Center, where you can book a boat tour of the Ten Thousand Islands that dot the surrounding coastline.
Ibis and little blue herons in flight over the Everglades
Beach, Shopping and Luxury in Naples
With your boat tour behind you, either return to Miami or continue 60 kilometers northwest toward the posh beach town of Naples. Visitors can find inexpensive lodging in a prime, waterfront location at Cove Inn at Naples Bay. Spend the afternoon unwinding on soft sands or with a swim in the Gulf of Mexico's calm waters. In the evening, take a sunset cruise and ogle the mansions lining Naples waterways before watching the sun dip below the gulf. Window shop at the galleries and boutiques along Fifth Avenue, then dine on inventive Italian fare at Osteria Tulia.
From Naples, you'll drive about 200 kilometers east on Interstate 75 to return to Miami. The highway is the quickest route back to Miami’s shimmering skyline and white-sand shores.
Setting sun over the Gulf of Mexico and a Naples-area beach
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