March 16 – 19, & April 17 – 19, 2021.
The Everglades National Park is 1.5 million acres of wetlands in Southern Florida. It is vast but unlike the vastness of a national park like the Grand Canyon you can’t just walk up to it, look out over the edge, and say – “yes, there it is.” Taking in a panorama of The Everglades’ fields of sawgrass might be quite boring as compared to the landscape of hoodoos in Bryce Canyon. You won’t find giant features sculpted by time and the elements like those in Arches National Park. There is no megafauna stopping traffic like that of Yellowstone. No forest of trees reaching to the sky like in Sequoia. There are no high peaks to climb (the elevation tops out at 4 feet here) like Glacier National Park.
It is a great swamp of golden sharp-toothed blades of sedges, dotted with clumps of tree hammocks, swimming in water – bays, ponds, lakes, creeks. It is a national treasure steeped in details that constantly change with the season and as we discovered – from week to week and often with the time of day. The Everglades is a place to immerse yourself in.
I sometimes wonder if we would have enjoyed the Everglades as much if we hadn’t been birders. Maybe we wouldn’t have revisited Eco Pond so many times or spent so much time searching for life in the Mahogony Hammock but I still think we would have been awed by seeing nesting ospreys and the curious hunting dance of the Reddish-egret. We would have been delighted by the colorful Purple Gallinule and stopped the van to jump out and take pictures of huge Florida Softshell Turtles ambling along the road.
* All pictures are click to enlarge. Once enlarged they can be viewed in a slideshow. Hover over the pictures in tiled mosaics for captions. Click pictures in the tiled mosaic to see full captions.
Hell’s Bay Kayaking Trail
Hell’s Bay is appropriately named. This kayak trail is full of twists and turns and although I like a winding kayak trail – it was a bit much – and not really all that interesting. We didn’t see any wildlife and it was slow going. What we did see was a few kayakers coming back after a night of camping out in designated primitive sites in the wetlands. This trail is 3 miles to the first campsite. We probably turned back after a little more than a mile. Back at the kayak launch, we met Gehn who is overlanding in a jeep on a journey to visit all of the national parks. He had spent a night at one of the campsites on the Hell’s Bay kayak trail and seemed to have found the trail appropriately named too and a bit mosquito-y.
Bear Lake Trail
This 1.6 miles (one-way) trail leads to Bear Lake. I thought the most interesting thing about the trail would be arriving at the lake. But the trail travels through a hardwood hammock along the Mud Lake Canal. Peering through the trees into the water I felt like we were spying on another world – a White Ibis with a beak covered in mud, Tri-colored Heron on the lookout, a baby crocodile.
Getting to the trail was a little bit of an adventure. At the turn-off for Bear Lake Road, a sign warned us to not venture forth in an RV. Being a van we straddle that line between being a car and a recreational vehicle. This time we decided we’d be a car and gave it a try. The road was narrow and branches hung low but we were fine. A vehicle taller than us (about 9 1/2 feet) or wider or longer might regret giving it a go.
Snake Bight Trail
The 1.8 miles (one-way) Snake Bight Trail leads out to Snake Bight bay in Florida Bay. The trail is nice and wide and was an easy walk. At the end of it was a nice boardwalk and view of a channel leading out into the water. We would visit the bight again on our return trip to the Everglades, but that time we’d get there by kayak.
Coastal Prairie Trail & Bayshore Loop Trail
The six-mile (one-way) Coastal Prairie Trail stretches from one point on the Florida Bay to another. It also connects with the two-mile Bayshore Loop trail. We hiked the loop trail and just a bit of the Coastal Prairie Trail. The loop was nice – Spanish moss and views of the bay. The Coastal Prairie Trail might have gotten more interesting as we went along (it used to be a road used by fishermen and cotton pickers) but it was too long and too late in the day.
Guy Bradley Trail
This was unexpectedly a very enjoyable walk. Only 1 mile (one-way), this paved trail starts at the visitor center parking lot. We saw turkey vultures, red-bellied woodpeckers, a mocking bird, lots of ospreys, and best of all a flock of fish crows that lit in a tree right in front of us as we were walking down the path.
As I stood there taking a few pictures of the crows, trying not to spook them by getting too close, one of the birds swooped down to the ground, returning with something to eat. Another crow that had been sitting on the branch with the hungry crow started making quite a racket. I thought there might be a fight but finally, the first crow turned around and silenced the squawker, stuffing food into his mouth.
The first time we visited the Anhinga Trail it was early in the morning and the weather was just lovely. If we had not visited again on our return trip in April, I would have told you that if you could only do one thing in the park it should be the Anhinga Trail. But our April visit was later in the afternoon and it was hot. So hot even the alligators were scarce. Still, even though many our favorite birds we laying low we enjoyed peering into the ponds at all the different fish.
Despite our disappointment on our second visit, this 1/2-mile paved/boardwalk loop is really a treasure. Here we not only saw a nice variety of wildlife we got to witness a Purple Galllinule walking on lilypads.
But beware of the vultures if you do come early in the morning. They like to hang out on top of people’s cars. Apparently, this is such a common occurrence that the park provides tarps to cover your vehicle with.
Gumbo Limbo Trail
The Gumbo Limbo Trail is a 1/2 mile loop. It is adjacent to the Anhinga Trail and although it pales in comparison it is a nice little walk through a hardwood hammock of gumbo limbo and royal palm trees. I took one of my favorite photos there of a Florida Tree Snail.
Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center
The Everglades has four visitor centers. The Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center was the only one we could go into to – the other visitor centers were only small trailers or closed due to the pandemic. The Coe visitor center has a museum (which was closed), a gift shop, friendly rangers, and a deck overlooking a pond. And just like everywhere else in the Everglades – wildlife abounded.
Florida Bay – Snake Bight Paddling Trail
One of the things we didn’t get to do on our first visit to the Everglades was to kayak out into Florida Bay. It was way too windy on our previous visit and we try not to kayak when there are waves. As soon as we got to the Everglades in April, I checked the weather, and when we saw a day of light wind we blew up Pirogue Bleue (our kayak) and made a plan.
We started first thing in the morning and followed the channel markers from the marina out into the bay. I had downloaded an NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) map into my Avenza GPS Map app on my phone so I could reference it to make sure we stayed in the channel and out of any water that would be too shallow. Once we got out into the bay we headed northeast to the Snake Bight Channel which was marked with poles. The wind was a bit more than we expected at first but once we got closer to the shore and out of open water it died down.
We were told by a park ranger that Flamingos had been spotted in Snake Bight. If they had been they had already made their way elsewhere when we arrived – or perhaps were confused with Roseate Spoonbills which we found a flock of. We saw lots of other flocks of birds too but the Spoonbills were by far the most exciting of them all. We had looked for Spoonbills on our previous visit to the Everglades but had no luck. We did eventually find them in a national wildlife refuge but we will tell you about that in the next post.
On our way back from the Bight we took a shortcut staying close to the shore, bypassing the channel. It was much less windy and there was plenty of water under the boat.
BTW – we also saw shark fins in the water on our paddle back. Unfortunately, they didn’t stick around long enough for me to get a good picture.
Hike to Ficus Pond
After our first trip to the Everglades, we ended up in Big Cypress National Preserve (more about that in the next post). There we did our first “wet hike.” At first, I was a bit hesitant to go wading through the swamp but it ended up being lots of fun. So when we returned to the Everglades on our second trip I was eager to do another one. I had remembered seeing info about a ranger-guided wet hike on our previous visit to the Everglades in March but when I asked a ranger about it she told us that the ranger programs had been suspended for the summer. Then she suggested that we could do one on our own. Ficus Pond is on the park map but the trail to it isn’t on any of the park hiking guides. If you were tooling down the main road in the park you’d never even know it is there. The trail is only marked with a couple of rusty poles hidden in the brush. I used my Avenza app and a map of the park to figure out where we needed to search for the beginning of the trail.
Warning – if you do this trail beware of the biting Striped Deer Flys. Our bug spray didn’t deter them and they are quite nasty. Interestingly once we got to the end of the trail and waded around in the cypress swamp the flys had no interest in us but once back out in the open they were vicious.
We made one more stop in the Everglades National Park but we are saving that for the next post, Big Cypress & More.
It is quite possible that I will be sharing this post on any one of these sites this week: My Corner of the World, Travel Tuesday, Wild Bird Wednesday, Through My Lens, Skywatch Friday, Our World Wednesday, and Sharon’s Souvenirs. Check out these links to see what other people are doing all over the world!