If you’re visiting for the first time, the Florida Everglades can seem overwhelmingly large and unapproachable. It’s an amazingly diverse place with so much to do, see, and experience. So, before you pack your sunscreen and plenty of insect repellent, there are a few things you should know about America’s Everglades.
The Everglades is one of the largest wetlands in the world
And it’s not even half the size it used to be. The Everglades is an intricate system of subtropical wetlands that only 200 years ago covered nearly one-third of Florida. The region supports nine distinct ecosystems teeming with plant and animal species not found anywhere else on the planet.
Contrary to what you may have heard, the Everglades isn’t a swamp
Even though it looks like a swamp, the Everglades is actually a wet prairie – a wide area of grasslands that happen to be flooded for most of the year.
The Seminole Tribe named it "grassy water" because it's essentially a wide, shallow river with no current. Historically, the River of Grass covered approximately three million acres flowing slowly southward from the Lake Okeechobee watershed through sawgrass prairies, mangrove, and cypress plants before emptying into the Florida Bay.
It’s an extremely vulnerable ecosystem
In recent decades, the Florida Everglades has become a battleground for one of the largest ecological conservation efforts on Earth. Originally the Greater Everglades had a large diversity of habitats, but only nine remain due to decades of land reclamation for agriculture and human settlement.
Most of the Everglades has been cut off from Lake Okeechobee and no longer receives adequate clean, freshwater, threatening Florida's wildlife, drinking water, and economy.
Home to unique, rare, and endangered species
The Florida Everglades is home to the highest concentrations of species at-risk of extinction in the Americas, including 39 native Florida species. The best-known include the elusive Florida Panther, West Indian Manatee, Wood Stock, and Snail Kite.
Destination - Wildlife
Wildlife thrives in the everglades. The wetland supports over 300 species of fish, countless insects, more than 360 species of birds, and 50 distinct kinds of reptiles. The Florida Everglades are a haven for migrating birds, sea turtles, black bears, and a myriad of fascinating walking, swimming, and flying species.
Now’s probably a good time to mention that you can find both crocodiles and alligators in the park – It’s the only place in the world where these two species coexist.
Invasive species threaten the Everglades Ecosystem
Since they're far from their native homelands and lack natural predators in the area, invasive species like the Burmese python have an advantage over native species. While there are eradication measures, it's proving difficult to control populations of these invasive species.
Visiting The Everglades National Park
Most of the Everglades is only accessible by water. But boating, fishing, and paddling aren’t the only activities you can engage in.
The Everglades provides the most impressive ranger-led tours of any national park
Planning a trip to the Everglades is challenging due to the sheer size of the park. If you don’t know where to start, it’s always a great idea to have a park ranger help you. You get to experience the park in a new way through kayaking popular water trails, slogging through the wetlands, or taking a motorboat out into the bay.
Nothing beats wilderness camping in the Everglades
You’ll need a permit to go backcountry camping in the Everglades. The designated campsites offer a unique yet exhilarating challenge to novice and experienced campers alike. While wilderness camping is always challenging, it’s best to come extra prepared.
Be prepared for intense levels of heat and thunderstorms, especially in the summer months. Also, come armed with tons of insect repellent – there are billions of mosquitoes in the Everglades. It’s a good thing most species aren’t harmful to humans.
It’s a birdwatcher’s paradise
No matter your experience in birdwatching, the Everglades is one of the grandest stages from which you can observe avian life. The area is home to some magnificent winged creatures that quench their thirst and raise their young along the life-giving waters of the River of Grass.
The best birdwatching spots are the Paurotis, Mrazek, Eco, and Nine Mile Ponds. Some species you'll encounter include the great egret, tri-colored heron, glossy ibis, and the reddish egret.
Some Cold War Missiles are still housed in the Everglades National Park
You can take a tour of the Nike Hercules Missile Base and even meet some of the soldiers who were stationed at the base at the height of the Cold War.
There’s a lot more to discover at the Florida Everglades! It’s a place you’ll want to visit over and over.