Before we started our USA road trip I was pretty set on taking an airboat tour once we’d reached the Everglades National Park in Florida. However, when I started researching companies to do this with I went off the idea.
Many of the reviews mentioned that guides fed the alligators and other wildlife sweets and food to attract them closer to the boat, some said the boat drivers were pretty dangerous and a lot of the companies seemed to have ‘sanctuaries’ where animals were kept in tiny cages. I also don’t think holding a baby alligator should be the highlight of a responsible tour.
So, with an airboat tour out of the question I began researching alternatives. We could kayak, but they were fully booked (they looked great though! Check out Shurr Adventures and Jenny’s Eco Everglades Wilderness Tours). That’s when I set about pulling together our own, self guided Everglades tour.
This probably ended up being the best way to see the Everglades as it turned out. We saw so much wildlife on our self guided Everglades tour, could stop when we wanted to and it was free.
If you want to do the same, here is the route we took going from west to east. You could do this self guided Everglades tour the other way round too, of course, if you’re coming from Miami.
Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk
We came from the town of Naples on Florida’s west coast. This mean our first stop along the route was Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk. This turned out to be the best stop of the day and we easily could have spent all day watching the wildlife here!
The boardwalk takes you into the swamp where you’ll likely see alligators, turtles and so many species of birds. We saw owls, great egrets, alligators and their babies, fish and lizards all within 10 minutes. It was incredible.
Smallest Post Office in North America
Jump out of the car for a quick visit to America’s (and maybe the world’s) smallest post office. This isn’t just a picture opportunity, but actually a fully working post office. Buy a stamp as a reminder of your trip or as a unique souvenir.
Note: The post office closes for a few hours over lunch so go before 11am, or after 2pm if you want to pop inside.
Skunk Ape Headquarters
I’m adding this to the list as I think if the man behind the idea for this stop is there you’ll have a pretty enjoyable visit. When we visited there wasn’t really anyone on hand to talk about the myth (or truth!) of the Skunk Ape – a kind of swamp version of Big Foot.
It’s worth having a stroll around the shop and flicking through books about Skunk Ape whatever you think.
H. P. Williams Roadside Park
This is another great place to stop off at during your self guided Everglades tour. It’s right off the road and there’s a short board walk along the river which is teeming with alligators. There are plenty of picnic benches too if you’re feeling hungry!
Kirby Storter Roadside Park
Another great place to stop is Kirby Storter Roadside Park. The boardwalk here is longer (1 mile) through the Cypress trees towards a small pond where you’ll likely see gators (or at least their tracks!).
Miccosukee Indian Village
If you want to add some culture and history to your nature drive then stop off at Miccosukee Indian Village. Sure, it’s pretty touristy but you’ll still learn about the Miccosukee tribe (the original inhabitants of these parts). Just skip the alligator show.
Things to note on your self guided Everglades tour:
- Take food and plenty of water. It’s hot and there are very limited places to stock up on food. Most road side stops have a water fountain though.
- Take sunscreen.
- Respect the wildlife. Alligators are dangerous when threatened. Stick to the paths and don’t get too close.
- Take all your rubbish with you.
- Go early. This way you avoid the crowds and are likely to see more wildlife. During the heat of the day they tend to hide away.
- Best time to visit is generally believe to be December – April. This is the dry season were the wild life and animals tend to congregate in the small pools of water that remain. This creates prime animal watching spots for you!