There are places around the world that are just better to visit at certain times of the year. Sure, New York City is lovely to see in the Spring and Fall, but if you really want to get the full flavor of what it means to be in The Big Apple, visiting in the dead of winter is a must, at least once in your life. The quiet stillness of the city streets tucked under a blanket of fresh fallen snow is a memory you’ll treasure forever. The same is true of visiting many places in the off-season, the time of year when many tourists stay away and you can feel the true essence of a place. The Florida Everglades is that kind of place.
Located at the southernmost tip of mainland Florida before you reach the Florida Keys, the Everglades is the only sub-tropical wilderness in the United States. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the lesser-visited sites at that. The fragile ecosystem is perfect for outdoor types, adventure lovers, and eco-travelers who love hiking and paddling.
Off-season in the Everglades is during the summer months of May through September, when the heat climbs to its highest and daily summer rains and thunderstorms swell the rivers and mangrove estuaries. There’s no doubt that mosquitoes and no-see-ums can ruin your sunrise and sunset view when they’re at their worst, but it’s nothing a good bug repellant can’t handle. And the white hot summer sun can be brutal without proper sun protection.
But the Everglades is at its most beautiful then, and the dry winter season just can’t compare. The rains bring a lushness to the landscape, turning the “River of Grass” a million shades of green, which in turn attracts wildlife and brings more opportunities to experience the region in all its glory.
Nesting turtles return to the shores of south Florida, alligators have plenty of water to stay cool, and other native species like panthers and black bear recoup from the lean dry season. Water is life in the ‘Glades, and life is in full bloom in the summer, making it sometimes more challenging for hikers, but a dream for kayakers and paddlers.
Everglades National Park
Exploring Everglades National Park during the off-season – often called “Mosquito Season” – can be a bit daunting and many visitors don’t know where to begin. The vast wilderness of Everglades National Park and neighboring Big Cypress Preserve can be intimidating with limited access points.
There are four main Visitor Centers in Everglades National Park, one accessible from every direction, and Park Rangers there can help you arrange boat tours and canoe and kayak rentals and tours within the Park. They can also help with any information on hiking and birding trails, recent wildlife sightings, and camping information including the required permits for overnight camping.
Visitor Centers also have restroom facilities and some have snacks and drinks for purchase. Click to visit the National Park Service’s interactive Visitor Center map. Click to visit the National Park Service’s interactive Visitor Center map.
- Gulf Coast Visitor Center – closest to Naples and Marco Island in southwest Florida
- Shark Valley Visitor Center – equidistant to southwest and southeast Florida
- Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center – closest to Miami and the upper Florida Keys
- Flamingo Visitor Center – located at the southern tip of mainland Florida near the end of the 10,000 Islands
Big Cypress National Preserve
Big Cypress National Preserve was established in 1974 as the first national preserve in the United States. The preservation efforts of local conservationists, sportsmen, environmentalists, Miccosukee and Seminole Native Americans and many others came together after plans to build the world’s largest Jetport in the heart of the Everglades were unveiled in the 1960’s.
This project, along with the anticipated development that would follow, spurred the incentive to protect the wilds of Big Cypress Swamp as a National Preserve and not part of Everglades National Park. The National Preserve status allows traditional access to the area by native Seminole and Miccosukee tribes, off-road vehicles, cattle grazing, private land ownership and other uses. But this also means greater accessibility and opportunities to explore wild Florida for travelers on nearly 729,000 acres.
Big Cypress has excellent hiking trails and boardwalks, many of which are free. You can also book a boat, airboat, or swamp tour that will take you out for the day. See details here.
So if you’re looking for some serious communing with nature, the Florida Everglades is an awesome and often forgotten American wilderness to explore. With the right gear, plenty of hydration, and so much wildlife and natural beauty surrounding you, experiencing it – even during the off-season – should be on every Ecophiles’ bucket list!