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The Everglades
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The Miccosukee Indians called the everglades Pa-Hay-Okee, or 'Grassy Waters.' Marjory Stoneman Douglas named them the 'River of Grass' and brought national attention to their plight in the 1940s. In 1947, over 2,200 square miles became Everglades National Park, and in 1979, the United Nations declared the area a World Heritage site. More than any other national park in America, the Everglades must be seen from up close. It has a very special, very subtle beauty that requires a more intimate acquaintance than passing by in a car can provide. Walking or hiking is the best way to appreciate its variety, and the park provides many opportunities to do so, from short walks to overnight trails.

As Mrs. Douglas informed us, the Everglades are a huge, shallow, freshwater river some 50 miles wide and only a few inches deep. This river creeps slowly southward across the tip of Florida into Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Everglades National Park contains 1.4 million acres of many diverse natural environments. Besides the thousands of acres of open wet prairie covered with the long grasses of the glades, there are also forests of dwarf cypress growing on limestone ridges, slash pine plantations, and dense hardwood hammocks with immense mahogany trees and rare species of palms.

The glades are also dotted with small ponds that are home to a vast population of birdlife. It is not unusual to see clouds of egrets, herons, and other waterbirds gathered around these holes. Other birds such as white and brown pelicans, roseate spoonbills, ospreys, and bald eagles may be seen near the saltwater inlets of Florida Bay. For those who know where to look, there is still an opportunity to see rare and unusual birds like Cape Sable sparrows, short-tailed hawks, peregrine falcons, and Florida mangrove cuckoos. Animals of the Everglades include those southern favorites: raccoons, opossums, skunks, armadillos, and an abundance of American alligators. The endangered Florida panther still ranges the area as well as a rare and highly threatened species of crocodile. Smaller animals of interest are the round-tail muskrats and many varieties of turtle.

The climate in the Everglades is subtropical. This enhances its unique position in North America as a home for plants and animals that are not seen elsewhere in the continental United States, but it also creates problems for the unwary visitor. In the summer it is wet, humid, and very buggy; sudden afternoon thunderstorms are not at all unusual. The winter months are more pleasant with sunny mild days and cool evenings. The longer trails in the Everglades National Park usually owe their existence to some earlier need for a 'built-up' area across the glades such as an old access road to a community or the fill dirt that was pushed aside when a canal was built.

Often these trails go through very wet areas and some wading may be required. Many of the shorter trails have been built specifically for the convenience of visitors to the park and may have boardwalks and other amenities to make the going easier. In either event, when walking these trails, it is essential to be prepared. Back-country hiking requires registration with the ranger and it is wise to let someone else know where you plan to go, even for a few hours. The information centers provide maps, trail data, and up-to-the-minute information on weather and trail conditions. Check with them before setting out.

Trails in the Royal Palm Area

Slash Pine Trail: 7 miles
Loop Trail: 3 or 5 miles
Old Ingraham Highway: 11 miles

Both Slash Pine and Loop Trail are accessed from the road to Long Pine Key, which is only 6 miles from the main visitor's center outside of Homestead. They are appropriate for both hikers and bicyclists and follow a two-rut service road through an area of high pinelands. Over two hundred varieties of plants grow under this pine canopy, thirty of which are said to be found nowhere else on earth. The Old Ingraham Highway also begins on the Long Pine Key Road. It is the original road from Homestead to Flamingo and while it is no longer open to vehicular traffic, it is built up and usually dry. The trail begins in pinelands and traverses open glades as well as densely vegetated areas.

Begin/End: Slash Pine Trail begins at gate #4 on the Long Pine Key Road and continues for 7 miles to the Main Park Road. Loop Trail begins at gate #3 on the Long Pine Key Road and travels for 3 to 5 miles to locations on Hole-In-The-Doughnut Road near the Boy Scout Camp. Old Ingraham Highway is reached by driving 1.1 miles south on Long Pine Key Road. It ends on the Main Park Road 1.8 miles south of the turnoff to Mahogany Hammock.

Camping: Camping is allowed on the trails with permission of the ranger.

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate.

For Further Information: Visitor's Center, Everglades National Park

Easy Walking Trails in the Flamingo Area

Snake Bight: 3.2 miles
Rowdy Bend: 5.0 miles
Christian Point: 4.0 miles
Bear Lake: 3.2 miles

All of these trail heads are in the Flamingo Area and are well marked. They traverse open prairies, mangrove swamps and coastal flats to give a varied view of the many types of terrain in the southern section of the park. Snake Bight features a canopy of hardwoods and, at the end, a boardwalk that extends into Florida Bay. Rowdy Bend has coastal prairies and palm trees as well as ghostly Spanish moss draped over the limbs of hardwoods. The Christian Point Trail has a dense stretch of mangroves, giant wild pine bromeliads clinging to trees, and open coastal prairies. The Bear Lake Trail is a result of an effort to drain land and was made from fill dirt from the Homestead Canal.

Begin Snake Bight Trail: About 6 miles northeast of the Flamingo Ranger Station on the Main Park Road.

Begin Rowdy Bend Trail: About 3 miles northeast of the Flamingo Ranger Station on the Main Park Road.

Begin Christian Point Trail: About 1.5 miles northeast of the Flamingo Ranger Station off the Main Park Road.

Begin Bear Lake Trail: About 3 miles north of the Flamingo Ranger Station off Bear Lake Road. To reach it, turn left onto Bear Lake Road at its intersection with the Main Park Road and travel for almost 2 miles to the end of the road. The trail is on the west side and is marked.

End: All of these trails return to their points of origin, but it is possible to make a loop of Rowdy Bend and Snake Bight since they connect with each other. All have signs and parking areas for vehicles.

Camping: Not permitted on the trails. Camping is available at nearby Flamingo Campground.

Difficulty: Easy

For Further Information: Visitor's Center, Everglades National Park

Longer Hikes in the Flamingo Area

Coastal Prairie Trail: 15 miles

The Coastal Prairie Trail is also in the Flamingo area but is longer and more difficult than those mentioned above. It follows the path of a road that once went to Cape Sable and crosses miles of open salt marsh and button-wood forest. Although the trail bed is built up, some sections frequently are wet. The trail ends at Clubhouse Beach where the foundation of a clubhouse erected in 1912 still stands. Camping is permitted there, but potable water and other facilities are not available.

Begin: At Flamingo Campground.

End: Same place; this is a round-trip route.

Camping: Permitted at Clubhouse Beach.

Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous

For Further Information: Visitor's Center, Everglades National Park

Trails in the Shark Valley Area

Tram Road: 15 miles

The Shark Valley is primarily a shallow waterway that is the headwaters of the Shark River. As a result, it is wet and generally inappropriate for hiking. The Tram Road has been built up for public usage, however, and is available for hiking and bicycling as well as for a roadway for the tram ride.

Begin/End: Hikers usually choose to walk counterclockwise so that they meet the tram tour rather than have it approach from behind them. Both ends of the road begin at the Shark Valley Information Center.

Camping: Not permitted on the Tram Road.

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate.

For Further Information: Visitor's Center, Everglades National Park


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 13 Jul 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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