A 50-mile drive south from Miami’s explosive population and all the craziness that goes with a major city, you will find the main entrance to one of the United State’s last wilderness frontiers, Everglades National Park.
The Ernest F. Coe Entrance is the park’s main headquarters and is one of three entrances to Everglades National Park. It is the short trails along this 38 mile stretch of park road from Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center to Florida Bay that I would like to discuss in this article today. On these trails, you don’t have to be an experienced hiker to take in the beauty of the Everglades, and even though they are shorter trails, you will still absolutely have a 100 percent chance to see wildlife.
Let’s get the important entry details out of the way first.
The entry fee to the park is $30 per vehicle and is good for 7 consecutive days. The physical address to the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center is 40001 State Road 9336, Homestead, FL 33034. From Miami, take the Florida Turnpike (Route 821) south until it ends, merging with U.S. 1 at Florida City. Turn right at the first traffic light onto Palm Drive (State Road 9336/SW 344 St.) and follow the signs to the park.
First Stop – The trails at Royal Palm Visitor Center
Located 4 miles from the Homestead entrance is the Royal Palm Visitor Center and the Anhinga and Gumbo Limbo Trails. Because of the abundance of opportunities to see wildlife, these trails are the most popular short trails in the park.
The Anhinga Trail walk is just under a mile and is wheelchair accessible. The trail winds through a sawgrass marsh, where you may see alligators, turtles, anhingas, herons, egrets, and many other birds, especially during the winter.
The Gumbo Limbo Trail is about a half mile paved trail that meanders through a shaded, jungle-like hammock of gumbo limbo trees , royal palms, ferns, and air plants.
7 miles from the park’s main entrance is the 1/4 mile Pinelands Trail. Not only is this short shaded walk through a forest of pines, palmettos, and wildflowers beautiful, it is quite unusual as well. All along this paved loop walk are holes called solution holes, where over time, acidic runoff has created holes in the limestone bedrock. This process is caused by a solution, or mixture, of rainfall and the weak acid produced by the decaying leaves, found all over the hammock floor.
13 miles from the park’s Homestead entrance is the .16 mile Pa- hay-okee boardwalk overlooking “the river of grass.” An incredible panoramic view of sawgrass marsh, which is actually a slow-moving river. Pa-hay-okee Overlook is a raised boardwalk and is wheelchair accessible.
20 miles from the park’s Homestead entrance is the Mahogany Hammock Trail. This is a 1/2 mile boardwalk trail through jungle-like vegetation, including gumbo-limbo trees, air plants, and the largest living mahogany tree in the United States. This trail is wheelchair accessible.
A little longer hike 3.2 miles round trip
Bear Lake Trail
At the end of the park’s main road (highway 9336) is the Flamingo Visitor’s center, and 3 miles before you get to that visitor’s center, there is a little dirt road named Bear Lake Road. To get to Bear Lake Trail, one needs to bike, drive, or walk to the end of Bear Lake Road. The road is bumpy and full of potholes, and because of low over the road tree branches, RV’s or high profile vehicles will not be able to get through. Also, be aware that the road is narrow, and there is minimal turn around space. Bear Lake Road runs along Button Wood Canal, which often floods during the summer months. For this reason, Bear Lake Road is usually closed during the summer rainy season.
Bear Lake Trail follows the old Homestead Canal, built-in 1922, and is an excellent birding trail. This narrow 1.6 miles one-way dirt trail is a journey through a dense hardwood hammock mixed with mangroves, and at the end, you are rewarded with a spectacular view of Bear Lake. But this trail is not for the faint of heart, as hikers will almost surely encounter wildlife such as snakes and crocodiles. In fact, John and I barely got a view of Bear Lake because as we got to the end of the trail, two crocodiles blocked our path. And yes, I did say crocodiles. Everglades National Park is the only place in the world where crocodiles and alligators coexist. Because of the saltwater intrusion at this end of the park, the water’s salt content is high, and therefore crocodiles are the more prominent of the two species in this area. Alligators are not often seen in saltier water.
These are but just a few of the many hiking trails within the Everglades National Park and whether you are a casual walker or experienced hiker, there are plenty of opportunities to get out in a jungle wilderness setting.
Plan and be prepared
In the Everglades, wildlife rules, and you are in their home. You could have close encounters with alligators, snakes (including pythons), crocodiles, panthers, and other animals. Always maintain a safe distance and never harass or provoke the wildlife.
Unless you like hiking through a sauna, then I suggest you save this adventure for late fall through winter. Once spring has arrived, the temperatures go up, as does the humidity. Walking or hiking during the hot and humid late spring and summer months can be treacherous. The feels like temperatures can get up to 110 degrees. Certain areas flood during the summer rainy season as well.
Even in the winter months, pack plenty of water and apply a good amount of insect repellent.
Don’t be in a hurry; always keep on the lookout. Wildlife knows how to camouflage, and you could walk by a great sighting. It is also a good idea to be aware of your surroundings for obvious safety reasons.
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Categories: hiking trails