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Best Kept Secrets
Of The Everglades

by Kris Thoemke

IT'S A SWAMP LOVER'S dream vacation. It’s ground zero for the American alligator and the last refuge for the elusive Florida panther. It’s a mangrove swamp with hundreds of islands and countless good places to fish. All this and more is the Florida Everglades, the largest patch of wild land left east of the Mississippi.

Most tourists see the easy side of the Everglades — that which can be seen along the paved roads and elevated boardwalks designed to keep visitor’s feet high and dry. It’s a good start, but you won’t see the really good stuff unless you take time to ‘smell the swamp water’. Here are five places to visit for a true Everglades experience.


Full Moon Bike Tour

Close to the middle of the Everglades, along US highway 41, is Everglades National Park’s Shark Valley Visitor Center. By day the site offers tram tours and bike rentals. But if you have your own bike and it’s time for the full moon, don’t miss the ranger-led 15-mile bike ride. Once the sun sets, the Everglades becomes a different place where the sights are replaced with the sounds of the swamp. Reservations are required and the trip does not run every month.


Ten Thousand Islands Day Kayak Trip

From Everglades City, there are several concessioners offering daily kayak rentals. A moderately challenging one day trip is to padldle through Indian Key Pass to the Tiger or Picnic Keys. Plan to spend an hour or more hiking the rough trial on Indian Key. At 5-10 feet above sea level it is some of the higher ground in the Everglades and is a good example of a tropical hardwood hammock.


Fire Prairie Trail – Turner River Scenic Loop

Located within the Big Cypress National Preserve, this 5 mile trail (2.5 each way) follows an old road to an abandoned oil well. The terrain is flat through a large wet prairie. Depending on the time of year you may see blooming ground orchids and swamp lilies. It is great place to get a feel for the vast Big Cypress Swamp, sometimes called the Western Everglades.


Fakahatchee Strand Swamp Walk

A few miles west of Fire Prairie is Fakahatchee Strand State Park, part of the Big Cypress Swamp. Think of a strand as a broad, shallow tree-filled river. The park biologist, Mike Owen, offers periodic swamp walks and this is a hike you don’t want to miss. Fakahatchee is home to some of the rarest bromeliads and orchids in North America. Mike knows everything about the swamp and is eager to share his knowledge.


Nike Missile Site Tour

One of the Everglade’s most unusual secrets is so off the wall I can’t resist mentioning it. This guided tour leaves from the Everglades National Park’s Ernest Coe Visitor Center in Homestead. The 1960s nuclear standoff between the US and the old Soviet Union over Soviet missiles in Cuba brought us to the brink of war. This tour takes you to one of the formerly secret Nike Missile Bases that was part of this standoff. Call for reservations.

If you want to experience the Everglades up close and personal, include enough time in your visit to take in several, if not all, of these ‘secret’ adventures. •

from the September-October 2011 issue


Shark Valley Visitor Center


Picnic Key


Turner River Scenic Loop


Ernest Coe Visitor Center


Fakahatchee Strand State Park