With around a million acres of wilderness, the Everglades has more outdoors than you can shake a well-worn field guide at. The most popular tourist pursuits are well documented, and most localities have opportunities for the Everglader-about-town to enjoy airboat tours, kayaking trips, swamp safaris or bird-watching excursions.
Everglades National Park
The unique ‘rivers of grass’ offer a number of alternative pursuits, though, and whilst they may not be everyone’s cup of subtropical rainwater, those looking for an undeniably authentic Everglades experience can easily find themselves a refreshingly different perspective.
Hitting the hiking trails is a perfect addition to the list of Floridian diversions, especially as the Florida Trail is one of only eight National Scenic Trails in the U.S. Its southern terminus is plum in the middle of the Everglades National Park, and for 40 miles, hikers can weave through the primordial swamp, flanked by huge ferns and delicate orchids. There’s a natural hub in the form of the Big Cypress National Preserve, where sawgrass prairies have inspired hikers to compare the landscape to the African Serengeti.
By becoming a member of the Florida Trail Association , hikers can roam through the Seminole Tribe of Florida reservation, and when tired feet are impossible to ignore, there are educational stops at Billie Swamp Safari and the Ah-Tha-Thi-Ki Museum, where curious or plain tired walkers can learn more about the Seminoles and their relationship to the surrounding environment.
Land-lubbers need to be quite single-minded in the Everglades, though, as the hundreds of thousands of flooded acres are a seductively natural place for kayaks and canoes. If you couldn’t contemplate heading out on the water without a rod in your hand, the Everglades provides travelling fishermen and women a chance to participate in one of the fastest–growing segments of the fishing industry.
Kayak fishing is a game of shallow water stealth, and the flat boats can take the keen angler into otherwise inaccessible nooks, and a chance to hook a likely candidate for dinner whilst surrounding yourself with the outstanding beauty of the park.
The area of Chokoloskee and Ten Thousand Islands provides a fishing platform like no other, and only 90 minutes from Miami puts you square in the middle of a maze of untamed mangrove islands, literally teeming with marine life. You can charter a guided paddle, or even be dropped off by a mothership in the Everglades backcountry.
On the longer trips, a camp is set up on one of the remote beaches and the kayaks are paddled out to track down snook, tarpon, redfish, trout, snapper and even shark. The promise of a hearty cook-out is incentive enough for any angler to stay eagle-eyed.
The Everglades has yet another option up its sleeve.
For those who are caught twixt dry land and messing about on the water, there’s a middle ground, and it’s wet enough to satisfy anyone’s amphibious urges.
A swamp walking tour may sound as inviting as a mosquito sandwich, but it’s an activity that is growing in popularity as people discover that it’s a safe yet adventurous way to experience the true nature of the Everglades.
As the name suggests, there is a certain amount of having to walk about in a swamp. There’s the water/upper legs interface to get used to and the fear of being mauled by alligators to be banished – not easy when unidentified objects brush up against your legs, but with a little faith in your guide and an open mind on dampness issues, swamp walking tours are truly rewarding.
It’s all very well gawking at the swamps from the highway or dry ground, but the park can be more truly experienced when you’re wading through it. The murky water and clammy atmosphere seem alien at first, but the swamp smells and insects buzzing past your ears soon become familiar enough. The lapping waters even take on something of an enveloping, womb-like character.
The knowledgeable guides steer you through the mire, and are on hand to point out the natural highlights, which might include anything from hawks to insects to rare ferns.
The most famous swamp walking tours take place in and around the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve on the west edge of the Everglades, where 70,000 acres of wilderness await those with a botanical nose. The main draw is the unrivalled access to over 40 varieties of orchid – the most densely populated area in the U.S. (The pursuit featured in the film Adaptation).
It’s trails like these that are making swamp walking tours newly sought after activities in the national park. A change of attitude to long stretches knee-deep in muddy terrain, a set of clothes you will never want to wear again are all you need – you’ll come away with a whole new viewpoint of nature to compensate for your soggy feet.