The Best Everglades Attractions Are At Ernest Coe Visitor Center
The Everglades National Park itself is massive, covering 1.5 million acres with 5 entrances to the different centers scattered throughout.
Just outside the Everglades Park's main entrance on Highway 9336 is the Ernest Coe entrance. This is the best Everglades place to go for orientation and getting useful Florida Everglades facts.
Royal Palm Nature Center Courtesy of National Park Service on YouTube
This entrance will also take you 39 miles further west through the Park to Flamingo Visitor Center if you have the time. If you do decide to go the full distance, there's no way out except for the way you came in.
Prepare to retrace your steps, and perhaps break up the different sightseeing stops along the way so you'll have activities coming and going. Flamingo is a rather remote location, but worth the time if you can spare it. If you can't, don't worry.
However, it is called Flamingo for a reason. If you're going to see flamingo's this is usually a likely spot, and is where my husband and I saw our first wild flamingos and a Florida manatee, all on the same day!
Alligator Sunning on Reed Pile in Everglades
Out of all the Everglades Park locations, Ernest Coe is perhaps the most informative. It's also very close to one of the Park's best spots. Once you leave Ernest Coe and pay to enter the Park you're just a few hundred feet from a sign marking the way to Royal Palm Nature Center and Gumbo Limbo Trail.
Following the sign, you will turn left (south) and continue on the road which ends a short distance ahead at the Nature Center on your left. Royal Palm isn't one of the official Everglades Visitor Centers but it's the gateway to a world unto itself.
Welcome Area at Royal Palm Nature Center
Royal Palm Nature Center and Gumbo Limbo Trail are an incredible introduction to the Florida Everglades. There have been times when we've visited and only had an hour or two to spare. By simply stopping off at Royal Palm we saw everything we could possibly want to see.
This area is loaded with a great variety of flora and fauna, and is broken down into two sections. First you have the shady, path lined Gumbo Limbo Trail with it's natural dense hammock of tropical trees.
Entrance to Gumbo Limbo Trail
The second area at Royal Palm Nature Center is out in the open, and you need to be prepared for this walk. If possible, you should have sunscreen, a hat, mosquito spray (a must in non-winter months), sunglasses, camera and binoculars.
As you begin your walk along the swamp you'll quickly see and hear a variety of Florida wildlife. Bullfrogs croaking are one of the first things you'll hear, and keep a lookout for turtles in the water or resting on lily pads.
Florida Softshell Turtle Surfacing
You'll spot anhinga on the fence, in the trees, or on the banks sitting with their wings spread to dry off after swimming underwater after fish.
Groups of ibis are almost friendly as they casually stroll around pecking for bugs, and giant egrets will be off in the reeds or in the water hunting for fish.
Group of Juvenile White Ibis Feeding
Of course everyone comes to Everglades National Park to see
Florida alligator. Here at Royal Palm Hammock, you're guaranteed to find plenty of alligators. Whether they're lying in the water, lounging on a sunny bank, or slowly moving through the water - they're almost everywhere you look.
Baby alligators are a lot of fun to spot and watch. They're often seen at the beginning of the walk, in the narrow stretch of water that runs along the path to your left and is protected from behind by the thick reed beds.
Alligator Lying Near Platform at Royal Palm Nature Center
As you continue your walk along the asphalt path you'll see that there are different sections leading you onto a boardwalk. Save those exits for later and continue straight ahead. The path will lead you to a platform overlooking a large swampy area that is filled with very large alligator, fish, turtles and various species of birds.
Retrace your steps a few feet and you can enter the first section of the elevated boardwalk. This takes you directly out over the swampy water, and through the towering reeds that make up much of the Everglades. As you stroll the boardwalk, keep looking down as well as up. In the water you'll see different turtle, fish, snakes, and alligator.
Bromeliad Blooming Over the Water
As you look around, don't forget to take note of the different vegetation. You'll be able to spot bromeliads possibly flowering in the trees. If it's spring you'll also see the rounded fruit hanging on the Alligator Apple Tree (aka Pond Apple). This non-poisonous fruit is a delicacy alligators and turtles adore, but for humans the taste resembles turpentine.
You'll enjoy watching the anhingas sit on branches with their wings spread out, drying themselves off after another successful dive for fish.
Anhinga Drying Off After Fishing at Everglades National Park Florida
You'll also see different species of turtle and frog peaking out from the tall reeds that line the boardwalks. You'll be surprised by the variety of birds, butterflies and other Florida wildlife you may spot while walking along the banks.
You'll also spot white ibis perched in the trees further out in the swamp. You may even spot roseate spoonbill, osprey, giant egret or great blue herons flying by, or hunting for food.
Great Blue Heron Hunting at Everglades National Park
While you're at any of the locations in the Everglades National Park, if time permits, also plan on a taking a guided Ranger program. You can call any of the Everglades Visitors Centers in advance to find out what Ranger programs are being conducted, and when.
The Rangers help put everything you see in the Park into a more understandable perspective. They can answer questions, and point out birds, mammals and reptiles that the untrained eye may miss. They also explain the importance of the Everglades and the delicate ecosystem that makes up this critical habitat.
Turtle Near the Boardwalk at Royal Palm Nature Center
Even if you're only able to go to one of the Everglades Visitor Centers, by allowing extra time for a Ranger tour, you'll find your experience is immeasurably enhanced.
However, not everyone has a lot of time, and if you're operating on a tight schedule, the most informative, entertaining and photo producing spot will be the hour or two you spend at Royal Palm Nature Center. You'll come here and leave feeling very satisfied.
A Fun Florida Attraction Before Going To Ernest Coe Everglades National Park
But... before you go, there's one stop you MUST make. It's basically a tradition for anyone going to the Everglades Park, who's traveling through the main entrance. It's also a stop you won't want to miss. Trust me! On the way to the Park, a few miles just west of Homestead is a place called "Robert is Here".
There's an interesting story attached to this place. In 1960, a father decided to plunk his young boy down beside the road with some fruit with a sign saying "Robert Is Here". That boy has now turned that tiny fruit stand into the bustling venture it is today.
The place is famous for it's fresh supply of produce and veggies, but it's the tropical milkshakes that keep people coming back! Any combination of flavors you can imagine are here for you to choose from, and they're fresh and absolutely delicious.
It's almost impossible to imagine continuing on to the Florida Everglades without one of these delicious shakes to drink, and perhaps some tasty fruit purchased to snack on later. The kids will also love the fact that Robert has various animals for them to view, and a couple of ridiculously large tortoises you'll be surprised to see.
"Robert Is Here" is a Tasty Florida Everglades Tradition
Overview of the 5 Everglades Visitor Centers
40001 State Rd. 9336
Homestead, FL 33034
Out of all the Everglades Visitor Centers, this is the main one and it's open 365 days a year from 9 am - 5 pm. Hours are also subject to change. Educational displays, films, brochures are available in the Visitor Center, and the Gift Shop has numerous items including mosquito spray. Restrooms are on the premises.
Outside, a number of interesting walking trails are within a short drive of this Everglades Visitor Center. Some of the trails are longer and will require more time.
Check the brochure you received when paying at any of the Everglades Visitor Centers Entrance Gate for details. This will tell you where the trails are, their length and how much time to allow for each one.
From Miami and areas north
Drive south on Florida Turnpike (Route 821). At Florida City, Florida Turnpike merges with US 1. Turn right at first traffic light onto Palm Drive (SR 9336/SW 344th St) and follow Park signs.
From Florida Keys
Drive north on US 1 and in Florida City turn left on Palm Drive and follow Park signs to Everglades Visitor Centers.
Endangered Wood Stork Splashes Through the Swamp
Flamingo Everglades Visitor Center
Flamingo Visitor Center is in the same part of the Park as Ernest Coe, but it's at the furthest end of the road. The Center is open 365 days a year typically from 9 am - 4:30 pm. The lobby is open 24/7 and has self-registration for backcountry camping sites.
You access Flamingo via the Park's main entrance (see Ernest Coe) and it lies at the end of the Park's 39 mile road.
There are numerous pull outs and stops along the way for sightseeing, some of which can take an hour or more if you choose.
If you're going to stop at all the points of interest along the way, you'll need to plan on 4 - 6 hours before arriving at Flamingo Visitor Center.
If you drive straight through you'll need to plan on an hour. This is quite a remote location so hours can change. It's advisable to call ahead before making the drive to Flamingo as weather or even seasonal events can affect operation hours.
Like the other Everglades Visitor Centers, this one includes educational displays, brochures. However it also has permits for entering the backcountry. Restrooms are available, and campgrounds, marina and store, several hiking and canoeing trails are near the center.
With some luck you should also see beautiful flamingo and over by the marina, watch for
manatee in the water channels.
From Miami and areas north
Drive south on Florida Turnpike (Route 821). At Florida City, the Turnpike merges with US Hwy 1. Turn right at first traffic light onto Palm Drive (SR 9336/SW 344th St) and follow Park signs.
From Florida Keys
Drive north on US 1 and in Florida City turn left on Palm Drive and follow Park signs. Once you enter the Park, you'll travel about 39 miles before reaching Flamingo.
Kayaking Flamingo Visitor Center At Everglades National Park State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, Dept. of Commerce
Shark Valley Everglades Visitor Center
36000 SW 8th St.
Miami, FL 33194
Shark Valley Visitor Center is north of the main entrance. This Center is open 24/7 from 9:15 am to 5:15 pm but hours are subject to change.
Educational displays, films, and brochures are at the Visitor Center, while books, postcards, and other items are available at the Gift Shop. Restrooms are on site.
Shark Valley Tram Tours provides guided tram tours, bicycle rentals and snacks. Two walking trails via the main trail are also accessible and are comfortably short in length.
From Florida Turnpike heading north or south
Tamiami Trail / Hwy 41 (SW 8th St.) runs east and west across the peninsula. The Center is located at the eastern end of Hwy 41, about 25 miles west of the Florida Turnpike and Miami area. If you're coming from the north and are on the Florida Turnpike take exit 25A and travel west. If you're coming from the south take exit 25 and travel west to Shark Valley Visitor Center.
From the Naples/Ft. Myers area
Travel east on U.S. 41 (Tamiami Trail) approximately 70 miles to Shark Valley Visitor Center.
White Ibis at Everglades State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, Photo Credit Mary Lou Norwood
Gulf Coast Everglades Visitor Center
815 Oyster Bar Lane
Everglades City, Florida 34139
Mid-April to Mid-November hours are 9:00 am to 4:30 pm
Mid-November to Mid-April hours are 8:00 am to 4:30 pm They're also subject to change.
Another of the Everglades Visitor Centers, this one is located at the furthest north and west end of the Park.
This Everglades Visitor Center has displays, films, brochures and permits for entering the backcountry. Restrooms are on premises and boat tours and kayak rentals are available nearby. The area also has lodging, campgrounds, stores and restaurants in the vicinity.
From Florida Turnpike heading north or south
If you're coming from the north and are on the Turnpike take exit 25A and travel west on Hwy 41 / Tamiami Trail. If you're coming from the south take exit 25 and travel west on Hwy 41 / Tamiami Trail. Travel about 64 miles west to Everglades City. Turn south on SR 49 and follow park signs to Visitor Center on the right.
From the Naples/Ft. Myers area
Travel East on U.S. 41 (Tamiami Trail) approximately 32 miles to Everglades City. Turn south on Hwy 29 and travel 5 miles to Everglades City, following park signs to Visitor Center on the right.
From Interstate 75 / Alligator Alley
Traveling east or west on Alligator Alley, take exit 80 turning south on Hwy 29. Travel 20 miles to Everglades City and follow park signs to Visitor Center on the right.
Everglades National Park NW Corner Boundary Sign at Gulf Coast
Chekika Everglades Visitor Center
24200 SW 160th Street
This Everglades Visitors Centers hours are very seasonal, and it's the least frequented. It's also the closest to Miami and is the furthest east location.
Chekika is only open from December 1 - April 30. The rest of the year it's closed due to the risk of flooding from the rainy season.
The main area of the park is open dawn to dusk during months of operation. This section of the Florida Everglades also has no amenities so you'll need to be self-contained bringing water, snacks, bug spray, and sunscreen. Picnic facilities and portable restrooms are on site. Brochures for a self-guided hiking trail through a hardwood hammock are available.
From Miami / Homestead area
About 36 miles from downtown Miami and 18 miles from Homestead, Florida. Take the Dolphin Expressway (State Road 836) to the Palmetto Expressway (State Road 826) or the Homestead Extension of the Florida Turnpike. Exit the Palmetto or the Turnpike at Kendall Drive (SW 88th Street), and go west to Krome Avenue (SW 177th Avenue). Turn left and travel south about 5 miles to SW 168th Street. Turn right and go west about 6 miles to 237th Avenue. Turn right and go north about 1 mile. Turn left on 160th Street, and you'll be facing west with the entrance to Chekika just ahead.
Traveling from the south
Take Florida Turnpike to Eureka Drive (SW 184th Street). Go west to Krome Avenue (SW 177th Avenue), and turn north to SW 168th Street. OR take Krome Avenue due north from Homestead to SW 168th Street and follow directions above.
Alligator and Turtle Side by Side at Everglades National Park
Everglades Visitor Centers help guests understand that there's more to this region than alligator and pink flamingo.
Once you've had a chance to watch a film, speak with a ranger, go on a walking tour and see the wildlife around you, you'll realize how important and special this area is.
Every time you visit you'll find something new, unique and interesting. Depending on the time of year, you'll discover different migratory species in the area.
The local Florida wildlife also have times of day when viewing is better, with many being more visible at dawn and at dusk.
There are also numerous invasive species such as the python, anaconda, and iguana, that while damaging, provide exciting photography opportunities.
Iguana Are An Invasive Species In The Florida Keys And The Everglades
On your next Florida vacation, you'll find that the Florida Everglades are a wondrous place to visit. Constantly in flux, this area is home to an amazing array of creatures just waiting for you to discover and photograph.
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