5 memorable hikes in Everglades National Park for gators, waders and more


In Everglades National Park, you’ll find 1.5 million acres of canals, miles of marshes and tons of sub-tropical critters – but not so many hiking routes.

In fact, outdoorsy types will find fewer than three dozen formal trails in the entirety of this South Florida preserve, many of which are short interpretive trails less than a mile long. Plus, with entrances to the park in three separate cities that are many miles apart, you need approach the park with a precise plan for seeking out just the right experience.

Yet the trails you will find are ones you won’t soon forget. Regardless of where your Everglades hiking adventure takes you, you can be sure the route will be flat (this is Florida, after all) and that you’ll have the chance to get up to close to the park’s nearly 400 bird species, lush flora and – yes – perhaps a gator or two. Just make sure to pack sun-protective clothing, sunscreen and bug repellant for any Everglades hike to mitigate sun- or mosquito-related headaches.

Now that you have all you need, you’re ready to set out. Here are the five best hikes within Everglades National Park.

Two men hiking a grassy trail in in Florida Everglades National Park, Florida, USA
Be sure to take sunscreen and insect repellant when hiking in the Everglades © George Burba / Shutterstock

1. Bear Lake Trail

Best hike with a little history
3.2 miles (5.1km) round trip, 1–2 hours, moderate

Trickling alongside the Bear Lake Trail, you’ll see the Homestead Canal, which was constructed in 1922 to funnel freshwater from the marshland out to sea. The project’s (dubious) goal? To create a drier piece of land for future development. The result? Just the opposite, as saltwater entered what had been a freshwater ecosystem, forever creating a hybrid habitat in that portion of the park.

Located two miles north of the Flamingo Visitor Center in Homestead, the trail itself features more than 50 different tree species, with hardwood hammocks towering above, culminating in a sweeping vista of Bear Lake with dots of mangrove islands. Regular maintenance has ceased on Bear Lake Trail recently as the park prioritizes protecting the Cape Sable thoroughwort, a small purple-hued sunflower. So count on wearing sturdier hiking shoes to navigate the periodic thick grass patches and downed branches.

A man wades through water as he hikes the Florida National Scenic Trail, Big Cypress Nature Preserve, Florida, USA
Hiking in the Everglades can be a buggy, muddy affair – so set out prepared © Made For More Productions / Shutterstock

2. Christian Point Trail

Best hike through diverse Florida landscapes
3.6 miles (5.79km) round trip, 2–3 hours, difficult

Some of the shorter trails in Everglades National Park deliver one vibe; this challenging hike is multifaceted. You’ll find the trailhead one mile north of the Flamingo Visitor Center – and once you set out, you’ll discover that the trail’s difficulty stems from its jagged terrain, including thick mangrove patches and sporadic debris from hurricanes of yesteryear. A stretch of open prairie provides a nice reprieve on dry days.

If rain is in the forecast or the area has seen recent downpours, prepare for a muddy experience. Even the flattest prairies are a slushy mud-fest, so bring the right pants and boots. And, yes, with standing water in the Everglades come mosquitos, so pack your bug repellant. 

Two people stand on a boardwalk looking out over a body of water filled with lily pads and surrounded by tall grass
The boardwalks of the Anhinga Trail are among the easiest trails in the Everglades © BlueBarronPhoto / Shutterstock

3. Anhinga Trail

Best hike for families
0.8 miles (1.3km) round trip, less than 1 hour, easy

It will be a revelation to learn that such a variety of Everglades wildlife can be packed into a less-than-a-mile stretch. This pristinely paved trail – with portions of well-kept and railed wooden boardwalks hovering over the marshland – is perhaps your easiest and best chance to see turtles and a hearty selection of the Everglades’ bird species. To access the Anhinga Trail trailhead, venture to the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center in Homestead and head approximately four miles south to the Royal Palm Visitors Center. The trailhead is around 50ft behind the building.

The bulk of this hike is in unshaded terrain and surrounded by standing water, so pack extra bug repellant. If this quick hike leaves you and yours wanting more, the 0.4-mile Gumbo Limbo Trail, draped in massive hammock trees, is a stone’s throw from the visitor center.

Young adults camp on beach in Middle Cape Sable in Everglades National Park, Florida, USA
Backcountry, beachfront camping offers an extra does of adventure in Everglades National Park © Francisco Blanco / Shutterstock

4. Coastal Prairie Trail

Best hike for a camping adventure
7.5 miles (12km) one-way trip, 3–4 hours, difficult

Situated near the park’s southwesternmost edge, this hike is worth…the hike. The trailhead lies within a quick stroll of the Flamingo Visitor Center – which is also home to a drive-in campground with nearly 300 sites. The Flamingo Campground is well equipped for those who don’t like to be disconnected: this is one of the few spots in the park where cell reception is typically reliable and there are solar-heated showers. Just make sure to book a reservation in advance, particularly during the area’s peak season of December through April.

The trail itself offers an east-to-west shot through a mix of open prairies and muddy terrain. You’ll want to wear long pants through the thicker forest sections as pesky mangrove roots, thorns and debris from recent storms can persist. The trail culminates at the white-sand Clubhouse Beach, which has plenty of space to plop a tent. If you decide to camp overnight, snag a backcountry permit at the Flamingo Visitor Center or online ahead of time.

A boy looks out from the Shark Valley Observation Tower, Everglades National Park, Florida, USA
The Shark Valley Observation Tower is the tallest structure for miles in super-flat Everglades National Park © AlpamayoPhoto / Getty Images

5. Shark Valley Tram Road

Best hike for a gator encounter
15 miles (24.1km), round trip, 4–5 hours, easy

The “tram” in the name is deceiving: this trail is a hot spot for bikers and hikers. Just south of the Tamiami Trail and 40 miles west of downtown Miami, this paved route that resembles a narrow north-to-south oval is located just below Shark Valley Visitor Center. Along the way – and particularly toward the beginning of the trail – count on seeing some gators bathing in the sun in the adjacent canals. 

From there, a popular stop is its midpoint: the Shark Valley Observation Tower. With a ramp that winds to a 70ft-high pinnacle, this is the highest point accessible by foot in the park. While it’s flat and paved, if you’re going to commit to walking this trail, come prepared. There is zero shade along the route, limited water opportunities and the sole bathroom facility (aside from Shark Valley Visitor Center) is at the observation tower.

A roseate spoonbill takes off in a marsh in Everglades National Park, Florida, USA
You never know what wildlife you’ll see in the rich ecosystem of the Everglades ©  Moelyn Photos / Getty Images

Need more expert advice on the Everglades and Everglades National Park?

Consider these top things to do
Learn about how to experience the Everglades with kids
Cover some ground on these Everglades road trips



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