Biking at Shark Valley offers wildlife views
SHARK VALLEY, Fla. – An alligator is on the bike path – again. Sunning itself languidly, the gator pays no regard to passersby as they snap photographs at a dangerously close distance, preferring instead to focus on filling its cold blood with the sun’s warm rays.
“We’re from Canada. We’ve never seen anything like this,” said Carl Drapen, who was visiting the area with his wife, Camilla. “I’ve never seen a wild animal up close!”
|At right, the observation tower at the ride’s halfway point allows 360-degree views of Everglades National Park (Photos by Morgan Golumbuk).|
Although the alligators and various other flora and fauna are the true highlight of Everglades Natural Park, the journey is truly the destination at Shark Valley Visitor Center here at the north entrance to the park, about 40 miles west of downtown Miami.
For $8.50 per hour, park guests can rent a bike from Shark Valley Tram Tours and begin a 15-mile journey through the “river of grass.” Relaxing for some and great exercise for all, the paved path is a chance to see Everglades wildlife in its natural habitat.
“This path is what I love most about this park,” said frequent Everglades visitor Randi Blatts. “I can truly experience everything at my own pace…I love it.”
The path begins at the Shark Valley Visitor Center, where guests stock up on any water they may need for their trek, as there are no spigots or other water sources along the path.
|Click on the video at the right to view an audio slideshow about bicycling at Shark Valley prepared by writer Morgan Golumbuk.|
“The last thing I want is to get dehydrated on a 15-mile bike ride into the middle of nowhere,” said Drapen. “You’d have to send a tram after me!”
He’s referring to the Shark Valley trams, which take visitors on an open air ride through the park should they forgo the biking. The guided tours are two hours long and give insight into the Everglades ecosystem.
The route, whether biked or toured via tram, is the same – but opposite and self-guided. Bikers start on the east side of the circular path and trams start on the west side, ensuring that any passing is harmless to both parties.
The path, when biked alone, is blissfully silent. At times, the only sound is the whistle through the sawgrass prairies and the occasional flit of a restless bird. The sing of tires on pavement seems almost natural, at one with the surroundings.
Approximately five miles from the starting point, the Observation Tower comes into view. For the next two miles, it becomes the focal point of the journey and the emblematic halfway point for weary riders.
Once the Observation Tower is reached at the far end of the loop, 360-degree views of the Everglades stretch as far as the eye can see. Upon descent, only eight miles remain.
|At right, an alligator lurks in the Everglades’ murky shallows. Below, alligators sun themselves on the path quite frequently, allowing for great photo opportunities.|
“The ride is tough – especially with the heat,” said Blatts. “But that’s just part of the experience. It’s the Everglades!”
Although still considered part of the city of Miami, Shark Valley Visitor Center provides a national park experience that is a world away from the every day clamor of the city. It provides a chance for visitors to experience something brand new just outside the comforts of the city they know and love, including getting up close and personal with Florida’s most fearsome residents.
“I want to come here every day!” said Ransom Everglades School sixth grader Miles Tarvis. “An alligator almost bit my bike…it was awesome!”
If You Go
Directions (to Shark Valley Visitor Center, 36000 SW 8th St., Miami, Fla. 33194).
From Miami, Shark Valley Visitor Center is located on U.S. Hwy. 41 (Tamiami Trail / SW 8th Street) 25 miles west of the Florida Turnpike, exit 25A (from the north) and exit 25 (from the south).
Admission to the park is $10 per car and parking at Shark Valley is located at the Visitor Center. Admission is valid for 10 days after it is purchased, should you choose to return.
What to Bring
- Water (vending machines are available at the Visitor Center if you need more)
- A hat or helmet (the latter being required under the age of 16)
- Comfortable close-toed shoes for biking