Everglades offers bird watching, hiking fun
HOMESTEAD, Fla–Bird watching and hiking are two activities that are often stereotyped as an activity for overly enthusiastic nature lovers. Yet, at Everglades National Park, participating in these activities is exceedingly easy for first-timers, while still being very enjoyable for those who are seasoned experts.
The 1.5 million acre park’s main entrance is located in Homestead and provides vehicles access to the Pine Island and Flamingo areas of the national park. These two areas offer a wide variety of trails for hiking as well as various opportunities to bird watch.
A red-eared slider suns itself on a branch in the Everglades National Park near Homestead, Fla. (Photo by Isabel Brador).
For visitors who want to ease their way into either activity the Pine Island area of the park gives guests a chance to experience hiking and bird watching without being intimidated. The first trail inexperienced hikers should attempt is the fairly popular Anhinga Trail. It is fully paved and begins a few feet away from a small park shop selling cooled beverages and bug spray.
The trail features a boardwalk and wide paved roads that allow guests to glimpse wildlife such as alligators and various species of birds. The birds are quite comfortable with guests and many will allow visitors to come close enough to photograph. Yet, a word to the wise, leave the wildlife alone. It is illegal to harass wildlife and can result in hefty fines.
A less frequented trail due to its narrow and winding path is Gumbo Limbo, which takes guests through the underbrush of the Everglades and past various large specimens of the namesake Gumbo Limbo tree. Guests can see the brightly colored bark of the trees stick out amongst the dense green vegetation on either side. While it is still paved, guests are advised to be alert and mind their step at all times since the pavement can be uneven or narrow.
The Gumbo Limbo Trail offers an opportunity for inexperienced hikers to view nature in a quieter atmosphere.
According to park volunteer Carmen Ferreiro each trail in the national park allows visitors to experience the Everglades’ diverse ecosystem in a unique way.
“Each trail gives visitors a glimpse at a unique habitat in the Everglades, and gives them a unique view of that ecosystem,” Ferreiro stated.
While the Anhinga Trail allows guests to experience the swampier and more aquatic habitats of the park, the Gumbo Limbo Trail offers guests the opportunity to walk through the cool hammocks of the Everglades and showcases one of the numerous species of flora that can be found throughout the park.
However, both trails are wonderful for bird watching. Since the Anhinga Trail is right along the water guests have a better opportunity for seeing a variety of birds due to the fact that they are near a natural food source.
A Florida alligator suns itself in the shallow bay at the end of the Anhinga Trail in Everglades National Park (Photo by Isabel Brador).
Guests who are new to bird watching should print the online resource provided by the park on its website to familiarize themselves with the various species, a basic bird watching book with color photographs could also help. These books are available for purchase at the Coe Visitor’s Center at the main entrance. They could also be purchased cheaply online or at a local bookstore. Check out which mobile apps by service providers as well, some apps are quite good, especially for their low cost.
For hikers and bird watchers who are more experienced or for first-timers who want a challenge the unpaved trails of the Flamingo area of the park are excellent opportunities to strengthen their skills. They allow visitors to experience the foliage and fauna of the Everglades ecosystem at close range.
Mosquito repellent is a must in these areas where puddles often accumulate on the dirt paths. Guests should also be mindful of other insect life. While many are harmless, arachnids like the banana spider can startle the hardiest of hikers if caught unaware.
One of the best trails to combine hiking and bird watching is Snake Bight Trail at Flamingo. The word “bight” refers to the bay in which the trail ends. Visitors can experience optimal bird watching on the boardwalk along the bay especially during high tide.
The Flamingo area trails are optimal for woodland bird watching. It is important to note that since the trails have denser foliage, birds may be harder to spot and the terrain slightly more difficult to navigate.
One of the easier trails is Rowdy Bend which was a former road bank. The trail winds through coastal prairie, which is great for sighting small mammals, and through small hammocks of trees. The diversity of foliage is one of the main reasons visitors are able to view a wide variety of bird species.
Yet, whether guests visit the park to bird watch, hike or participate in the various other activities such as biking or canoeing, the national park’s main mission focus includes preservation and visitor accessibility.
|An anhinga spreads it wings and suns itself on the rails in front of the entrance to its namesake Anhinga Trail in Everglades National Park (Photo by Isabel Brador).|
While these may seem to be on opposite sides of the spectrum, the park manages to preserve the unique ecosystem that is the Everglades while still giving guests numerous opportunities for up close and personal experiences with the wildlife.
“My favorite part of the park is the wildlife and the unique environment, but also seeing visitors get out there and experience the park. I think that’s what keeps the park alive as well as protected…. The park balances a unique relationship between conservation and making sure visitors are able to enjoy the environment they’re in,” said Ferreiro.
The point of the national park is not only to provide visitors with ways to participate in outdoor activities, but to show them the beauty of the unique ecosystem that is the Everglades and why its resources need to be protected. Tourists and locals alike will not be able to appreciate or respect an ecosystem if they have never seen it firsthand.
“The Everglades are important part of our ecosystem and need to be protected. I don’t think many people realize how it important it is until they actually see it,” said par visitor Vanessa Rivera.
Visitors can also access the park through either the Shark Valley entrance west of Miami or the Gulf Coast entrance located in Everglades City. Each entrance has a unique set of trails and visitors are encouraged to visit the Everglades National Park website (www.nps.gov/ever/index.htm) to familiarize themselves with these options.
If You Go:
- Address: 40001 State Road 9336, Homestead, Fla., 33034
- Admission: $10 per car or $5 for pedestrians and cyclists
- Times: Ernest Coe Visitor Center, Open Year-round 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., park is opened 24 hours
- Phone: 305-242-7700
- Website: http://www.nps.gov/ever/index.htm