Royal Palm walking trails offer much to see

FLORIDA CITY, Fla.— With the economy in its current state, more and more people are opting for the “stay-cation.”

Instead of weeklong trips to the beaches of Mexico or ski lodges up north, some are saving their hard-earned dollars by relaxing right at home.

Of course, curling up with a movie and popcorn in the middle of the day may not appeal to the more adventurous vacationer, especially when South Florida weather in November is often too good to pass up.

Luckily for those in need of something more, Everglades National Park here in South Miami-Dade County is the perfect getaway for anyone on a tight budget and a tight schedule.

Although one afternoon at Everglades is nowhere near enough time to cover the entire park, which comes in just third in size after Death Valley National Park in California and Yellowstone National Park in Montana, those short on time will find that a few hours relaxing and walking the Anhinga Trail and Gumbo Limbo Trail is an excellent way to take a break from a busy and stressful city lifestyle.

Before even starting the walk, it’s clear that Everglades is far from the fuss and commotion of urban Miami. The wilderness seems to go on forever, and although many park visitors may cover the path of the Anhinga Trail, they keep their voices low so as not to startle any animals hiding in the tall grass. The calmness of the marsh greatly overcomes the number of visitors walking across the bridges.

One first-time visitor, a University of Miami student taking a break from her studies to explore a side of Florida she has not yet seen, gazes out at the endless skyline.

“I like the peacefulness here,” said Susan Peavy, a Pennsylvania native with an affinity for the outdoors. “It’s an escape from the hustle and bustle and from my Miami neighborhood.”

The Anhinga Trail winds through the marshes for half a mile, throughout the course of which various birds land close to the boardwalks and fish and turtles swim underfoot. Alligators, raccoons, noisy bullfrogs and snakes inhabit the area, although on a busier day the abundance of people on the trail could deter the animals from getting too close. In November, the alligators tend to stay in the deeper water, in what is referred to as the “slough.”

Those serious about seeing alligators during their visit will have to travel further to the southwest into the park toward Flamingo. But to observe the wide array of bird species and simply enjoy the quiet calm of the park, no further travel is necessary.

After finishing the Anhinga Trail, walk back towards the Royal Palm Visitor Center and enter the Gumbo Limbo Trail. While the Anhinga Trail is more open and explores the wetlands of the park, the Gumbo Limbo Trail winds through the more wooded sections of the area and offers a closer look at different animal species.

Plant and insect enthusiasts will enjoy the Gumbo Limbo Trail, which also takes visitors on a half-mile path. Butterflies float across the hammock, and the bark mantis can be found at the trunks of the royal palm trees.

For this forested area, insect repellent is absolutely necessary prior to embarking on the trail. Signs also caution against poisonous plants, although the well-maintained path makes it easy to observe the plant and animal life without worrying too much about coming into contact with a dangerous leaf.

While creatures such as alligators or turtles are more prone to swimming in the sloughs that mark the Anhinga Trail, the Gumbo Limbo Trail includes solution holes formed by dissolved limestone. Occasionally, during the dry season, animals go to these areas to drink water, and there are signs throughout the trail reminding visitors to keep their distance from the local alligators.

The Gumbo Limbo Trail has much less human traffic than the Anhinga Trail, and walking through the shaded hammock you are likely to forget that the city of Miami is only 30 miles away.

After exploring both trails, visitors may be inclined to rest at a picnic table outside the Royal Palm Visitor Center, or peruse the books and other items at the small shop within the central area. On your way out, the Ernest Coe Visitor Center includes an open exhibit that highlights information on the wildlife species found throughout Everglades National Park.

A night on the town in Miami can be a costly affair and a weekend road trip to Disney World will set you back much more. The unique animal species and peace of mind you will discover during a day on the self-guided walking tours of the Everglades are among many reasons to take advantage of the natural beauty located right in our South Florida backyard.


If You Go

Total cost = $10 to enter park in a car
Total time = two to four hours
Visitor information 305-242-7700

How to get there
Travelers coming from the Miami area can take Florida’s Turnpike south and easily follow signs to the main entrance of the park. Driving is easiest on weekends, especially before noon. However, a word of caution: check the NASCAR schedule before making travel plans. The Homestead-Miami Speedway tends to crowd the roads, and if impatient race fans are not your cup of tea, you could be in for a long morning.

What to bring
Weather in South Florida during the late fall and early winter can vary from sunny and hot to breezy and cool. Even on a hot day, extra sweatshirts are packing essentials, since the temperature can be lower in the shady, wooded areas of the Gumbo Limbo Trail. No matter the temperature, avoid sandals, and stick to close-toed sneakers or hiking shoes for the best walking experience. Be sure to also include insect repellent, sunscreen, and a camera to capture any encounters with the park’s abundant wildlife.

Hitting the trails
After arriving at the Ernest Coe Visitor Center and picking up a map from the information desk, follow the road for four more miles to the Royal Palm Visitor Center. From here you can begin your self-guided walking tour.

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