The Everglades National Park is one of the most visited places in the entire United States. It’s located at the very southern tip of Florida – around a 1 hour drive from Miami – and is one of the few remaining places on the East coast where its possible to surround yourself by nature and get close to native wildlife.

The Everglades sat smack bang on our route from Key West to New Orleans and we knew it was somewhere we definitely couldn’t miss visiting. There are three spots to enter into the National Park – 1. to the South East from Homestead, 2. to the West from Everglades City, and 3. to the North from Shark Valley.

So we did some online and guide-book research to find out where the best spot to experience this iconic park was.

30 minutes reading later and it was clear that Shark Valley is the most popular spot to go. A 15 mile (25km) loop takes pedestrians, bicyclists or small shuttles through the native vegetation at their leisure – perfect!

We arrived at Shark Valley late morning on a Tuesday thinking the park wouldn’t be too busy – we were very wrong. We waited in the car for 40 minutes in a massive queue of other vehicles until there was a parking spot available for us. Entrance is $25 per car, however, as we had already bought a year pass to all Nation Parks ($80) we entered for free.

Once we’d finally parked we decided to check out the park on foot – this meant we’d be able to take as long as we liked and get up nice and close with the animals. Other options are to hire a bike for $9 per hour (the loop takes 2-3 hours to complete) or take a guided shuttle bus tour for $25 per person (2 hour duration).

If you’re afraid of alligators or crocodiles you’d better prepare yourself upon entering the park – these guys get up to 3 metres long and wander around freely in the park (including warming themselves up on the footpath)!

We saw hundreds of them – from tiny babies in a nest to the largest males.

Don’t get too freaked out though – its uncommon for alligators to attack humans and there’s never been an incident inside Shark Valley (according to the ranger at the front gate). You’ll see entire families with young kids and babies strolling right next to the gators with no problems.

The climate and natural environment in the Everglades is perfect for all types of reptiles. So you’ll see a lot more than just alligators. We saw dozens of different turtles, lizards and even a snake. The water is super clear and its possible to see colourful fish swimming right under the surface.

Thousands of birds watch closely perched on the semi-tropical vegetation. We saw ibis, eagles, fluffy nestlings and heaps of marsh birds!

We absolutely loved the experience at the Everglades. Without having to walk very far at all we saw countless animals and even experienced an alligator mating ritual – a large male started bellowing loudly and shaking droplets of water from his back to entice a female. This thoroughly scared Michaela but was amazing to witness.

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If you’d like to witness the National Park from the water another option is to take a hovercraft ride into the glades. You’ll find dozens of companies offering this iconic service at varied prices along the road between Shark Valley and Miami. Alex did this as a child and loved the experience but unfortunately our budget didn’t quite cover the cost this time.

If you’ve got the money and want a bit of a thrill while still experiencing the beauty and wildlife of the Glades then give this experience a go!