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Explore Everglades National Park

Surrounded by mangroves, estuaries, marshes, shorelines and an abundance of wildlife, the Paradise Coast is blessed with a diverse ecosystem that is available for all to enjoy. From the world-famous Everglades National Park to Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary to an array of refuges, preserves and parks, you have the opportunity to enjoy this pristine paradise, either on your own or with an eco-tour company.

An international treasure not to be missed

Everglades National Park is the only subtropical preserve in North America and part of the country's largest wetlands ecosystem. It is designated as a World Heritage Site, an International Biosphere Reserve and a Wetland of International Importance. You might spend a morning photographing birds or an afternoon hiking and watching alligators bask in the warmth of sunny south Florida skies, or find yourself participating in a ranger-guided tour or simply resting in the warmth of your campfire after the sun has set.

The diverse habitats allow you to take pleasure in activities like hiking, canoeing and kayaking, biking, fresh and saltwater fishing, and camping in the ultimate wilderness. This is the Florida that greeted everyone from Native Americans to conquistadors to developers. And it's here for you to enjoy – unspoiled and untamed, in all of its breathtaking beauty.

The Paradise Coast is home to the Gulf Coast Visitor Center located in Everglades City, which is the only visitor center within the national park that is free. Boat tours are available that take you out into the saltwater mangrove estuary portion of the park, where you'll spot bottlenose dolphins and numerous bird species, including osprey, herons and egrets. And if you're a canoe or kayak enthusiast, you may explore on your own. At the Gulf Coast Visitor Center, you'll be able to obtain backcountry camping permits for excursions along the Wilderness Waterway that include camping on secluded beach islands, and also rent the kayak or canoe that will take you there.

A short stroll through the Florida wilderness

A two-and-a-quarter-mile raised boardwalk allows you to meander through several distinct habitats within the Audubon Society's 11,000-acre Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, which includes the largest remaining virgin bald cypress forest in North America. Be sure to bring your camera as you journey through pine flatwood, wet prairie, cypress swamp, marsh and lettuce lakes.

Wildlife and flora abound and vary by season. You're sure to encounter a wide variety of plants and creatures, including breathtaking 700-year-old tower bald cypress, forest and wading birds, playful otters, alligators, lizards, marsh rabbits, deer and maybe even a black bear or Florida panther. There will be rest stops and interpretive signs along the way to make your stroll through the Florida wilderness an enjoyable learning experience.

A rare ghost orchid at the sanctuary, visible from the boardwalk through a spotting scope, has flowered with multiple white blossoms each summer for the past four years. Blooms typically appear between June and August.

Preserving Florida for tomorrow

She prowls in sanctuary, unaware that she is protected in the vast acreage of Big Cypress National Preserve. The endangered Florida panther is at the top of the vast array of native plant and animal species protected in Big Cypress for you and future generations. Since 1974, the mission of this national preserve has been to protect the water quality, natural resources and ecological integrity of the Big Cypress Swamp.

A national preserve is not a national park, and you are likely to see people living and working here. The preserve provides ranger-led swamp walks and educational programs in the winter season, but you can go on your own or hire private guides to enjoy canoe, kayak and "pole boat" trips, bike rides, swamp walks and photography workshops year 'round.

Seeking refuge

Two refuges serve the Paradise Coast to protect and promote species that need shelter to survive. The Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge provides two hiking trails that take you close to the rare breed of puma. Although it's uncommon to see the Florida panther in the wild, these shy creatures may well be aware of you.

A completely different type of experience awaits you at Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Here you'll see manatee, dolphin, eagles, alligators, sea turtles and more in a refuge that is open to boating, fishing, bird watching and hunting. The refuge is accessible via boat or the Marsh Trail.

The Rookery connection

Located on the north end of Ten Thousand Islands, the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve is one of the few remaining undisturbed mangrove estuaries in North America. Here, you'll discover a unique world with more than 100,000 acres of pristine mangrove forest, uplands and protected waters where rivers and streams meet the sea to form one of nature's most amazing habitats.

The reserve features a hands-on visitor's center, 2,300-gallon aquarium, picnic area, butterfly garden, observation bridge, climate change exhibit and much more. Plus, you can join the Rookery's team of naturalists during the Coastal Connections daily programs where, with the help of experts, you'll get up-close looks at everything from seashells to rare orchids.

More parks. More preserves. More tours.

After you've visited these parks, preserves, reserves and refuges, you'll have only scratched the surface of the environmental wonders of the Paradise Coast. There are plenty of additional opportunities for you to explore the wild Florida that you won't find anywhere else. And if you want expert guides to show you what casual observers won't find on their own, tours are available to meet every need, from rugged adventures to luxury cruises.

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  • VISITFLORIDA.com
  • Collier County Government
  • DiscoverAmerica.com
  • IAGTO - Golf Destination of the Year 2014
  • ACCREDITED - Destination Marketing Organization