From alligators to historic trading posts to one of the world's most elusive flowers, there's no shortage of things to see and do in the Everglades. Take a deeper dive into this intricate ecosystem of history, culture and nature.
Gulf Coast Visitor Center, Everglades National Park
The Everglades National Park Gulf Coast Visitor Center is located on State Road 29 in Everglades City. Boat tours can take you out into the saltwater mangrove estuary portion of the park. You're sure to spot bottlenose dolphins and numerous bird species, including osprey, herons, egrets and more. The Gulf Coast Visitor Center is favored by canoe and kayak paddlers, who come here to obtain their backcountry camping permits for excursions along the Everglades Wilderness Waterway, and there are kayaks and canoes available for rent.
Take an Airboat Ride
Everglades City and its outlying areas, along with Immokalee in eastern Collier County, are home to numerous airboat tour operators. These unique vehicles are designed specifically to navigate the shallow waters and swamps of the Everglades region, where hundreds of species of birds and animals make their homes. Airboat tours provide wildlife viewing opportunities and a fun experience. Airboat tour operators are located throughout Everglades City and along the Tamiami Trail, but are not allowed within the boundaries of Everglades National Park.
Everywhere you look, there's wildlife to be spotted in the Everglades region. On the western side of the Everglades, you need only drive along the Tamiami Trail to spot alligators and numerous bird species. Within the Big Cypress National Preserve, there are several side road trips recommended for capturing critters with a camera. Turner River Road and Loop Road provide ample opportunities for up close photos. For more information on these scenic drives, stop in at the Big Cypress Oasis Visitor Center on the Tamiami Trail or call (239) 695-1201.
Along the banks of the Barron River, you can spot everything from tarpon in the river to raccoons and otters on the mangrove islands.
Just off State Road 29, Janes Scenic Drive provides miles of wildlife watching opportunities within Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park. In Everglades City, you can sit along the banks of the Barron River and spot everything from tarpon in the river to raccoons and otters on the mangrove islands. Take a boat trip from the Gulf Coast Visitor Center or hire a private guide and you'll spot birds, dolphins, manatee and lots more wildlife in the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge. The Everglades region, along with the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in nearby Naples, were both named in the top five best bird watching locations in the United States by Birder's World magazine.
The Ten Thousand Islands section of the Everglades is known as an angler's paradise, with tarpon, snook, redfish, permit, pompano and other species in abundance. Numerous fishing guides are based in Everglades City and Chokoloskee and are highly recommended for navigating through the shallow water and labyrinthine mangrove islands.
Museum of The Everglades
Everglades history is displayed in artifacts and exhibits covering 2,000 years of regional history, from the Calusa Indians through the development of Everglades City. The Museum of the Everglades is located in the town's old laundry building and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Smallwood's Store Trading Post & Museum
Located on Chokoloskee Island just across the causeway from Everglades City, Historic Smallwood Store features an extensive collection of Florida pioneer and Native American artifacts. Established in 1906 by Ted Smallwood, the Trading Post served a remote area, buying hides, furs and farm produce and providing the goods required. Smallwood's Store was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. It remained open and active until 1982. In the last few years Ted's granddaughter has reopened the store as a museum, and today it serves as a time capsule of Florida pioneer history.
Ochopee Post Office
The Ochopee Post Office, the smallest post office in the country, is located just south of State Road 29 on the Tamiami Trail, designated a U.S. Scenic Highway and Florida Scenic Highway. The post office is open Monday through Saturday and there is free parking. Postcards and stamps are on sale, and there is no charge for postmarking of your own pre-stamped mail. Hundreds of visitors stop by the post office each week to get the Ochopee post mark on letters and post cards and to have their picture taken in front of the tiny building.
Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve State Park
The rare ghost orchid – made famous in the movie Adaptation and the book The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean – grows in the Fakahatchee Strand along with many other rare and endangered plant and animal species. Park rangers lead swamp walks between November and February. If you don't want to get your feet wet, you can enjoy some of the Fakahatchee's pristine environment on the 0.8-mile long Big Cypress Bend boardwalk.
There is also a small Seminole Indian Village at the boardwalk entrance.
Collier-Seminole State Park
This 6,400-acre park showcases the wildlife splendor that is the Everglades. Explore mangroves and cypress swamp by land or water by boat tour or canoe. Tent and RV camping is available. Collier-Seminole State Park is located just 17 miles south of Naples on the Tamiami Trail.
Clyde Butcher's Big Cypress Gallery
World-famous Everglades photographer Clyde Butcher's black-and-white photography is on display at his gallery located within the Big Cypress National Preserve. Big Cypress Gallery displays an extensive selection of Clyde's work, which ranges in size from 16x20 inches to 5x9 feet.
There are still some classic old-style Florida roadside attractions that feature lots of big alligators on display. Animal handlers get up close with alligators to show visitors the power of their jaws and their quick speed at Wooten's on the Tamiami Trail. Learn about the legend of the Everglades skunk ape at the Skunk Ape Research Center alongside Trail Lakes Campground. You might not spot a skunk ape, but you can pick up some great swag as souvenirs.