Surrounded by coastal mangroves estuaries, marshes, inland nature trails and an abundance of wildlife, the Paradise Coast is blessed with a diverse ecosystem that is available for all to enjoy. Learn more about one of its most famous natural spaces below.
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.
The Paradise Coast is home to the Gulf Coast Visitor Center located in Everglades City. 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 rent one here, launch your own, or go on a guided paddling adventure with a park-approved guide.
You'll spot bottlenose dolphins and numerous bird species, including osprey, herons and egrets.
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. There are park-approved ecotours nearby that provide guided adventures by boat and kayak and many fishing guides with extensive local knowledge of the saltwater portion of the national park..
Or you might spend a morning paddling to Sandfly Island to explore the remnants of on an ancient Calusa shell mound. Hike the nature trail before paddling back
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.
A short stroll through the Florida wilderness
Northeast of Naples you'll find a special place that is part of the expansive southwest Florida Everglades ecosystem. 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. Bring your camera as you journey through pine flatwoods, 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, typically flowers with multiple white blossoms each summer. 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 animal and plant 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 managed by the National Park Service but allows more recreational and other uses than a national park, and you are likely to see people living and working here. The preserve, located just outside Everglades City, 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.
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, which includes a birding tower.
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, preserves & tours
After you've visited these parks, preserves, reserves and refuges, you'll have only scratched the surface of the environmental wonders of the Gulf Coast Everglades ecosystem found in Florida's 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.