Have you made your travel bucket list? 2020 gave us plenty of time to ponder this notion. However, if you like to explore but still need some ideas to get the juices flowing, then keep reading.
We’ve all had that conversation sometime in the past year. You know the one... “where is the first place you’ll go when the pandemic is over?” And the reply usually follows with a favorite restaurant, or of course to see friends or family, but in terms of travel and exploration, it almost always results with something like relaxing in a faraway tropical paradise or exploring a foreign land. For most of us, we think these vacations will involve a long nap-worthy plane flight, but we should not be forgetting all about the exploring and relaxing we can already do in our own backyards... or perhaps even in someone else’s backyard, less than a day’s drive from home.
For those of us in Georgia, I love our drivable getaway options. Nearby, we have the foothills and mountains of the Appalachians, several surrounding states to explore (TN, AL, NC), our own coastline, and one of my personal favorites, the beautiful Florida Gulf Coast, all within reasonable driving distance.
I bet you have some great options where you live as well! This list on Trip Savvy highlights drivable getaways from 11 U.S. cities. Take a look and see if you can find great drivable family travel destinations too!
While today’s highlighted destination of Everglades National Park is slightly out of the 6 hour driving threshold (for us here in North Georgia) used by Trip Savvy’s list, we feel the extra few miles would be worth it. We may even suggest hopping on a quick plane flight into Fort Myers (RSW airport code) if you’d rather skip the drive. Air travel right now may not be too bad and flying Delta (from our Atlanta home base) actually sounds pretty good, since they are still keeping the middle seats empty as of the date this post was published. Check with your airline provider on precautions they may or may not be taking. Perhaps there isn’t a better time to fly - fewer crowds, more precautions (remember to wear your mask and bring backups of course). Be sure to assess your packing list and pack accordingly, planning for checked baggage if needed. You want to make sure you have your outdoor gear and supplies, because you know we always recommend taking advantage of some outdoor adventuring on any getaway!
Speaking of adventure, let’s get down to it. Everglades National Park is the largest subtropical wetland in the U.S., boasting a diverse ecosystem and oh so much to offer for the wildlife and outdoor enthusiast. The park is home to several endangered species including the manatee, the Florida panther and the American crocodile. I personally would LOVE to catch a glimpse of any of these three (from a safe distance, of course). There is just so much to explore. Several walking trails as well as canoeing spots that are good for wildlife viewing. Be sure to read the “Wildlife Viewing Ethics” bullet list as well. As always, we want to continue to respect and preserve the natural beauty that resides in and around the Park.
With so many ways to enjoy the park, you and your family can find something that fits your interests, abilities and sense of adventure. Bring your own gear and equipment and explore on your own, rent boats or bikes from various vendors and providers, or go with a guided tour to get the most of what you’re looking for out of this adventure. Here are some ideas:
A guided tour is perhaps the best way to see the park, especially if it is your first visit. Locals and experts love to share their love for their beautiful wetlands. It’s truly an educational (shhh, don’t tell your kids), interesting and fun experience!
There is plenty of variety when it comes to guided tours offered within the Park, but a favorite we keep hearing from everyone who’s been the airboat ride through the mangroves, and several airboat tour companies offer this. Guided tours are offered by airboat, kayak, tram or even a walking tour. Take a look at the 9 top guided tours of the Everglades, ranked by US News and World Report. Everglades Safari is a fan favorite in airboat tour providers, with a tiered offering from a general tour to a private airboat tour for your family.
Check out the popular Shark Valley Bike trail as well as other trails offered for cycling, see here for more details. You can bike any number of trails. Bike rentals are available through Shark Valley Tram Tours and many other providers as well.
The park is a bird lover’s dream with over 300 species of birds call the Everglades home. See here for a list of trails and bird watching spots.
There are two drive-in campgrounds for “frontcountry camping” as well as plenty of spots for wilderness camping accessible by boat, bike or hiking trail. For additional details and resources, check out the ENP’s camping info.
Bring your own motorboat (pay attention to the size and horsepower limits). Use the provided ramps and marinas. See facilities and rental info for details. Lookout for manatees, you must idle your boat if one is in sight!
Canoe and kayak trails
Canoe or kayak the Wilderness Waterway for 99 miles (approx 7-10 days) or take one of the many shorter trails. Rentals are available or you can bring your own. Guides are available as well. See 9 top guided tours of the Everglades for ideas for guided tours, including kayak tours.
With a third of the park covered by water, fishing is a go-to activity. There are freshwater and saltwater fishing opportunities – note that separate fishing licenses are required for each. Check here for further details as well as regulations and guidelines detailing where fishing is and is not allowed.
We’re looking forward to visiting Everglades Nation Park later this year and hope that sharing our research helps you consider making it part of your next adventure. Keep in mind it could be part of a longer trip that includes a visit to Miami (30 miles from the park) and/or the beautiful Florida Keys as well!
Lastly, don’t forget to add these items to your packing list:
- Binoculars for viewing wildlife from a distance
- Digital Pass – Due to Covid-19, the National Park Service prefers that you prepay for digital passes.
- Earplugs or noise cancelling headphones – if you plan to do an airboat tour, the airboats can be loud for sensitive ears
- Backpack or Bike Pack to carry your stuff when hiking or biking
- Waterproof Bag for valuables
- Phone Holders/cases for hiking and biking
- Sunscreen and Insect Repellent
Here are some additional resources to consider when planning your trip, including 1 and 2 day itineraries, and advice from a local’s perspective.