On the face of it, holidays to Florida are all about fabulous beaches, world-class shopping and exciting nightlife. However, if you want to find out more about the natural beauty and wonder of this part of America, visit the Everglades National Park. Leave the 21st century behind and enter a primaeval world of mangrove forests, ancient swamps, and even the odd modern-day dinosaur. Vast, untamed and gloriously wild, the Everglades National Park was founded in 1947 to preserve important ecosystems and rare native wildlife. Today, they cover more than 1.5million acres and are visited by over a million tourists every year.
How to get thereThe park's huge, so you'll need to work out the closest entry point, depending on where you're staying. The Everglades has three entrances in three different cities. If you're planning a visit, you'll need to hire a car as there's no public transport into the national park. You'll need a car to get right into the heart of the park and explore the astonishing number of things to see. The park is set on Florida's southernmost tip and is easy to get to from almost anywhere in the Sunshine State.
The Homestead EntranceThe Homestead Entrance, which is considered to be the main gateway into the park, is only 20 minutes' drive from the centre of Homestead. If you're coming from Miami, take Route 821 until it feeds into US1 at Florida City. From there, turn onto Palm Drive and follow the signs. The journey should take you about an hour. To get to the Homestead Entrance from Key West, hit the US1 North, take the turning onto Palm Drive and follow the signs.
The Miami EntranceThe Miami Entrance is the most convenient if you're travelling from the greater Miami area. Head for the Florida Turnpike, leave at Junction 25 and follow US41, towards Shark Valley. Travelling from Naples is a little easier. Follow US41 for around 40 minutes and aim for Shark Valley. The journey should take less than three-quarters of an hour.
The Everglades City EntranceThe Everglades City Entrance is the best bet for anyone taking their Florida holidays in Naples. Jump on State Road 29 and head south, to Junction 80. After about 20 minutes, you'll come to Everglades City, and the national park is signposted from there.
Wildlife in the parkBlessed with a subtropical climate and the teeming biodiversity of the Kissimmee River and Lake Okeechobee, the Everglades National Park offers you a chance to see a unique array of wildlife in its natural habitat. Studies have found that the park is home to over 60 endangered species of plants and animals, making it a hotspot for wildlife enthusiasts. Be sure to pack your camera and snap some shots of creatures that you're unlikely to see anywhere else. To make the most of your sightseeing adventure, book your break during the dry season in winter. During these months, water levels drop and the local wildlife tends to gather around watering-holes and lakes. As the creatures here are completely wild, it's worth remembering to give them the space and respect they deserve. On your visit, you can expect to see a huge variety of birds, mammals, and reptiles such as crocodiles and alligators, as well as deer, otters, ducks, tree frogs, and toads. You'll catch a glimpse of grey foxes lurking around in the undergrowth, and turtles are common in the lakes. If you're lucky, you might even spot the elusive Florida Panther or manatees. All the plants and animals in the park are protected by law, so be careful not to harass or feed the animals, or damage any of the delicate plants.
Tours of the parkThe park's ranger programs are a must if you want to get up close with the wildlife safely and without putting the animals under any stress. The Everglades at Night program allows you to stargaze on the Mahogany Hammock Trail. Manatee and alligator talks are also well worth attending with the kids; here you can find out about these magnificent creatures that call the Everglades National Park home. Hop on board an airboat and explore the deeper recesses of the river or, if you're feeling brave, take a guided kayak tour of the swamps and mangroves. If you'd prefer to keep dry on your Florida holidays, there are tram tours available, which will take you to see the most popular sites such as the Mahogany Hammock Trail and the Ah-Ta-Thi-Ki Native American Museum. If you're enjoying a family day out, pack a picnic and plenty to drink, as summer in the Everglades National Park can get pretty hot.