Two days in Everglades National Park

swampland along Rowdy Bend trail
marshland along the Rowdy Bend trail

We were in Everglades National Park from 1/10 to 1/12/2022 as part of our Florida in January trip.

The drive from Key West to Everglades National Park was about three hours, but we broke it up with an early stop at Baby’s Coffee for coffee and a pizza bagel. The coffee is good and the pizza bagels are GOOD. The rest of the drive to Everglades was easy.

a lurking alligator
I sent this to my mom and sister after our first alligator sighting

Everglades National Park is the largest subtropical wilderness in the US and provides an incredible environment for viewing birds, alligators, crocodiles (the Everglades is the only place on Earth where alligators and crocodiles coexist), manatees, and Florida panthers (good luck seeing one). I was desperate to see a manatee and had to wait a few more stops to see one. We did see a million gorgeous birds in the Everglades, and a few alligators.

Everglades is the third-largest national park (behind Death Valley and Yellowstone) in the contiguous US, so you’ll likely just explore one section. The park has three entrances: Shark Valley near Miami; Gulf Coast, accessible by boat from Everglades City; and the main South entrance near Homestead, where the two RV campgrounds are located.

Campground

the Airstream in the Everglades
the Airstream at Flamingo Campground

We stayed at Flamingo Campground in a nice, big pull-through spot with power. The Flamingo RV campground does not have sites with water or sewer, but there’s a dump station, sink for potable water, and cold-water showers. The campground was peacefully uncrowded and pretty… but… as the ranger at the visitor center warned us, there were mosquitoes. They weren’t as bad at our campsite, because the campground didn’t have a lot of vegetation, but as soon as we got near any trees we were attacked. So that was a big bummer. The only time we could comfortably hang out at our picnic table without getting swarmed was when the wind picked up on day 2.

When we parked at our campsite, the Airstream’s tongue jack was completely dead–meaning we couldn’t unhook the trailer from the truck. The glass fuse was blown, and the manual crank handle provided by Airstream seems to be missing an adaptor. J repaired the wiring issue that caused the fuse to blow, and a friendly neighbor gave us a great short-term fuse fix: cover the blown fuse in foil and the foil will conduct the electricity. Yay science! Reminder to self: carry extra 30A slow blow fuses.

Flamingo Food Truck at the marina

The marina is a short drive or leisurely (other than the anti-mosquito flailing) walk from the campground, and there you’ll find a visitor center, store (they don’t sell fuses), boat rentals, and a food truck serving burgers and burritos. J got a burrito and thought it was just ok. The marina store has a decent supply of camping basics, including–thankfully–lots of mosquito repellent!

cuban food from El Siboney
I promise it tasted better than it looks in this picture

The only food we ate worth detailing here is carryout we picked up from El Siboney our last day in Key West. The Cuban dishes we got were simple and huge and very yummy.

Hiking

the boardwalk along Mahogany Hammock trail
Mahogany Hammock boardwalk

The ranger at the main visitor center gave us great recommendations. Tip: stop at the visitor center when you arrive at a new park and ask for hiking advice! She recommended stopping at the main (very short) hikes on the way to Flamingo: Anhinga, Pa-Hay-Okee, and Mahogany Hammock. Each had parking lots that could handle the Airstream (maybe that’s not the case in the busier season). She also recommended kayaking into the bay, and hiking the Rowdy Bend Trail.

(Note that dogs are not allowed on trails in the national park, other than the Guy Bradley trail from the campground to the marina.)

walking the boardwalk of the Anhinga Trail
Anhinga boardwalk

So we stopped at Anhinga, and saw birds, turtles, and alligators. Anhingas are funny black birds that we we would spot all over Florida, and they became one of our favorite Florida things. I’ll talk more about them in a later post.

sawgrass prairie along Pa-Hay-Okee trail
sawgrass prairie along Pa-Hay-Okee trail

And we stopped at Pa-Hay-Okee and saw birds and turtles.

a barred owl in the Everglades
barred owl hanging out over the Mahogany Hammock boardwalk

And we stopped at Mahogany Hammock and saw birds and a big, beautiful barred owl.

walking the Guy Bradley trail
Bugsy’s allowed on the Guy Bradley trail

After we parked the Airstream, we walked to the marina on the paved Guy Bradley trail. It’s maybe 1.5 miles from the T-Loop of Flamingo to the marina, and it’s a nice walk, except for the mosquitoes!

hiking Rowdy Bend trail
hiking Rowdy Bend

The next morning we hiked the Rowdy Bend trail to the Snake Bight trail. The hike treks through a really neat scrubby forest with some osprey action along the way, and ends at a marshy area near the bay with decent bird watching opportunities. We enjoyed it overall, but the mosquitoes were awful. DEET is a must, and they still pestered us despite our chemicals. The hike was an easy six miles, but there was some slick mud in spots.

Kayaking

kayaking the Flamingo Canal
kayaking Flamingo Canal

The Everglades are a kayaking or canoeing wonderland, with miles of paddling trails, and access to lakes and bays. If you’re super adventurous, try the 100-mile Wilderness Waterway that runs the length of the park from north to south.

Our plan was to do the ranger led kayak tour into the bay on Day 2, but the wind was too strong and the tour was canceled. The marina rental place wasn’t allowing kayaks into the bay either. We were nervous about taking kayaks into the canal because we were so spooked by the mosquitoes on our hike, but there was enough wind to keep the bugs away.

smiling alligator in the canal
alligator resident of Flamingo Canal

So we rented kayaks from the marina for an afternoon paddle in the Flamingo Canal. We saw herons galore, a little alligator (or crocodile? Despite our studying, we can’t tell the difference), and the wind kept the skeeters away! We paddled for two hours, and we got nowhere close to Coot Bay, the first lake-type thing the canal hits–so if you want to get out of the canal, you’ll need a longer rental.

Picnicking

picnic at Paurotis Lake
picnic at Paurotis Pond

On our second evening, we took a picnic of smoked fish dip from Eaton Street Seafood Market in Key West to Paurotis Pond, where there’s a picnic table overlooking the lake. This was another fantastic recommendation from the park ranger: sunset at Paurotis. Of course, the skeeters were present. But the show was all about the jumping fish. They were hilarious! Here’s a video, not taken by me, of the fish–they’re mullets–leaping.

Florida Bay from Guy Bradley trail
the Florida Bay along the Guy Bradley trail

To do

More kayaking:

  • take the ranger-led tour along the Florida Bay shoreline for an overview, then
  • rent kayaks and head farther out into Florida Bay for bird-watching

We’re glad we visited the Everglades, and we saw some fantastic nature and wildlife. Those mosquitoes, though… next time we’ll be better prepared!

Next stop: Fort Myers Beach, almost four hours away!

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