Despite the sorry state of environmental protection, the Everglades is a poignant, if sometimes forgotten, natural masterwork of Florida. The third-largest national park in the contiguous United States, it’s a mind-boggling, 2,400-square-mile expanse of subtropical wilderness, where Florida panthers roam and alligators rule. The delicate blend of sawgrass-strewn freshwater habitat, elevated hardwood hammocks and mangrove-rich saltwater flats teem with flora and fauna—to the tune of 750 plant species, 350 bird species and some 100 types of mammals and reptiles.
Though nearly impenetrable at its core, the park has a well-developed infrastructure, including multiple points of entry along the perimeter that open up a brave world of Everglades exploration. Unlike other major national parks, the pristine River of Grass is void of accommodations within or along its boundaries, making it challenging to visit it in style. However, proximity to Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Naples makes spending a day easy, with the comfort of upscale hotels and big-city excess a mere hour’s drive away.
Bring plenty of water, some snacks—there are very limited food options within the park, even for basics—sunscreen, a light raincoat and ziplock bags for camera equipment. Park temperatures and wildlife sightings are best during the dry season, from December to April. In the wet season, double up on insect repellent, anti-itch cream and Benadryl. The mosquitoes, horseflies and no-see-ums (sand flies) return for summer vacation, starting in May, and they bite…hard.