FL National Parks near Miami

2Gma

Mouseketeer
Joined
Apr 10, 2015
We're taking a Spring Break trip to Orlando and thought about driving to Everglades and Key Biscayne NP. We typically visit one or 2 National Parks in the summer months so we kinda wanted to cross these off our list. I know it would be a 3-4 hr. drive each way and wondering if it's worth it? ie. sights, traffic, etc.

This is our 6th trip to Orlando and only plan on spending maybe one day in the theme parks otherwise will be doing other attractions we always miss.
 

Woodview

DIS Veteran
Joined
Dec 29, 2013
Go & visit Everglade City & do the " Thousand Isles " Boat Trip & Visit Shark Valley & the short Train Trip .

It would be more than a 4 hr. drive so stay over night . ( Homestead )
 

JimMIA

There's more to life than mice...
Joined
Feb 16, 2005
I have lived in Miami most of my life and worked seasonally as a park ranger/EMT at Shark Valley in Everglades NP for 11 years.

I agree that you will need an overnight stay in South Florida to see both parks -- and that's not seeing anything in Miami itself, which would be a shame. If you can spare the time, I'd probably stay two nights and check the Florida Keys off your list as well.

But for a bare-bones Everglades and Biscayne trip, I would recommend the following:
  • I would skip Everglades City.
  • Drive from Orlando to Shark Valley and take the two-hour Shark Valley Tram Tour. That is a 15 mile trip directly into the heart of the River of Grass with a stop at a 50-60 foot observation tower where you can see for miles across the Glades. When I used to get phone inquiries from tourists, I would always tell them, "If you have half a day, come to Shark Valley and take the Tram Tour." It is the best way to get a good overview of the Everglades -- so much so that we have all our interpretive rangers (even from other parts of the park) take the tour. Tours go hourly during the Winter/Spring busy season.
  • On the way back toward civilization, take a short commercial airboat tour. If you come to the Everglades, you MUST do an airboat tour -- and the short ones are just as good as long to give you a sense of place. (Truthfully, the long tours just drive you around in circles, because they are not permitted deep into the backcountry.) My personal recommendations for that tour would be 1) Everglades Safari Park or 2) the airboat tour from the Miccosukee Indian Village just west of Shark Valley. I like Everglades Safari Park better because a) it is actually inside ENP and the terrain is more natural, and b) it's a prettier part of the Everglades. But unless you are an airboat driver, you won't know the difference and you'll enjoy either one. When we had VIP visits, if we couldn't drive them ourselves for some reason, we took them to Everglades Safari Park.
  • Following that, I would return to the east to the Florida Turnpike and take it south all the way to the end in Florida City. (This is actually probably the area Woodview is talking about above which they called Homestead) At the southern end of the turnpike there are several chain motels. Biscayne National Park is 10-11 miles East, and the main entrance of Everglades NP is about 11 miles West. Key Largo at the upper end of the Florida Keys is about 30 miles South. (There are lots of things to see and do in the Keys, but most of them are farther south than Key Largo.)
  • The next day, I would go to Biscayne NP. BISC is 95% water, so to see anything other than the visitor center, you will have to take some kind of tour. There are tour links on their website.
  • If you have time for 3 days, I would then drive about 90 miles south to Marathon in the Middle Keys and then go snorkeling or fishing there. Tons of other things to see, including full-grown adult deer the size of German Shepherds (the endangered Key Deer) about 35 miles south of Marathon on Big Pine Key.
Websites:
You'll see links on those sites for tours, etc, and you can Google Everglades Safari Park for airboat tour info.
 
  • Douglas Dubh

    True Fiscal Conservative
    Joined
    Nov 13, 1999
    About 10 years ago, we flew into Miami, spent an afternoon visiting Biscayne Bay, then stayed in Homestead. Then we spent a day driving out to Flamingo and hiking some trails in the Everglades. The next day we drove through Big Cypress then stopped at DeSoto National Monument on our way to WDW. My kids did the Junior Ranger programs at each NP site.
     

    JimMIA

    There's more to life than mice...
    Joined
    Feb 16, 2005
    About 10 years ago, we flew into Miami, spent an afternoon visiting Biscayne Bay, then stayed in Homestead. Then we spent a day driving out to Flamingo and hiking some trails in the Everglades. The next day we drove through Big Cypress then stopped at DeSoto National Monument on our way to WDW. My kids did the Junior Ranger programs at each NP site.
    The drive to Flamingo is a nice ride and there are a number of short trails that are worth taking. However, the park entrance is 11 miles from Florida City, and then it's 38 miles to Flamingo -- so it's a 100 mile round trip. Add in stops at a couple of visitors centers and a couple of hikes, and you've got an all-day trip.

    The good thing about the Flamingo road is that you go through 4-5 different ecosystems. The bad thing is that you see the "River of Grass" from a distance, rather than being immersed in it at Shark Valley. Also, the Flamingo area, although completely different ecologically, looks very similar to Biscayne National Park.

    IF OP had two full days or more, I might suggest adding Big Cypress and the Flamingo drive -- although I'd be more inclined to throw in a short Keys visit. But I don't think they have that kind of time.
     

    pattyw

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Feb 7, 2008
    I have lived in Miami most of my life and worked seasonally as a park ranger/EMT at Shark Valley in Everglades NP for 11 years.

    I agree that you will need an overnight stay in South Florida to see both parks -- and that's not seeing anything in Miami itself, which would be a shame. If you can spare the time, I'd probably stay two nights and check the Florida Keys off your list as well.

    But for a bare-bones Everglades and Biscayne trip, I would recommend the following:
    • I would skip Everglades City.
    • Drive from Orlando to Shark Valley and take the two-hour Shark Valley Tram Tour. That is a 15 mile trip directly into the heart of the River of Grass with a stop at a 50-60 foot observation tower where you can see for miles across the Glades. When I used to get phone inquiries from tourists, I would always tell them, "If you have half a day, come to Shark Valley and take the Tram Tour." It is the best way to get a good overview of the Everglades -- so much so that we have all our interpretive rangers (even from other parts of the park) take the tour. Tours go hourly during the Winter/Spring busy season.
    • On the way back toward civilization, take a short commercial airboat tour. If you come to the Everglades, you MUST do an airboat tour -- and the short ones are just as good as long to give you a sense of place. (Truthfully, the long tours just drive you around in circles, because they are not permitted deep into the backcountry.) My personal recommendations for that tour would be 1) Everglades Safari Park or 2) the airboat tour from the Miccosukee Indian Village just west of Shark Valley. I like Everglades Safari Park better because a) it is actually inside ENP and the terrain is more natural, and b) it's a prettier part of the Everglades. But unless you are an airboat driver, you won't know the difference and you'll enjoy either one. When we had VIP visits, if we couldn't drive them ourselves for some reason, we took them to Everglades Safari Park.
    • Following that, I would return to the east to the Florida Turnpike and take it south all the way to the end in Florida City. (This is actually probably the area Woodview is talking about above which they called Homestead) At the southern end of the turnpike there are several chain motels. Biscayne National Park is 10-11 miles East, and the main entrance of Everglades NP is about 11 miles West. Key Largo at the upper end of the Florida Keys is about 30 miles South. (There are lots of things to see and do in the Keys, but most of them are farther south than Key Largo.)
    • The next day, I would go to Biscayne NP. BISC is 95% water, so to see anything other than the visitor center, you will have to take some kind of tour. There are tour links on their website.
    • If you have time for 3 days, I would then drive about 90 miles south to Marathon in the Middle Keys and then go snorkeling or fishing there. Tons of other things to see, including full-grown adult deer the size of German Shepherds (the endangered Key Deer) about 35 miles south of Marathon on Big Pine Key.
    Websites:
    You'll see links on those sites for tours, etc, and you can Google Everglades Safari Park for airboat tour info.
    Thanks for the great information! DS is attending Barry University for the next four years- will have to check these sites out!
     

    JimMIA

    There's more to life than mice...
    Joined
    Feb 16, 2005
    Thanks for the great information! DS is attending Barry University for the next four years- will have to check these sites out!
    Congratulations to him! I got my MBA from Barry. Good school.
     
  • DOOM1001

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    May 23, 2003
    Rent a bike at Shark Valley and do the loop on your own on bikes,nothing like having to go around the gators just laying on the bike path.
     

    JimMIA

    There's more to life than mice...
    Joined
    Feb 16, 2005
    Rent a bike at Shark Valley and do the loop on your own on bikes,nothing like having to go around the gators just laying on the bike path.
    You can also bring your own bike if you prefer. If you do that, park just outside the entrance and ride in and you'll save a few bucks on your entry fee.

    And during the winter months, we have a LOT of European visitors who HIKE the entire 15 mile loop.

    Either way is a great way to experience the Everglades. But for first-time visitors, it's hard to beat the Shark Valley Tram tour. You'll learn an amazing amount about the Everglades in this two hour narrated tour.

    A few visitors do a combination: take the tram the first half and get off at the tower, and then hike the remaining 7 miles back to the parking lot (Note: yes, you do have to pay the full tram tour fee, and NO, you cannot hike TO the tower and ride the tram back.)
     

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