My son loves alligators & crocodiles, so we made his dreams come true with a December 2018 trip to Everglades National Park in southern Florida! We took this as a road trip, starting in Fort Lauderdale, driving to the Everglades, and then down to Key West and back again. I’ll be working on posts about the other parts of our fun trip but this focuses on all the hiking trails we explored. This is a great,easy national park to explore with little ones, so put florida everglades for kids on your list and keep reading to see where all we went!
Be sure to check out our best tips for planning a trip – all the things we’ve learned while traveling with kids in tow! I also have a list of National Park books for kids, with a few fun Everglades options on it.
This post focuses on this specific trip we took, but be sure to read about the more general top 10 mistakes to avoid when planning a national park trip, too!
Pin this post about the Everglades National Park with kids using this link or collage photo!
Everglades National Park with kids
Everglades National Park with kids was a blast! We spent two days exploring 2 of the 3 main areas in the park, staying at an AirBNB in nearby Homestead (see why we prefer AirBNB to hotels here!)
We skipped the guided tours you can take for a fee (you can find more information about them here) and missed the free ranger programming but still had a great time. All the trails we took were short, flat, and easily accessible for people using strollers or wheelchairs and I have more details about all of them shared below. When we visited during the week in December, traffic was very low with no issues finding parking or crowding on the trails.
Everglades national park florida facts
- Established in 1947, it is the third largest park in the lower 48 states (source), covering 1.5 million acres of land.
- November-April is the Dry Season with lower temperatures, fewer bus, and more active wildlife.
- Has 9 distinct different types of habitat: NPS photo Marine and Estuarine, Cypress, Freshwater Prairie, Freshwater Slough, Coastal Lowlands, Mangrove, Pinelands, & Hardwood Hammock.
- There is the Nike Hercules Missile Base in the park that you can visit, exploring a Cold War relic, more details here.
- The area was originally inhabited by the Seminole , Miccosukee, Tequesta, Jega, and Ais (source).
- There is a fee to enter and two campground are the only lodging options.
- Follow them on Instagram here!
Everglades education extension ideas before you go or while you’re there
- Don’t forget about their Junior Ranger packet! This park had a badge only when we visited, so we purchased the patch separately.
- Use the free, self-guided audio tour from the NPS
- Check out one of these related books (find more National Park related books for kids here)::
- Everglades National Park (Rookie National Parks) by Karina Hamalainen
- Everglades (True Book National Parks) by Karina Hamalainen
- Everglades National Park (True Books: National Parks) by Wende Fazio
- Everglades: The Story Behind the Scenery by Jack De Golio
- Use these NPS climate change activities, designed for 5th & 6th graders
- Watch these NPS videos about the different habitats on Youtube
Animal in the everglades
There is so much wildlife in the everglades! You can check out lists of what you might expect on the NPS site here, or keep scrolling to check out some of what we saw in person.
There are signs all over reminding you to stay 15 to 20 feet away from the animals but that was hard on the thin paths sometimes! The diversity of birds was very striking, and we loved watching some of them swim and hunt underwater. In the picture above I believe that is an anhinga bird on the left, alligator on the top right, and a snowy egret.
The water was clear enough to see fish and turtles swimming, which was really fun! Can you spot the snake in this photo? I can’t remember the specific bird, fish, or snake names except for the blue heron on the top right. We loved watched it swallow a fish whole! We also spotted a ton of adorable turtles that I didn’t snap a picture of.
More alligators! This was baby season as well, with several of them wandering around and swimming. My husband & son got to see a crocodile as well, down by the Flamingo visitor center, but I was too busy eating lunch.
Shark Valley Visitor Center
Day 1: The Shark Valley area seems to be the most popular/common so I was surprised to find the visitor center very small. There was one or two interactive displays and a modest gift shop. When we walked out back to the bathrooms, there were more displays I didn’t get a photo of and a ranger showing the difference between an alligator and a crocodile skull. We also nabbed the Junior Ranger booklet to get started with the kids – if you’re not familiar they are a little workbook that they work on and finish to earn a badge or patch.
There is a main, paved loop that is 15 miles long and leads out to an observation tower. You can bike it, walk it, or pay to ride on one of the trams. We opted to simply walk, I think it makes it hard to let kids linger or play when someone else is in charge of when we stop and start!
We started out on the Bobcat Boardwalk trail, which is just .5 miles and right behind the visitor’s center. There wasn’t anything to see when we were there but it was nice and easy to stretch all their legs.
We kept going to the Shark Valley Bike Trail, which was the highlight! It didn’t take very long to spot an alligator and we followed it for about half a mile before sidetracking.
The Otter Cave Hammock Trail was a fun little excursion that had interesting holes bored out in the limestone and lots of fun branches to duck under. It was a bit muddy even during the dry season, and popped right back on to the Shark Valley Tram Trail.
There was so much pointing going on! It seemed like the longer we stayed in one spot, the more animals we spotted.
You can basically guarantee that you’ll spot alligators if you go, but the tram seemed to move a lot quicker than we did. I loved the surprise of spotting babies alongside their mother or a turtle on top of an alligator tail.
Miccosukee Indian Village
For lunch, we ate at Pam & Ted’s after leaving the national park; it was TINY, just barely able to fit 4 adults & 2 kids. The shop had lots of options and a la carte snacks; my kids ate grilled cheese sandwiches and the adults got frybread tacos that were gigantic but tasty. It was about 10 minutes from the main event.
We then continued outside of the national park to explore the Miccosukee Indian Village. You can eat at the cafe (serves fry bread, alligator, frog legs, and other ‘American’ food as well) or shop the gift shop (There were lots of beautiful blankets & Miccosukee patchwork in addition to standard fare snacks & toys) without paying admission. Entering the actual village allows you to see a variety of demonstrators and displays from woodcarving to patchwork, beadwork, basket weaving and doll making. You can purchase a guided tour, and/or an airboat ride that includes a stop at an authentic hammock style village.
We opted to just walk around, and that admission price included an alligator show and entrance to the museum and grounds.
The museum was my favorite part; there were a few displays, some hands-on opportunities, and lots of reading about the area and the Miccosukee people.
I am always trying to be thoughtful about “animal shows” so it was interesting to read the cultural history behind what they put on here.
The show itself was short and sweet, with the guide giving anecdotes and information about their alligators and history, my kids loved it. Afterwards everyone was allowed to hold a baby alligator with its mouth taped shut and he talked about how all of the alligators in the village were rescues and couldn’t be let out into the wild.
There were some short boardwalk style trails towards the back, and several demonstrations that kept our interest and attention learning more about their handicrafts, skills, and history! I was glad we stopped.
Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center
Day 2: We drove back out, starting out at the Ernest F. Coe visitor center. This was much larger than the Shark Valley visitor center and had a small gift shop with more clothes, books, and snacks.
We got back in the car and drove down to the Anhinga Trail, which also was next to the Royal Palm visitor center. I peeked inside but it wasn’t open, it looked like a condensed version of the Ernest Coe visitor center and I was surprised to see them so close together. This trail was .8 miles and all boardwalk, going through a marsh. We enjoyed seeing an alligator actively swimming and a couple birds, but this was otherwise un-noteworthy.
We got back in the car and drove to the Mahogany Hammock Trail, which was another boardwalk. .5 miles round trip, we didn’t see any animals but enjoyed seeing more foliage with air plants in the wild, and some cool strangler figs.
Flamingo Visitor Center
We got back in the car and drove all the way down to the Flamingo area, stopping for the West Lake Trail. Another .5 mile boardwalk, this went further out into the water and showed us some mangrove trees, several flowers, and the wrath of Hurricane Irma.
Can you believe that! It was shocking to see the trail just ripped apart. There were several other spots where we could see trees that had been taken down.
Finally, we made our way to the Flamingo Visitor Center where I was so hungry I forgot to take many useful photos. The bright pink visitor’s center was closed due to hurricane damage, with a temporary one set up that had the bare minimum and temporary bathrooms. The boat marina was set up by a third party vendor and had a unique selection of clothes, snacks, souvenirs, and camping style supplies. We walked down and around the marina, spotting wild manatees in the middle of the marina. Stopping to have a picnic lunch we packed in, my husband and son spotted a crocodile that I missed, and we wrapped up our tour of the Everglades with kids, driving back out and on home!
We totally skipped the Ten-thousand islands section of the park, which I’d love to visit sometime in the future. Kayaking and canoeing is very popular in all of the areas, which we also didn’t do since our kids aren’t independently swimming yet, but keep that in mind while you plan!
Have you been to the Everglades? Did I leave you with any questions about our trip? Leave a comment!