Friday, September 19, 2014

Best trails for seeing Everglade’s wonders

Path through coastal prairie at Everglades National Park.
Photo courtesy of Everglades NPS.

exotic wildlife
await day hikers

Among the best ways to see Everglades National Park’s top sights is via a day hike. Just four short trails will allow you to enjoy each of the park’s highlights – mangroves, exotic subtropical wildlife, marine estuaries, and peaceful pinelands.

Mangrove ecosystem
Mangroves with their stilt-like roots thrive in tidal waters where freshwater and the ocean’s saltwater mingle. On Flamingo Island, take Christian Point Trail for a 3.2-miles round trip first through a thick mangrove forest then to a coastal bay.

Subtropical wildlife
As the United States’ largest subtropical wilderness, the Everglades is home to a variety of exotic animals, such as panthers, crocodiles, manatees, alligators, and egrets. You can safely see some of the Everglades’ wildlife on the Bobcat Boardwalk. Park at the visitor center on Shark Valley, walk north on West Road, taking the Bobcat Boardwalk left/west, then circle back on East Road to your parking lot for a 0.8-mile loop.

Marine estuary
Fish, crustaceans, and mollusks live amid seagrass, corals and sponges in the ocean just off the Florida coast. To enjoy a view of the seascape, from the Flamingo Island visitor center take the out-and-back Guy Bradley Trail for a 2-mile round trip along the shores of Florida Bay.

Dense stands of pines on higher ground can be found throughout the Everglades. The LPK Walking Trail near the Long Pine Key Campground and Picnic Area on Pine Island offers the opportunity to explore the pinelands as they butt against wetlands. To reach the trail, park on the road shoulder near Gate 4, then take the Long Pine Key Nature Trail to the first path heading left/southeast; this is the LPK. The 1.5-mile round trip heads through pinelands and past sawgrass prairie.

In the Everglades, insect repellent is an absolute must no matter what the season. Always don it before hitting the trail and then carry extra with you in case it sweats off.

Find out about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.