Everglades National Park

First associations with Everglades National Park might be airboat rides, swamp people, massive reptiles, and other high octane activities, but this unique ecosystem hosts an incredible diversity of plants and animals perfect for a hobby naturalist like me. With the Homestead entrance located less than 30 miles from where I stay in Key Largo, the park has long been a favorite windy day activity. Despite the ferocious mosquitos and unpredictable weather, it has definitely become one of my favorite places in south Florida.

From the Ernest F Coe visitor center, it is at least a 45 minute drive to the marina in Flamingo. But I highly advise taking advantage of the many stops along the way to take brief walks or observe wildlife. The best of these is often the Anhinga trail in the Royal Palm area. Though this is a short and popular walk, we often find it takes more than an hour due to all the birds and reptiles. This is where we have most consistently seen alligators, especially on cool, sunny days. Be sure to also keep an eye out for purple gallinules, wood storks, or pink spoonbills. The Everglades is host to many species that appear straight from the imagination of Lewis Carroll. Also beware that black vultures in the area have taken their scavenging to new levels and occasionally pick at the rubber gasket on cars.

With a trailer, I felt comfortable driving through the Anhinga, Pa-hay-Okee, and Paroutis, and Nine Mile pond parking lots. Most had larger parking spaces or plenty of parking, and allowed for turning around if the parking was taken. Parking at the visitor center and the Nike Missile silo was a little more complicated.

At the end of the road where the swamp meets the ocean is the Flamingo marina. Another small visitor center and camp store make this a great lunch area for a day trip or a base for a longer stay. Canoe and boat rentals are available for those who want to venture out on their own and there are plenty of guided options as well. Those with less time on their hands should still check out the bay for possible crocodiles, manatees, or ospreys. Did you know this is the only place in the world where you can find both alligators and crocodiles? A pair of crocs likes to hang around the marina, making it likely one of the best places in the country to get a view of this creature. Manatees, possibly nature’s most defenseless animal, also seem to like to congregate here. Grab a breakfast burrito from the camp store and enjoy a morning with the manatees – in my opinion, an experience far superior to Florida’s other famous character meals.

Flamingo Campground

This campground might be a bit of an effort to get to, but on first thoughts, I would rank it in one of my top ten campgrounds of all time. Before anyone gets too argumentative about this, allow me to state that my top ranking campground categories are: spacious campsites, electric hookups, and plenty of surrounding nature. I care little for pools, playgrounds, sewer, clubhouses, etc. Having camped in lots of national parks, I am hard pressed to think of another spot that accommodates RVs so well. Most cater to tent campers and RVs either have to squeeze into sites and live as hard-sided tents, or they are relegated to parking lots. Flamingo Adventures runs this campground and it perfectly blends amenities with remoteness, in my opinion.

The RV loop consists of 65 pull-through sites, about 40 of which feature 30 and 50 amp service. Shaded sites are noted on the campground map, but reservations seem to be for a campsite type, not a specific site. We were fortunate to be assigned one with a bit of shade. Interestingly, music outside is prohibited in the campground to preserve the sounds of nature. Unfortunately, on the night we were there, those were mostly drowned out by the many surrounding air conditioners. But I wasn’t complaining when it was time for bed!

There is no Verizon service in Flamingo, but AT&T worked great. There is no hot water either in T loop, and the water in other loops is solar-heated. There is a fresh water fill and dump station by the bathhouse. Mosquitos and no-see-ums can be pretty intense. We used two Thermacells and wore DEET to keep them away. We were a little disappointed that the check-out time was 10am. We would have loved to spend a bit more time enjoying the morning.

One of the best features of the campground is the walk-in tent camping. These sites sit in an open field with an expansive view of the bay. A walk to the “beach” for sunset or star-gazing is an absolute must. And if the weather would cooperate, I think sleeping in one of the sites and waking up to the sun hitting the water might be a bucket-list item. Visiting the park definitely is.

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