Back in December, I took a quick weekend trip to visit my mom in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Thanks to weather delays causing me to reschedule my flight twice and fly out of a different airport (sometimes I have the worst luck when it comes to flying!), it was an even shorter trip than anticipated, but we still had time for an awesome day visiting the Everglades National Park!
The highlight of our time at the Everglades was the “Wild Walk in the Wilderness” Hike at Shark Valley! We arrived at the visitor’s center in the morning dressed as instructed when we made our reservations earlier in the week: long sleeve shirt, long pants and old sneakers that could get wet and muddy. We met the park ranger that was leading our hike, Anthony, and discovered that Mom and I were the only ones who signed up for the hike. This turned out great because we were able to ask lots of questions and go at our own pace.
We set off on our hike from the visitor’s center beginning on the paved bike path and after walking not even a hundred yards, we found ourselves just a few feet away from 4 or 5 baby alligators sunbathing in the water just off the road! I was nervous that the mother alligator would come charging at us if we got too close but Anthony assured us we were fine because in this part of the park they are used to people (as long as we stayed a few feet away!).
We kept walking a little further down the path and then the real hike began, time to go “off-roading!” With that, we followed the ranger right into the ankle deep water of the marsh, walking along the trails that alligators had cut through the saw grass.
It felt like walking through a swamp, with the water getting up to our knees at times! But, technically, it’s not a swamp, the Everglades are actually considered a river. This is because the water is slowly flowing (not stagnant like a swamp) which is where they got the nickname “River of Grass.”
While we were hiking, we stopped frequently so that Anthony could point out different things (and for water and photo breaks!). We learned the difference between sawgrass which will cut you if you rub it the wrong way (the reason for long sleeves and long pants!) and the other less harmful grasses. We saw some other plants, like the duck potato plant with its pretty white and yellow flowers, and some wildlife – herons, a turtle, and a lot of snails.
Towards the end of the hike, we arrived at one of the many tree islands we could see amongst the marsh. These little islands, also called hardwood hammocks, are elevated higher than the surrounding area, which allows trees to take root and can support animal and plant species that need dry land or shelter from the wet, open marsh. They are usually so dense that you can’t walk through them, but this one had a path cut across it, maintained by the park, that was just big enough for the 3 of us to walk across before hiking back to the visitor’s center.
I would highly recommend this hike! It was the coolest way I can imagine to see the Everglades – you can’t get much closer than stomping through the actual alligator trails in mud and water up to your knees!
If you’re interested in this hike, here are the details: The hike is called the “Wild Walk in the Wilderness” and it leaves from the Shark Valley Visitor Center at the Everglades National Park. The schedule varies by season but during the winter (the dry season), this hike is only offered one weekend a month. It is free (so we couldn’t believe there weren’t more people on our hike!) but you need to make a reservation within the week before the hike.