Riding a bicycle in Shark Valley gets you up close and personal with
the “river of grass.”
A visit to Everglades NationalPark
in Florida, the largest subtropical wilderness in the country, can be
overwhelming because of its sheer size and the remoteness of many trails (both
water and land).
But Shark Valley
an excellent way to experience the park, especially if you like to explore on
your own. Rent a bike (or bring your own) and peddle your way along a loop road
through this northern section of the park.
|The bike trail in Shark Valley is not a difficult ride.|
With only slight elevation changes and no rough terrain to navigate, the scenic 15-mile paved road
ideal for bike riders of all ages.
journey typically takes about three hours, depending on how often you stop and
whether a gusty head wind crops up.
the half-way point, in the heart of this unique ecosystem, the Observation
Tower provides a convenient place to pause and enjoy panoramic views.
To get a feel for the significance
of this region, plan to ride the entire loop (if your fitness level allows),
but check to be sure it’s open all the way since the curvy east portion, with
expansive sawgrass prairie, is flooded and impassable at times.
|Be respectful of alligators in their natural habitat, and don't venture|
lligators sunning themselves, as they lie partly on the road and partly
in the marsh, provide perfect photo opportunities if you keep your
distance—10-15 feet away is recommended.
Raccoons, white-tailed deer, turtles, frogs, otters, and other wildlife
may also appear near the road or on hiking trails.
|Stop to soak in beautiful views|
Start on the western side of the
loop road, which is fairly straight, butts up against the wetlands, and hosts
the greatest variety of wildlife and plants.
Birds including egrets, ibises,
ospreys, herons, cardinals, warblers, mockingbirds, and hawks catch your
attention as they wade through marshes and then suddenly zip into the air. If you spot a bird camouflaged among the
grasses and tree branches and want to take a picture, don’t hesitate: quickly
snap the shutter before it flies away. Some larger species wander along the road, but
they don’t linger when humans are around.
Butterflies flit around the blooms, and don’t
be surprised if one hovers just inches from your face.
|Bird watching is a popular pastime on the trail.|
Tiny flowers in pastel
hues—white, pink, yellow, and purple--grow along the swamp’s edge.
Riding with a tail wind, the road
uncoils beneath your wheels with amazing speed, and mile markers printed on the
road pass quickly. However, it’s not uncommon for wind gusts or summer
thunderstorms to appear, especially in the afternoon, so the trip could take longer
after reaching the midway point. If you
decide not to ride the entire loop, retrace your path because there aren’t any
Highlight of the ride is spectacular 360-degree views of wetlands, prairie, and trees seen from the 45-foot high Observation Tower.
|The Observation Tower offer expansive views of the surrounding area.|
Views change as you
walk along the elevated spiral ramp to the platform, so take time to enjoy scenes
like blackbirds perched on railings cawing back and forth to each other and Monet-like
reflections of clouds fluttering across the shallow, liquid meadow.
Besides allowing an overview of the
ecosystem, the Tower offers tranquil vistas of the Everglades up to 20 miles in
|Larry pedals along the Shark Valley bike trail in Everglades|
National Park in Florida
Ride during cooler morning hours;
take water and a light snack as there are no concessions once
you leave the Visitors Center, located on Hwy 41, 46 miles from Fort Lauderdale.
|Tram rides are also available in Shark Valley.|
If riding a bicycle isn’t your
style, the Shark Valley Tram
offers a two-hour, open air tour on the same path.
Trained naturalists point out wildlife and narrate
information about the park.
One of three entrances to the
national park, Shark Valley is a significant area for sustaining the park’s
biological abundance and diversity. Because
of its worldwide significance, Everglades National Park has been designated a World
Heritage Site, International Biosphere Reserve, and Wetland of International
For more information, visit www.nps.gov/ever/planyourvisit/svdirections.htm
Photos by Beverly Burmeier