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 offers 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.|
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|
Alligators 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|
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.|
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 shortcuts.
|The Observation Tower offer expansive views of the surrounding area.|
|Larry pedals along the Shark Valley bike trail in Everglades|
National Park in Florida
|Tram rides are also available in Shark Valley.|
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 Importance.For more information, visit www.nps.gov/ever/planyourvisit/svdirections.htm
Photos by Beverly Burmeier