More than 1.5 million acres of Everglades ecosystem in South Florida provide a home for myriad birds, reptiles and mammals within the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States. The swampy wetlands are an important habitat for Florida flora and fauna but can be inhospitable for humans with seasonal heat, humidity and bugs.
Nevertheless, these wildlands have drawn curious explorers from around the world who wish to see what lies between Naples and Miami. After all, it’s an area where lucky visitors may spot a Florida panther, a crocodile or the fabled Skunk Ape.
And in reality, some humans have also inhabited the Everglades for thousands of years. The Calusa and Tequesta tribes lived in the region before the Spanish occupied the Florida peninsula. Later came the Seminole and Miccosukee Indians, who still reside in the Everglades to this day.
Modern-day adventure seekers can don waders to fish or hike through the swamp, or take a canoe or airboat to access more remote areas of the wilderness. But for the average South Florida road tripper, there are enough interesting stops along Tamiami Trail accessible by car to make a one- or two-day trip worthwhile.
Here are nine suggestions for places to visit in the Everglades.
Ochopee post office
Measuring in at 8-feet-4-inches deep and about 7 feet wide (61.3 square feet), the Ochopee post office is the smallest in the United States. The building, formerly an irrigation pipe shed belonging to a tomato farm, was rushed into service after a night fire in 1953 burned Ochopee’s general store and post office.
The current structure has been in continuous use ever since and still services about 300 residents — including Seminole and Miccosukee Indians — spread out in a three-county area. Daily business includes visits from tourists and stamp collectors from around the world, who seek out the famed Ochopee postmark.
If you go: 38000 Tamiami Trail East in Ochopee; facts.usps.com
Skunk Ape Research Headquarters
At first glance, the Skunk Ape Research Headquarters appears to be a kitschy roadside attraction complete with alligators, a 10-foot python and a Florida panther statue, plus myriad Skunk Ape T-shirts, shot glasses and barbecue sauce. But it’s also the site where Dave Shealy, who’s been a Skunk Ape researcher for decades, captured evidence he says proves that Florida’s Sasquatch is real.
Visitors can see footprint casts, photos and video evidence that Shealy took in his years of looking for the Skunk Ape. In addition, the Trail Lakes Campground behind the headquarters offers cabins, chickee huts and RV and tent sites for overnight accommodations. On-site Everglades Adventure Tours offers pole boat, kayak, canoe and safari tours.
If you go: 40904 Tamiami Trail East in Ochopee; skunkape.info
Loop Road Scenic Drive
A haven for wildlife, bird-watchers and photographers alike, Loop Road takes visitors for a drive on the wild side of the Everglades. This quiet dirt byway takes a 24-mile detour before rejoining Tamiami Trail.
Driving through mostly cypress swamp, visitors may spot hawks, wild hogs, alligators, egrets, woodpeckers and migrating birds in the winter. Hikers can also find the southernmost point of the Florida Trail along Loop Road.
If you go: Loop Road in Big Cypress National Preserve; nps.gov
Set on the island of Chokoloskee, the Smallwood Store contains more than 100 years of Everglades history for tourists to uncover. Established in 1906, this trading post founded by Ted Smallwood served Gladesmen and Seminole Indians by buying hides, furs and farm produce in exchange for basic goods.
Many old cans, bottles, appliances and antiques can still be found inside the store, which makes for somewhat of a time capsule. Florida history comes alive through these vintage goods, educational exhibits and historical films. Some gifts are even for sale, though they come from a much more modern time. Boat tours also launch from the store.
If you go: 360 Mamie St. in Chokoloskee; smallwoodstore.com
Everglades National Park
Preserving 1.5 million acres of South Florida wilderness, Everglades National Park provides a home for manatees, crocodiles and the rare Florida panther. About 1 million human visitors seek out the natural lands each year for camping, wildlife viewing, boating, paddling, fishing, hiking and more.
About 40 miles east of Miami, the Shark Valley Visitor Center offers tram tours, bike rentals and a 45-foot tall overlook. A longer stretch of accessible national park awaits visitors who enter from the Homestead entrance. Drive nearly 40 miles southwest to the Flamingo Visitor Center, witnessing untamed Everglades and exploring recreation opportunities along the way.
If you go: 36000 S.W. 8th St. in Miami; 40001 State Highway 9336 in Homestead; nps.gov
Museum of the Everglades
Step into Florida history and culture when visiting the Museum of the Everglades, set in the small town of Everglades City. The facility, built in 1927, is a testament to the city’s once-bustling economy, as it formerly served as a commercial laundromat.
Now, visitors can find 2,000 years’ worth of history with exhibits on Native Americans, Everglades culture and lifestyles, and even movies that were filmed in the area.
If you go: 105 W. Broadway Ave. in Everglades City; evergladesmuseum.org
Joanie’s Blue Crab Cafe
The Everglades offers several laid-back places to eat with tasty bites and good service, and Joanie’s Blue Crab Cafe is no exception. Find seating outside or head inside to see Floridian art, décor and postcards tacked onto the rafters. Self-serve cold beer and beverages are available in the fridge.
The menu at Joanie’s features Everglades delicacies such as gator nuggets, frog legs and a range of seafood offerings.
If you go: 39395 Tamiami Trail East in Ochopee; facebook.com
Miccosukee Indian Village Gift Shop
The Miccosukee Indians were a part of the Creek Nation before migrating to Florida during a time that predated the arrival of Christopher Columbus. Many were relocated to the West, but about 100 members of the tribe hid out in the Everglades, and present-day members number more than 600.
Visitors can experience Native American culture and history when visiting the Miccosukee Village. Some programs are on hold due to COVID-19, but the tribe offers a gift shop (open 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Friday-Sunday) and light bites for tourists.
If you go: Mile Marker 36 on U.S.-41 in Miami; village.miccosukee.com
Big Cypress Gallery
Famed Florida photographer Clyde Butcher has been documenting the Sunshine State’s landscapes with large format photos for decades. Everglades tourists can view his work in a gallery space surrounded by wilderness within Big Cypress National Preserve.
The roadside stop also offers guided swamp walks, photography tours and overnight accommodations in a cottage and a bungalow.
If you go: 52388 Tamiami Trail East in Ochopee; clydebutcher.com
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