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Having found cheap tickets to Fort Meyers during Spring Break, my daughter and I decided to visit the Gulf Coast section of Everglades National Park before moving on to the House of Mouse. Everglades National park protects over a million acres of wetlands at the Southernmost tip of Florida and has four visitors centers in the different sections of the park.
We arrived at the Gulf Coast Visitor Center in Everglades City first thing on a morning in April 2016. The Visitor Center was structurally damaged by Hurricane Irma in 2017 and is operating out of a trailer as of this writing.
We checked out the exhibits, checked in for our reserved boat tour and enjoyed the sleepy, balmy marina while we waited for our boat to arrive.
We took the Mangrove Wilderness tour with the only company licensed to do boat excursions inside the National Park boundaries. You can find them by clicking here.
The other air boat tours advertised in the area are more commercial and not bound by some of the park rules regarding conservation. The air boats themselves may look cool, but they are louder than the types of boats used by the park concessionary and disruptive to the local wildlife.
The Mangrove Wilderness tour we took in 2016 was on hold for a while also due to damage in the area by Hurricane Irma, but now it is back up and running. The company also runs a separate 10,000 Islands tour that we didn’t have time for on this trip.
Our tour took us past some nesting Osprey outside the marina and across open waters and then wound through the Mangrove tunnels.
We saw lots of wildlife along the way, including some Scarlet Ibises, a dolphin, birds of prey and an alligator.
Our NPS-trained guide taught us about the ecosystem as we motored along and we spent a very peaceful couple of hours touring through the Everglades. He also talked at length about the problems they are having with pythons and other non-native snakes. These were pets at one time that either escaped or were released and then reproduced. Now they threaten the delicate balance in the Everglades and a state-sanctioned hunt for them is on.
There were only 6 of us on the boat, and at one point, the guide took family photos for each couple with a picturesque mangrove tunnel as the backdrop.
Location: Everglades City, Florida
Designation: National Park
Date NPS designation declared: 12/06/1947
Date of my visit: April 2016