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Visiting Everglades National Parks with kids

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Everglades National Park is the third largest National Park in the lower 48 states, taking up 1.5 million acres in South Florida and housing over 100 species of animals. Visiting Everglades National Park with kids has been on our bucket list for a while and we just got back from an amazing trip where we spent three days exploring everything the Everglades had to offer. Read ahead for everything you need to know about visiting Everglades National Park with kids.

Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links, which means that if you purchase an item after clicking on the link, I will receive a small commission from the sale. This is at no extra cost to you, and as always, all opinions and recommendations are my own.

How to get to Everglades National Park

Everglades National Parks with kids
Everglades National Park covers 1.5 million acres in South Florida

Everglades National Park is located in South Florida; the closest city is Homestead but the closest major city is Miami. If you’re visiting any part of South Florida then Everglades National Park is a great place to make part of your trip, but even if you’re in Orlando or along either one of the Florida coastlines, I think it’s still worth making the trip.

Everglades National Park is an easy day trip from Miami or Fort Lauderdale, where the drive takes a little over an hour. Coming from Clearwater takes around three hours, and coming from Orlando can take up to four hours so while you could visit for the day, I’d probably recommend making a long weekend out of the trip instead.

If you’re flying in, the closest airports are going to be Miami International Airport or Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. I would recommend renting a car to explore the park; you really need a car to get around to see as much as possible.

It costs $30 per vehicle to enter Everglades National Park (or you can enter for free with the National Parks Annual Pass) and that entry fee is good for any of the park entrances for seven days.

When to visit Everglades National Park

Everglades National Parks with kids
The dry season (November to April) is the best time to visit the park

There are two different seasons in the Everglades National Park, the wet season and the dry season.

The dry season is November to April and in my opinion, this is the best time to go. The weather during this time is going to be much more tolerable; temperatures might still be high at either end of the season but December through February the temperatures hover around 70 degrees and touring the park will be much more comfortable.

Wet season is going to be hotter and wetter, and visiting Everglades with kids during this time might be harder. Not only will the weather be warmer, wetter, and more humid (meaning many, many more bugs!) but the heavy rainfall during this time can actually close certain parks of the park and campgrounds can close due to flooding.

If you have your pick of times to visit, then I’d recommend January or February. We visited in February and the weather was perfect; 70 degrees and sunny with a cool breeze. The beautiful weather meant more wildlife was visible and we didn’t have to use sunscreen or bug spray at all. The kids also found all of the walking easier since they weren’t getting overheated.

Where to stay when visiting Everglades National Park

Everglades National Parks with kids
The Hilton Miami Dadeland was a great base for exploring the Everglades

When visiting Everglades National Park with kids, you can either stay inside the park or outside the park.

If you want to stay inside the park, your only option is camping. There are two campgrounds accessible from the Homestead entrance to the park (Long Pine Key Campground and Flamingo Campground), both of which accommodate RVs and campers as well as those camping in tents. Spaces are limited so reservations are recommended, and can be made by contacting Everglades Guest Services.

We’re not big campers (or small campers, or any type of campers really!) so we opted to stay outside the park. You can stay on either the East Coast or the West Coast; there are different entrances to the park and depending on where you stay, you’ll be closer to one than the others.

Staying on the East Coast, Miami or Homestead will give you a good base to get to the Shark Valley or Homestead park entrances. We chose to stay at the Hilton Miami Dadeland, which was about a 40 minute drive to each of those entrances since it sat right between the two. We’re loyal Hilton customers and enjoyed the hotel, plus there were plenty of places to eat in the area.

If you stay on the West Coast then staying in the Naples area is going to be the closest, and is a short drive to I-75, which runs right through the Everglades from Naples to Fort Lauderdale. This will put you a little further from the main park entrances, but many people prefer to stay on the West Coast of Florida due to the calmer waves and warmer water temperatures.

Check out the best rates on the Hilton Miami Dadeland here.

Things to do in Everglades National Park with kids

Everglades National Parks with kids
The Visitor Centers are great places to start exploring

Explore the Visitor Centers

The best place to start with a trip to Everglades National Park with kids is exploring the Visitor Centers. Not only will these offer the best information on what to see and do while in the park, but they act as great bases for exploring the trails on foot, by bike, by tram, or by boat.

All of the Visitor Centers had bathrooms (some a little more basic than others), gift shops (again, some better stocked than others) and friendly park rangers happy to answer questions. We visited all but one of the Visitor Centers and found different things we liked about each of them.

Shark Valley Visitor Center

This was our favorite out of all of the Visitor Centers and we weren’t alone in this opinion; both days we visited, the parking lot was at capacity by 10AM and the line to enter was long. I would recommend hitting this Visitor Center as early in the day as you can and be prepared to have to park outside the park and walk. As you drive in, take a look at the waterway along the side of the road – we saw our first alligator within 10 seconds of being in the park!

Everglades National Parks with kids
We spotted our first alligator right at the entrance to the park!

This Visitor Center offers bike rentals and a tram tour, two of the best ways to explore the park. Both options will take a couple of hours so make sure you have time, but they’re perfect for exploring with kids.

Shark Valley Tram Tours operate the tram ride that leaves from the Visitor Center every hour, and each guided tour takes about two hours. About halfway around the 15 mile loop, there is a 65 foot observation tower that offers the best view of the Everglades and really makes you realize just how vast the park really is.

Everglades National Parks with kids
Tram and bike tours are great ways to see the park

The tram tour tends to book early, so booking ahead is recommended. When we looked online two days before our trip, the days we were there were listed as sold out but once we arrived at the Visitor Center there were some tickets available. I wouldn’t count on this being an option during the busier season however.

Bike rentals are also available at the Shark Valley Visitor Center, and these seemed super popular. A typical self-guided tour of the 15 mile loop takes between 2-3 hours and is the perfect way to see as much of the park as possible. There are kids bikes available, as well as bikes with kids seats, or you can bring your own bike and use those to cycle around.

Everglades National Parks with kids
There were some family friendly walking trails that were perfect for kids to explore

If you want to explore on foot, there are plenty of family friendly trails to explore. A short distance from the Visitor Center off the tram road is the entrance to the Bobcat Boardwalk, which is a 0.5 mile trail along a raised boardwalk that is stroller friendly and easy for kids to navigate. There is also Otter Cave Hammock Trail, which is 0.25 miles, but this is less stroller friendly and can get a little muddy after rain.

This was the best Visitor Center for spotting alligators, turtles, and birds. Alligators could be spotted about every 20 feet in the water, and we even got to see a mommy alligator and her babies! There were all different kinds of birds, turtles, and fish in the water, and the kids loved spotting the wildlife.

Everglades National Parks with kids
We spotted a mommy alligator with her babies hiding out in the swamp

The Shark Valley Visitor Center has a gift shop which sells a small number of snacks and drinks as well as souvenirs, and you can get your National Parks passport stamped here as well. The bathrooms here were a little more basic but perfectly clean.

Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center

This is the first Visitor Center you come across at the Homestead entrance to the park; it’s actually just outside the park entrance itself. This Visitor Center has interactive exhibits that go into detail about the park and just how important the ecosystem is to Florida; this was definitely the most educational center, and great for school age kids.

We also picked up a Junior Ranger activity book here, and my kids had a great time completing activities like wildlife scavenger hunts to become Junior Rangers. Once the workbooks were completed, they returned them to a park ranger who had them repeat an oath before handing them their Junior Ranger badges. This was a big hit, and made for a great souvenir!

Everglades National Parks with kids
You can become a Junior Ranger and get your very own Junior Ranger badge

This Visitor Center had a slightly larger gift shop with more souvenir options and a great variety of snacks, and the bathrooms were a little nicer.

There are no walking trails off this Visitor Center (there was an outdoor deck where we spotted a couple of alligators in the water), but we were directed a little ways away to the Royal Palm Visitor Center just inside the park entrance for some other kid friendly trails.

Royal Palm Visitor Center also has bathrooms and a gift shop, plus this was a great place for kid friendly walking trails (that were also stroller friendly). The Anhinga Trail is 0.8 miles round trip, completely paved so super stroller friendly, and another great place for spotting wildlife. We saw plenty of alligators, and lots of very friendly birds swimming and walking around.

Driving deeper into the park you can find the Mahogany Hammock Trail, a 0.5 mile trail that is also kid friendly and paved all the way. This is a really pretty trail, but since it’s 20 miles from the park entrance, I’d only recommend stopping here if you’re driving in that direction anyway.

Flamingo Visitor Center

This is the Southernmost tip of the Everglades, and will take the longest to reach no matter where you stay. This was the only Visitor Center we didn’t go too because it was so far South, and the activities seemed more geared towards kids who were a little older.

As the name suggests, this is a great place to see flamingos! You can actually spot flamingos in other parts of the Everglades National Park, but if you have your heart set on seeing some them this Visitor Center is your best bet. This is also the best place to spot both alligators and crocodiles; the easiest way to spot the difference between the two is that alligators have broader, flatter looking snouts and crocodiles are more triangular.

This is a great place to rent a kayak and see the Everglades from the water. This is something we would love to come back and do another time, but with a toddler in tow there was no way we were getting that close to the water when there were alligators in it! If you have older kids though, this would be fantastic. You can rent kayaks through Everglades Guest Services.

Since the Flamingo Visitor Center is close to Flamingo Campground, the Flamingo Marina nearby is a great place to pick up supplies; they even have a food truck selling sandwiches and salads if you need to pick up some lunch.

Gulf Coast Visitor Center

This was the last of the Visitor Centers that we went to, and one I would probably only recommend going to if you plan on taking a boat trip from here. There were a couple of interesting exhibits, but no gift shop and the bathrooms were the most basic yet. It is closest to Everglades City, not far from the Big Cypress National Preserve Visitor Center.

Everglades National Parks with kids
Gulf Coast Visitor Center is a great place for a boat ride around the Everglades

Having said that, if you’re going to take a boat trip through the Everglades then this is the place to do it. The Ten Thousand Islands cruise departs from the Visitor Center every hour and offers a 90 minute excursion through the mangrove islands of the park. This is a great way to see alligators, crocodiles, manatees, and even dolphins. You can book ahead through Everglades Florida Adventures.

Visit Big Cypress National Preserve

In the middle of the Everglades you can find Big Cypress National Preserve, and it’s well worth stopping at their Visitor Center.

Everglades National Park with kids
Take the time to visit Big Cypress National Preserve

The exhibits here were fascinating, giving lots of information on how the ecosystem in the Everglades and how the Cypress Trees are crucial to the survival of the area. There is even a 15 minute movie you can watch to see how the two National Parks rely on one another.

This was also a great place to learn more about the endangered Florida panther, and what can be done to protect their environment. My kids were fascinated by this and loved learning more about this species of animal that I had honestly never even heard of! I was really glad we stopped here to learn more about the area and the animals living here.

Everglades National Park with kids
We spotted manatees off the back deck of the Big Cypress National Preserve Visitor Center

Off the back deck of the Visitor Center you can spot more alligators and in the colder months, manatees might be around. We spotted two manatees hanging out in the water, as well as another alligator swimming around.

What to pack for visiting Everglades National Park with kids

We’re trying to get better at packing light and traveling with a carry on only, but there are still certain things that you really need to pack for a trip to Everglades National Park. Certain things are a necessity and others will just make the trip more comfortable.

A good quality back pack

A good quality backpack will make all of the walking in the Everglades National Park much easier. We have a couple of different backpacks that we use when we travel but our Osprey Daylite Daypack is generally our go to and holds up really well.

What we packed in our backpack for a day in the Everglades National Park:
– a change of clothes for the kids (in case temperatures changed or they got muddy)
– insect repellent and sunscreen (see below for my recommendations)
– baby wipes and hand sanitizer (we used the bathrooms at each Visitor Center and the kids washed their hands, but we used the hand sanitizer if we weren’t near a bathroom and someone needed a snack)
– our National Parks passport and Junior Ranger passports (you can buy these ahead of time or at the Visitor Centers) as well as pencils to complete Junior Ranger activity books
– reusable water bottles and snacks (see below for my recommendations)
– a camera and a spare battery (see below for my recommendations)

Insect repellent 


Living in Florida, we have a good supply of insect repellent that we use throughout the year and I’ve done a lot of research into the most effective brands that are gentle on my kids skin and safe for the environment.

We have used the same two brands for the last few years and I can honestly say both are great at keeping bugs away and gentle on my kids skin. The two brands we use are Natrapel Insect Repellent and Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Plant Based Insect Repellent and while both work well, I do think the Natrapel lasts a little longer and works a bit better in super buggy environments.

Sunscreen and sun protection

Even if you visit the Everglades National Park with kids in the winter, temperatures can still be high and you’re going to need some kind of sun protection.

We have used Thinkbaby sunscreen for a while now and we love that it’s gentle but effective, reef safe and cruelty free. The factor 50 is strong enough to block the sun and we use it on any exposed body parts when outdoors for a long period of time in warm weather.

We also make sure kids have sun protective clothing such as long sleeved easy breathe fabric shirts, long pants, sunglasses and sun hats. Covering up as much as possible not only protects against the sun, but protects against mosquitoes too.

Reusable water bottles and food containers

We are trying to incorporate more sustainable travel with kids so using reusable products has become part of our travel routine. We always travel with the same few products, which include all of those linked above, and I can personally vouch for each of those being something I would happily recommend.

I would especially recommend carrying a reusable water bottle since it can get so hot in the summer months, and the humidity can really increase the risk of dehydration. Each of the Visitor Centers had water bottle refill stations where you could fill bottles for free, and we always took advantage of this.

We also carried some snacks so we didn’t have to purchase anything from the gift shops, and we carried these in the reusable pouches. Our go to snacks for being outdoors are things like whole grain crackers, dried fruit, cereal, granola bars and applesauce pouches.

Camera

This is a great place to capture some amazing shots of nature, and I’d definitely recommend taking a camera of some sort.

I took a lot of photos on my phone since that was the easiest way to take a quick photo, but I also took my Canon Rebel to take some nicer shots, especially of some of the wildlife in the parks. This would be a great place to bring a zoom lens as well since you really don’t want to get too close to those alligators!

Tips for visiting Everglades National Park with kids

We had a fantastic time visiting Everglades National Park with kids and although we researched a lot before we went, I definitely have some advice to pass along for others looking to book a trip.

My biggest tips for visiting Everglades National Park with kids:
– try to go in the dry season when the weather is cool and rain is less likely. This will make the visit much more pleasant for every one, more wildlife will be out and about, and more of the park will be accessible.
– either drive your own car or rent one. It is virtually impossible to go between the Visitor Centers without driving, especially with kids in tow, and you really want to see as many of them as possible to get the full experience of the park. Florida doesn’t do public transportation well and there is very little in the Miami area so a car is needed to go just about anywhere. Uber, Lyft, and other ride sharing companies probably aren’t going to be much use here either.
– don’t try to do too much when visiting Everglades National Park with kids, especially if the weather is warm. My kids are very active and love being outdoors, but even they hit a wall when it came to all of the walking involved and that was with very mild temperatures. Consider renting bikes (or bringing your own), taking a tram tour, or booking a boat trip in order to see more of the park without the little ones having to do as much walking.
– try to visit as early in the day as possible. Lines to enter the park can get long, and temperatures in South Florida can reach 100 degrees in the middle of the summer, which makes being outdoors very difficult. Hitting the park earlier means shorter lines, less crowds, and more comfortable temperatures.
– pack plenty of insect repellent, sunscreen, water and snacks so that you’re not reliant on the Visitor Centers once you’re out and about exploring.
– cell phone reception can be spotty, especially at the Gulf Coast Visitor Center. Don’t rely on Google Maps to get you from A to B since you might find you don’t have any reception, and your connection might drop halfway through a journey. Look at how to get around before you leave, and make use of the maps given to you when you enter the park.

Everglades National Park with kids

Have you visited Everglades National Park with kids?

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