An Airboat Adventure in Everglades National Park

An Airboat Adventure in Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park, located in southern Florida, is the largest subtropical wilderness within the United States.  It is home to a variety of flora and fauna, including species such as manatee, alligators, and crocodiles.  Encroaching development threatened the Everglades and thankfully it has been protected since it earned national park status in 1947.  

One can hike, boat, and kayak to explore the park, but one of the most fun ways to experience the Everglades is to cruise its waterways via an airboat.  Airboats contain a motor that stays out of the water (in the air) and allows the watercraft to stay low while cruising fast, careful to not disturb the plant life and wildlife that call this marshland home.  This is what we did and we had a blast!  But first, here are a few things to know before you go.

EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK FACTS

Everglades is the only place in the world where both alligators and crocodiles coexist

  • LOCATION:  Florida
  • CLOSEST MAJOR CITY:  Miami, Florida
  • ANNUAL VISITORS:  1.1 million
  • 23rd most visited US National Park out of 63
  • BECAME A NATIONAL PARK:  1947
  • TOP THING TO DO:  Go on an airboat tour

More About the Everglades

Everglades National Park is the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles live in the same waters.  Alligators live in fresh water while crocodiles live in salt water.  With the brackish water, a mixture of salt and fresh water, alligators and crocodiles can cohabitate here.

Between the two, alligators are less aggressive than crocodiles, not attacking unless provoked.  Crocodiles are much more aggressive.  You might see either or both during an airboat ride!

The Everglades is not a swamp but a freshwater marsh.  This slow moving river system is known as the River of Grass.

There are two distinct seasons in the Everglades:  The wet season and the dry season.  The wet season is generally May – November while the dry season is December – April.  The dry season is a more popular time to visit because of comfortable temperatures, the presence of migratory birds and their predators, as well as more ranger-led programs going on.  The wet season brings big rains which means hot, humid weather as well as often cancelled ranger-led programs. 

How to Get Here

Everglades National Park is located on the southern tip of Florida.  Not all areas are accessible, however there are currently three visitor’s centers:

  1. The Ernest F. Coe Visitor’s Center, located near Homestead on the eastern side.  This is the main entrance to the park.
  2. The Shark Valley Visitor’s Center, located on the north side of the park, this is easiest to access from Miami.  Here, you’ll be able to participate in ranger-led programs, including a tram or bike tour.
  3. The Flamingo Visitor’s Center, located on the southern end of the park.  Here are hiking trails, canoe trails, boat tours, and campgrounds. 
  4. The Gulf Coast Visitor’s Center is accessed from the western side, closest to Naples.  The building remains closed due to damages sustained from Hurricane Ian, however one can still access the canoe and kayak launch areas as well as boat tours.  Because of this, I’m including it in this list, although services are limited here.

We stayed in Fort Lauderdale before our upcoming Caribbean cruise, and we had a day set aside to visit the Everglades.  We had a rental car and drove just about one hour to reach the location of Coopertown Airboats, near Miami.  This was the only activity we had time for and it was a fabulous way to visit the Everglades!

Our driving route, Fort Lauderdale to Coopertown Airboats near Miami

An Airboat Adventure

To start, we purchased our tickets online with Coopertown Airboats.  There are three airboat concessioners that work with the National Park Service.  Coopertown had the highest reviews of the three so we went with them.

You do not book a time slot, rather you just purchase the tickets and show up anytime during their operating hours.  When we visited in December 2022, Coopertown was open 9:00 am – 5:00 pm, 7 days a week.  We arrived around 2:00 pm, which was a busy time!  The parking lot was relatively small with several vehicles parked along the road.  We circled until a spot became available, which only took a few minutes.

After we parked, we entered the building where we paid the $5 per person national park fee (free for kids under 16).  We were assigned a boat number and it took about 30 minutes for our boarding time to begin.  While waiting, we wandered the grounds, watching a short show where a baby alligator was held by the host while she shared fun facts.  We also saw two massive crocodiles behind a fence for guests to peek at.  On site, there is also a gift shop as well as port-a-pottys available.

A crocodile, glad it was behind the fence!

Once we boarded the boat, our driver climbed up into his high seat, revved the motor, and began taking us down the water way. 

An airboat taking off

It was a slow ride at first as we made our way out of the lily pad-covered channel. 

The lily pad covered channel

Soon, we were out in the open area with tall grasses growing up out of the river. 

Tall grasses looming high on either side

We then sped up and flew down the waterway!  It felt as though we were flying on top of the water, it was so much fun!

Speeding through the grassy areas

Our driver also did a few high speed turns which he did by gliding around the corner, causing our boat to glide sideways as we made the turn.  Once we turned, our speed dramatically slowed.  We were now learning about sawgrass, mahogany trees, and airplants and of course keeping our eyes out for alligator. 

Sawgrass and airplants

We spotted an alligator, which was amazing, seeing it just peeking up from the water.  It slowly swam away as we quietly watched from the boat.  What an incredible experience seeing it in its natural habitat.  

An alligator looming under the water

We glided down the channel slowly and soon were back where we started.  What a great way to visit the Everglades!

Read more!

We visited The Everglades the day before embarking on a five day Caribbean Cruise.  Check out the article for an in-depth review of the ship, dining and entertainment offerings, and our port adventures:  Five Day Caribbean Cruise on Holland America’s Zuiderdam.  

Florida has three national parks within its borders.  We have also visited Dry Tortugas National Park, located off the coast of Key West, Florida.  To read about this park, click the link, Florida:  Dry Tortugas National Park and a Taste of Key West.

 

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