The Shark Valley section of Everglades National Park is an odd place this winter: The alligators and wading birds are scarce and sections of the path are under water.
Thanks to historic winter rain storms, Florida is still drowning in excess water and for the first time in a half century, the South Florida Water Management District is sending water from Lake Okeechobee through the Shark Valley Slough
Shark Valley is a highly accessible section of the national park off the Tamiami Trail less than an hour west of Miami. It is famous for its 15-mile paved hiking and biking pathway, which in winter is typically lined with dozens of alligators, many basking in the sun on the edge of the path, and hundreds of wading birds.
Not this year, though.
Whereas the waterways along the paved path in Shark Valley normally teem with wildlife in winter, this year the conditions are more like summer. (Here’s a Florida Rambler story about visiting Shark Valley.)
In summer, water is plentiful and wildlife disperses through the Everglades. In a typical winter, water remains only in deeper canals and ponds and thus wildlife is concentrated there.
On Saturday, Feb. 27, about two weeks after water managers started sending water through the Shark Valley, the area didn’t have a lot of wildlife but it did have a lot of visitors. The parking lot was full and at least 50 cars were parked for several blocks along the Tamiami Trail outside the park.
Along the Shark Valley trail, one could spot an alligator every few blocks. A ranger commented that normally you’d see 20 alligators per mile in Shark Valley in the winter. This year you might see 20 in the 15 mile loop through the park.
Near the observation tower, water 2 inches deep rushed across the pathway, making it perfectly clear that the Everglades IS a river of grass.
From the observation tower, where normally dozens of alligators are piled up lounging in the pond, three or four gators were present.
All of the short hiking trails that lead off the main paved path are under water.
The long-term impact of this water flow will play out over the next few months. One ranger commented there is concern about alligators finding dry land for their nests, which are traditionally built in spring.
The only bright spot?
The Everglades’ most unwelcome guest – exotic Burmese pythons that have plagued the park for the last decade – may be suffering too. They’ve been seen taking refuge in the tree tops. There is hope, the ranger said, that some will starve there.
More information about Everglades National Park:
- Florida Rambler’s guide to visiting Everglades National Park,
- Information on tram tours at Shark Valley. The park is busiest from Dec. 26 through April 30, and reservations are recommended during this time period. You may reserve for the 9, 10, 2, 3, and 4 p.m. trams. Walk up visitation spikes in the middle of the day, so reservations cannot be made for the 11, noon or 1 p.m. tours. Adults are $18.25; seniors (62+) $17.25 and children (3-12) $11.50
- Shark Valley Visitor Center information
- Lots of folks on Yelp love Shark Valley.
- Here’s a YouTube video that gives you a taste of what it’s like to bike this trail and a video that shows how close one gets to alligators and birds.
Other things to do near Everglades National Park Shark Valley entrance on the Tamiami Trail:
- The section of the Tamiami Trail (pronounced “tammy-ammy” so it rhymes) that passes through Big Cypress National Preserve is designated a scenic byway. Here’s detailed information about this great roadtrip with a number of interesting stops.
- On the Tamiami Trail between Miami and Shark Valley, there are many places to take an airboat ride.
- Clyde Butcher’s Big Cypress Gallery is 15 minutes west of the park and is well worth a visit.
- Big Cypress National Preserve has a nearby visitor center and information about exploring the area.
- Also nearby is the smallest (and cutest, I’d say) post office in America in Ochopee.
- You are 45 minutes away from Everglades City, a charming, historic city on the Gulf Coast. It’s a good place for fresh seafood such as stone crabs and for kayaking into the 10,000 Islands. We’ve written about a “tame” kayak trip from Everglades City and a more ambitious kayak camping trip on one of those islands, Indian Key. If you visit Everglades City, don’t miss the historic Smallwood Store.