Bike & Hike / Birding / Everglades / Southeast Florida

Now’s the best time to take Florida’s best bike trail through the Everglades


At Shark Valley in early January, this pair were so close, you had to walk to the other side of the paved path to avoid crowding them. (Never crowd a Mama Gator!) There were six oher young gators in the grass around Big Mama.

At Shark Valley in early January, this pair were so close, you had to walk to the other side of the paved path to avoid crowding them. (Never crowd a Mama Gator!) There were six other young gators in the grass around Big Mama.

Shark Valley bike trail is full of wildlife in dry season

Egret at Everglades National Park at Shark Valley

Everglades Shark Valley: Birds are abundant and let visitors get quite close; photographers love it.

Everglades National Park Shark Valley

Alligators along the Everglades Shark Valley path are a common sight

Shark Valley, the entrance to Everglades National Park off the Tamiami Trail directly west of Miami, is such a reliably wonderful outing that it’s one of my favorite places to take visitors.

It offers what I contend is the best bike trail in South Florida: A smooth 15-mile paved loop trail through Everglades National Park with no traffic. (A tram travels the same road, but it  will pass you three or four times in an afternoon’s ride.)

Shark Valley bicycle trail by tiswango via Flickr

A bicyclist gets perhaps a little too close to a gator on the Shark Valley path through Everglades National Park.

On this trail, in winter you WILL see alligators. In fact, you may have to steer your bike around them and you will lose track of how many you spot. Wading birds are abundant. I’ve even seen two otters scampering along the waterway, just a dozen steps from the parking lot. The animals here seem accustomed to being watched and allow visitors to observe up close. There are no fences dividing you from them.

Because of its length, the Shark Valley bike trail offers vast open spaces and a chance to get away from people while its smooth surface  makes for carefree pedaling.

The same path makes a great walk, too. The advantage to walking is the slow pace allows you to notice the abundant wildlife.

On a visit during a busy winter holiday week, for example, we explored on foot. We were lucky enough to see  a mother alligator in the brush just off the path surrounded by more than a dozen babies. One sat on her head; others crawled on her back. We could hear their little squeaking “Mama!” noises and watch the whole scene, which took place not 15 feet away from us. After 30 years in South Florida and uncountable Everglades National Park outings, this was a first for me.

I also recommend Shark Valley for families with small children and older adults, because the tram ride is an excellent way to experience the Everglades for those who can’t pedal or walk great distance. The staff and volunteers who narrate the Shark Valley tram tour are passionate about the place and first-time visitors, in particular, come away informed and impressed.

The 15-mile road was built by an oil company that hoped to drill here. (Happily, they’re gone and the road remains for recreational use only.) At the half-way point, an observation tower overlooks a gator hole, reliably filled with gators during the dry season.

November through April are the best times to visit Everglades National Park, and Shark Valley is no exception. Dry conditions result in animals gathering around the remaining water, so wildlife viewing is better. Mosquitoes can be bad in the summer and there is little shade at Shark Valley.

Observation tower at Shark Valley, Everglades National Park

The observation tower at Shark Valley in Everglades National Park.

Whenever I go here, I am impressed with how many international travelers are present. Sometimes I think those who come from afar are more appreciative of the Everglades than those who live nearby.

A few tips to help you plan your visit to Shark Valley:

  • Shark Valley is very popular on winter weekends, so the parking lot fills up. Overflow visitors park on the Tamiami Trail and walk in, but bikes may all be rented and trams may be sold out, so, it makes sense to get an early start here. Even on the busiest days (and on my last visit, it was jammed) you can still have a great time by walking on the path. There may be more people around, but the trail is long and few people walk far.
  • If you bring a bike and there’s a wait to enter the park, you can park on the Tamiami Trail and pedal in. On a busy Sunday when there were eight cars ahead of us waiting for a parking spot, it took us about 20 minutes to gain entrance.
  • If you bring a picnic, the only picnic tables are around the parking lot. Along the trail itself, there is little dry land beside the trail and no shade, so we’ve eaten our lunches near the observation tower sitting on a bench at the half-way point. Another good alternative: Use our guide to Tamiami Trail for a picnic elsewhere. (Locations are west of Shark Valley in Big Cypress.)
  • Admission to Everglades National Park  is $10 per car and $5 per person on foot or bike. Admission is good for seven consecutive days. (Here are national parkfree days for 2014.)

More information about Everglades National Park:

Other things to do near Everglades National Park Shark Valley entrance on the Tamiami Trail:

On this trail, you WILL see alligators. In the winter, you may have to steer your bike

around the gators to avoid hitting them and you will lose track of how many you spot.

Wading birds are abundant. I’ve even seen two otters scampering along the waterway, just

a dozen steps from the parking lot.

The bike trail offers vast open spaces, a chance to get away from people, excellent

wildlife viewing and a surface that makes for carefree pedaling.

The same path makes a great walk, too. The advantage to walking is the slow pace allows

you to notice the abundant wildlife.

On my most recent visit during the winter holidays, for example, we saw through the

brush a mother alligator surrounded by more than a dozen babies. One sat on her head;

others crawled on her back. We could hear their little beeping “Mama!” noises and watch

the whole scene, which took place not 15 feet away from us. After 30 years in South

Florida and uncountable Everglades outings, this was a first for me.

I also recommend Shark Valley for families with small children and older adults, because

the tram ride is an excellent way to experience the Everglades for those who can’t pedal

or walk great distance.

The 15 mile road was built by an oil company that hoped to drill here. Happily, they’re

gone and the road remains for recreational use only.

At the half-way point, an observation tower overlooks a gator hole, generally filled

with gators of all sizes.

Fall, winter and spring are the best times to visit the Everglades, and Shark Valley is

no exception. Dry conditions result in animals gathering around the remaining water, so

wildlife viewing is better. Mosquitoes can be bad in the summer and there is little

shade at Shark Valley.

Whenever I go here, I am impressed with how many international travelers are present.

Sometimes I think those who come from afar are more appreciative of how special the

Everglades are than those who live nearby.

A few tips to help you plan your visit:

— Shark Valley is very popular on winter weekends, so the parking lot fills up.

Overflow visitors park on Tamiami Trail and walk in, but bikes may all be rented and

trams may be sold out, so, it makes sense to get an early start here. Even on the

busiest days (and on my last visit, it was jammed) you can still have a great time by

walking on the path. There may be more people around, but the trail is long and few

people walk far.

— If you bring a picnic, the only places to eat are around the parking lot. Along the

trail itself, there is little dry land beside the trail and no shade, so we’ve eaten our

lunches near the observation tower at the half-way point.

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12 Comments

  1. Bernie Khan says:

    thank you for all this information, which has really helped me to plan ahead for our family holiday this coming summer.

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