Everglades / Road Trips / Southeast Florida

Tamiami Trail: Scenic drive exploring Everglades

Great blue heron and a great white egret at Shark Valley entrance to Everglades National Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Update, Nov. 14, 2017:  Some areas along the Tamiami Trail are closed due to the effects Hurricane Irma.

Still closed are: The Shark Valley section of Everglades National Park and the unpaved portion of Loop Road inside Big Cypress National Wildlife Refuge.

Collier Seminole State Park is open but the boardwalk, 3.5 mile biking trail and 6.5 mile hiking trail are closed.

If you are planning to visit, be sure to check whether these facilities have reopened.

There are two ways to cross the bottom of the Florida peninsula — the fast four-lane Alligator Alley (I-75), or the more scenic two-lane Tamiami Trail (U.S. 41).

Both roads will take you through miles of Everglades scenery with glimpses of alligators sunning along the waterways and Everglades birds in the trees.

But the Tamiami Trail gets you closer to the scenery, and it offers several outstanding stops along the way.  (You’ll also drive across a historic 1-mile-long bridge designed to return natural water flow to Everglades National Park. The $81 million bridge opened in 2012 and is part of the largest construction project in the history of the National Park Service.)

Here’s how to make the most of driving the scenic Tamiami Trail:

The Tamiami Trail (U.S. 41) begins in downtown Miami at Brickell Avenue and for many miles it is Calle Ocho, running through the heart of Miami’s historic Cuban community.

About 20 miles west of downtown, at Krome Avenue, the city is behind you and the road heads into the Glades. (The corner of U.S. 41 and Krome is home to the casino operated by the Miccosukee Indians.)

Beyond the casino, the road passes several opportunities for air boat tours. The National Park Service authorizes three airboat tour companies inside Everglades National Park: Coopertown, 22700 SW 8th St., Miami, (305) 226-6048; Everglades Safari Park, 26700 SW 8th St., Miami, (305)226-6923; and Gator Park , 24050 SW 8th St., Miami, (305) 559-2255. Coming from Miami, these are all before you come to the Everglades National Park entrance.

Baby alligators were visible from the paved walkway at Shark Valley area of Everglades National Park.

Baby alligators were visible from the paved walkway at Shark Valley area of Everglades National Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Alligator at Shark Valley, Everglades National Park

Gators like this along the Shark Valley path are common sights in winter.

Travel west about 20 miles and you come to the one of the real “must do” stops on the Tamiami Trail, Shark Valley, one of several entrances to Everglades National park. It is a reliably wonderful outing, where you can can walk, bike or take a tram on a 15-mile paved trail and see many alligators and wading birds. We think it’s the best biking trail in South Florida.

The parking lot at Shark Valley cannot accommodate all the visitors on winter weekends, but cars can park on the shoulder of the Tamiami Trail and visitors can walk in. Note: Admission to Everglades National Park is now $25 per car, but is good for seven days.

Just west of Shark Valley are two Miccosukee Indian attractions. The restaurant on the north side of the road offers a varied menu, including some native American favorites, such as fry bread.

The Miccosukee Indian Village and Gift Shop, also just west of Shark Valley on the south side of the road, is a commercial attraction. See what folks say here.

Your next opportunity for a side trip is Loop Road, a 26-mile road through the Big Cypress National Preserve that will take at an hour or two hours to explore. It’s an old gravel road with a colorful history; it has always attracted folks averse to civilization and its rules. For many years it was Florida’s version of the wild west. Today, people travel Loop Road for a different kind of wild life — it’s a great place to spot alligators, birds, deer and even otter in a wild off-the-beaten-track setting. Here’s more from Florida Rambler on Loop Road.

Clyde Butcher's Gallery in Big Cypress. (Photo: David Blasco)

Clyde Butcher’s Gallery in Big Cypress. (Photo: David Blasco)

A few miles west of the entrance to Loop Road is Clyde Butcher’s Big Cypress Gallery, 52388 Tamiami Trail. Butcher is a renown photographer whose large-scale black-and-white photos are designed to make the viewer feel like he is at the center of the photo, surrounded by the amazing beauty of the Everglades. Butcher’s studio overlooks a scenic pond, where alligators and wading birds frequently appear, seeming to pose for pictures.

A stop at the studio is a great opportunity to view Butcher’s work in the setting that inspired it. While his original photographs are expensive, his gallery offers affordable calendars and posters. You can also take a five-minute walk through a pretty cypress forest behind the studio.

This stretch of Tamiami Trail that runs through the Big Cypress National Preserve is designated as a scenic highway. The thick cypress swamp hugs the highway’s edges and, if you don’t have somebody driving on your bumper, it’s worthwhile to slow down and take it in. We’ve seen an otter cross the road here, humping across the highway with its weird gait.

Alligator viewed from boardwalk at the Big Cypress Visitor Center along the Tamiami Trail.

Alligator viewed from boardwalk at the Big Cypress Visitor Center along the Tamiami Trail. (Photo: David Blasco)

A few miles west, Big Cypress National Preserve Visitor Center offers exhibits, an introductory film and national park staff  available to answer questions. The boardwalk out front overlooks a pond that attracts gators in winter and rangers periodically give informative talks here.

If you want to take a hike at this point, watch for the turn south where Loop Road rejoins the Tamiami Trail.  Two miles up this dirt road is Gator Hook picnic area and trail. There’s an easy-to-hike 1.5 mile trail through dwarf cypress trees on an old logging road. Gator Hook has restrooms and shaded picnic sites.

(This corner had been the site of Monroe Station, a historic building that burned down in 2016. Back when driving the Tamiami Trail was one of the most remote stretches of road in Florida, this was a service station and general store serving passing tourists. Here’s a picture of it then.)

Birds at Shark Valley, Everglades National Park (Photo: National Park Service)

Birds at Shark Valley, Everglades National Park (Photo: National Park Service)

Back on Tamiami Trail, continuing west, you’ll pass Monument Lake campground on your right and then, on your left, the Kirby Storter boardwalk and picnic area, another good stop along the trail. The half-mile boardwalk is accessible to wheelchairs and strollers and takes you into the cypress swamp. There are picnic tables and restrooms.

A few more miles and on your right you’ll come to H.P. Williams Picnic Area, with tables and a viewing area where alligators and wading birds are often seen. The park is located at the intersection where Turner River Road heads north.

This dirt road takes you through open prairie along canals full of birds and alligators. There is also a restroom here. If you want to add a back-country drive, consider driving this 17 mile loop: Turner River Road to Upper Wagonwheel Road to Birdon Road. The National Park Service created this informative guide  to the route. It’s a PDF you can print out and bring along.

Back on Tamiami, a half mile west of Turner River Road, you come to the Turner River Canoe Access site, which provides parking and a boat launch for this popular canoeing and kayaking river. Kayaks and canoes can paddle upstream or downstream and back or use a livery service to make the all-day trip downstream to Chokoloskee and Everglades City. This may be the most popular paddling trail in the region and for good reason: The scenery is spectacular and the wildlife abundant. Several outfitters run tours here and individuals bring kayaks from around Florida to put in here. Here’s our story about paddling the Turner River. (You can also stop at this site to use the picnic tables and restrooms.)

A few miles west of here at the Big Cypress Welcome Center, 33000 Tamiami Trail East, there’s a trailhead for another popular kayak trail, Halfway Creek. Here are details about it.

Exterior of the Ochopee, Florida, post office, smallest in the US

The smallest post office in the US.

Continuing west, while you’ll see a few mailboxes along the road, you will rightly conclude that not many people live in these parts. So you may be surprised when the next landmark you see is the post office in downtown Ochopee. Of course, the post office IS the sole building in downtown Ochopee, and it’s the tiniest post office in the country — and, I’d maintain, the cutest. Go ahead: Stop and take a photo. Here’s more on the post office.

A bit west of the post office is an opportunity to stop for lunch: the historic and funky eatery, Joanie’s Blue Crab Cafe, 39395 Tamiami Trail, Ochopee. Joanie’s specializes in local foods, including frog legs, catfish, alligator, blue crab and grouper.

Tamiami Trail Joanies Blue Crab cafe by James Ashburn

Tamiami Trail Joanie’s Blue Crab Cafe

The atmospheric  building, crammed with all sorts of memorabilia and oddities, dates to 1928, the year the Tamiami Trail was completed, and the spot attracts all sorts of folks, from bikers to European tourists. Here’s what TripAdvisor visitors says about it.

Joanie’s is 36 miles west of Shark Valley and you’re only a few miles from the Gulf Coast now, but there are a few stops you can still make.

Just west of the Big Cypress headquarters you come to U.S. 29, which is the road to Everglades City, a miles further west. It’s  an interesting stop well worth exploring. There are informal waterside restaurants that specialize in fresh seafood and stone crabs and the historic town is full of charm.

Strangler fig along Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk along the Tamiami Trail. (Photo: David Blasco)

Strangler fig along Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk along the Tamiami Trail. (Photo: David Blasco)

Just north on U.S. 29 on the Tamiami Trail is the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk in the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park. It’s a 2,000-foot-long boardwalk  through old growth cypress swampland and it is a truly stunning place. It’s worth taking the time to take a stroll here — it’s one the prettiest boardwalks in the Everglades. If you can make only one or two stops along the Tamiami Trail, I’d recommend this be among them. (And it’s free.)

Fakahatchee is the orchid and bromeliad capital of the continent with 44 native orchids and 14 native bromeliad species. It’s where the ghost orchid, topic of a book by Susan Orleans and a movie starring Meryl Streep, lives, along with the equally elusive Florida Panther.

Before the Tamiami Trail reaches Marco Island and then Naples, you pass Collier Seminole State Park, which draws people  for camping, hiking and paddling. It’s also home to the 1924 Bay City Walking Dredge, and how often do you get to visit a “National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark”?

At this point, the Tamiami Trail leaves the Everglades and becomes the major link between cities on the Gulf Coast.

Links to help you plan your Tamiami Trail roadtrip:

Visiting nearby Everglades City and Chokoloskee:  

Interesting Everglades City places to stay and eat: 

 

Loading
Center map
Traffic
Bicycling
Transit
H.P. Williams Roadside Park
Kirby Storter Roadside Park
Turner River Kayak/Canoe launch & wayside
Big Cypress Visitor Center
Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk
in the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park
Joanie's Blue Crab Cafe
Ochopee Post Office
Shark Valley
Miccosukee Resort & Gaming
Clyde Butcher Big Cypress Gallery
Entrance to Jane's Scenic Drive, Fakahatchee Strand Preserve
Entrance Loop Road

Article updated December 2016

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8 Comments

  1. Jonathan says:

    Have you driven Jane’s Scenic Drive? Wondering if it is similar to Loop Road or a bit rougher of a drive.

    Thanks for all the great information!

  2. Terry Reinhardt says:

    Thank you for this wonderful article. We plan do camp the east coast next year then head to the west coast. What a great way to go across fla. I can’t wait. Thank you again

  3. Lucky Cole says:

    About four miles west of Shark Valley you will see a small sign on the left “Loop Road”. This is a great way to see the Florida Everglades from the comfort of your car. The first eight miles are paved then the last 15 mile is a gravel road. The road is in great shape and a beautiful drive. You will see everglades wildlife and hundreds of birds. If you try it out pleas let me know what you think.
    Lucky Cole Loop Road Photographer

    • Lucky,
      Thanks so much for the note. Coincidentally, adding Loop Road and a few others great spots to Florida Rambler is next on my to-do list!

      • Lucky Cole says:

        Good morning Bonnie, I hope you find time to make it down to Loop Road and have time to stop in and visit our home/photo studio and our yard sale of unusual & collectible items. We open to guest and visitors most Sat. & Sun. at 12:00 noon. If you come on a weekday, just give me a call in advanve and I will arange to open for you.You can also get allot of information about us and where we live if you Google “lucky Cole Loop Road” Thank you and we will be looking forward to meeting you.
        Lucky Cole
        239-695-2550
        305-525-1419

    • Bill Baines says:

      Lucky, what kind of photo ops exist along the loop road? Are there opportunities to pull your vehicle over and get out of the car? Lastly, I am planning a visit in early February, any specific to look for?

      • Thanks for the note, Bill. First, there are fantastic photos ops along Loop Road as well as opportunities to get out of the car. I have a piece about Loop Road still “in my notebook” — hope to write it soon. Loop Road is not heavily trafficked, so you can pull over at many points and get photos of birds, gators and other wildlife. There are some hiking trails and some funky historic buildings. Specific things to look for? Not really. Just look around. Last time I was there, an alligator blithely crossed Loop Road not far from where we were unloading our bikes.

  4. A word of caution: if you take out of towners to Shark Valley as the first thing they see in the everglades, the rest of it will seem very disappointing.

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