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Shark Valley at Everglades National Park: Great bike trail; terrific wildlife

One of the best ways to see Florida’s Everglades is to arrive on the Tamiami Trail and use the Shark Valley entrance.

The southern unit of Everglades National Park, which you reach via Homestead, offers many more locations, a dozen hiking trails, camping and picnic areas, several outstanding kayak trails and a greater variety of habitats.

And Shark Valley has no camping or picnic area and basically one trail – a smoothly paved 15-mile loop.

But this trail is so special, it makes Shark Valley hard to top.

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 Everglades National Park in early January, this pair was visible from the paved path. There were six other young gators in the grass. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

At Shark Valley, the alligators and birds that line that trail in winter will amaze. The wildlife seems used to humans and goes about its business just steps from visitors.

Here, you may have to walk around the alligators, who sometimes sun themselves with body parts extending onto the trail. In the first mile of the trail on a sunny winter day, you’re likely to count dozens of alligators, plus myriad birds, often right next to the gators.

In addition, this 15-mile bike trail is probably the best bike trail in South Florida. It’s 20 feet wide and the only traffic is the park tram, which will pass you three or four times in an afternoon.

Bicyclists ride through water at The Shark Valley section of Everglades National Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Bicyclists ride past a gator at the Shark Valley section of Everglades National Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

How to visit Shark Valley in Everglades National Park

Observation tower at Shark Valley in Everglades National Park.
Observation tower at Shark Valley in Everglades National Park.. (Photo: David Blasco)

That handy 15-mile Loop Trail through Shark Valley was constructed in 1946 when Humble Oil drilled for oil here. Fortunately, the company decided oils wells here weren’t economic and the land joined the national park system.

To build the trail, workers dug a trench alongside the road and used the dirt to slightly elevate the path. The trench filled with water and, as the rest of the Everglades dries out in winter, the water here became the perfect habitat for wildlife, who concentrated here.

In the winter, visitors have no trouble seeing dozens of alligators up close. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
In the winter, visitors have no trouble seeing dozens of alligators up close at Shark Valley in Everglades National Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Your first challenge to visiting Shark Valley may be getting in – lines can be long on sunny winter weekends and the parking lot may fill up. That has happened to us, and it doesn’t mean you have to turn around. The driver can drop off passengers and then park along the roadside outside the park and walk back in.

Still, be aware that at peak winter times, Shark Valley is filling to capacity between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. with up to two hour waits, according to the National Park Service.

The Shark Valley path in Everglades National Park, as seen from the tower at the mid-point. (Photo: David Blasco)
The Shark Valley path in Everglades National Park, as seen from the tower at the mid-point. (Photo: David Blasco)

Do the crowds ruin the experience? I always love to have nature to myself, but even in the most crowded parks – say the Grand Canyon in summer – the crowds build at only the most accessible points. At Shark Valley, once you leave the parking lot area, the crowd thins. On weekdays, even on sunny 75-degree days, you can easily be away from crowds.

The tram at Shark Valley in Everglades National Park. (Photo: David Blasco)
The tram at Shark Valley in Everglades National Park. (Photo: David Blasco)

Three ways to see Shark Valley in Everglades National Park

1 – Walk the trail on your own. I love to walk the trail for several miles because you see the most when moving slowly on foot.

One year, 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, something we might have missed on a bike or tram.

Along the bike path at Shark Valley, you are likely to have a close up look at alligators. It's important to give them space. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Along the bike path at Shark Valley, you are likely to have a close up look at alligators. It’s important to give them space. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

2 – Bicycle the trail on your own or a rented bike. The flat pavement, abundant wildlife and expansive views make this the best bike trail in South Florida.

A concessionaire rents bicycles here. Come early or reserve ahead of time, though: They can run out on busy weekends. Bikes are all single gear bikes with coaster brakes. You can rent 20″ children’s bikes and bikes with child seats. Bike rentals start at 8:30 a.m. and may be rented until  4 p.m.  Bringing your own bike is ideal, especially because you can stay later than the 5 p.m. return-time for rented bikes. Here’s the link for reserving a bike rental.

3 – Take the two-hour tram tour narrated by a park-trained naturalist. First-time visitors and those with less mobility should take advantage of the well-done tram tours. The open-air trams are covered and stop frequently to point out wildlife. Guides offer insights into this unique ecology and identify animals and plants.

At the mid-point of the tour, there’s a 45 foot high observation deck with big views in all directions and a pond of alligators below.

The tram tour is $28 for adults; $22 for seniors (62+) and $15 for children 3-12. 

Tips on visiting Shark Valley

  • If you bring a picnic, the only picnic tables are around the parking lot and restrooms. Along the trail itself, there is little dry land 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 the Tamiami Trail for a picnic elsewhere. (Picnic locations are west of Shark Valley in Big Cypress National Wildlife Refuge.)
A white peacock butterfly at Shark Valley in Everglades National Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
A white peacock butterfly at Shark Valley in Everglades National Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
  • 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 and avoid holiday weekends.
  • Even on the busiest days (and on a recent 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 don’t have a park pass, however, you’ll pay $20 per person instead of $35 per carload.)
  • One of the special winter activities at Shark Valley are ranger-led bike tours under a full moon. These trips require you to bring your own bike and they fill up immediately. But you don’t have to go with a ranger. Here’s a little known fact: The park is open 24 hours, though the parking lot is closed at 6 p.m. As long as you park outside the park, you can access the Loop Trail after closing time. That means you can do that full-moon ride on your own or pedal during the golden hour.
Baby alligators were visible from the paved walkway at Shark Valley area of Everglades National Park.
Baby alligators visible from the paved walkway at Shark Valley area of Everglades National Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

  • Bring a water bottle; you can fill it up half-way around the loop at the observation tower.
  • There are two short trails along the main Loop Trail. The Bobcat Boardwalk is a half-mile long through a hard-wood forest. The Otter Cave Hammock Trail is a quarter mile. Both trails are pleasant but no match for what you experience along the Loop Trail. (These are closed when there is flooding, which is often.)
  • Best time to visit: November through April. Dry conditions result in animals gathering around the remaining water, so wildlife viewing is better. Mosquitoes are bad in the summer and there is little shade at Shark Valley. It’s possible to visit in summer and not see a single alligator; they spread out over the vast watery river of grass.

  • Phone reception is limited. Make sure you have the information you need downloaded before you head out to Everglades.

  • There are no sharks. The name comes from two estuaries, the Shark River and the Little Shark River, which empty into the Gulf of Mexico. That’s where the sharks are and where the Shark River got its name.
  • Are e-bikes permitted at Shark Valley? Yes; there is a 15 mph speed limit.
On an April 2024 visit to Shark Valley, the glades were still quite wet and the usual wading birds were not present in any number. We were delighted, then, that a cardinal joined us at our picnic table. (Photo: David Blasco)
On an April 2024 visit to Shark Valley, the glades were still quite wet and the usual wading birds were not present in any number. We were delighted, then, that a cardinal joined us at our picnic table. (Photo: David Blasco)

Shark Valley address and admission fees

The Shark Valley Entrance to Everglades National Park is located at 36000 SW 8th St, Miami.

Do not take an Uber here and expect to be picked up. This is a long way from Miami and you might not find anybody to come here to get you. There is no public transportation to Shark Valley. And for all those avid bicyclists out there: The Tamiami Trail is no place for a bike, either. A few private tour companies operate bus tours to Shark Valley but these are expensive.

Be aware: Admission has been increased at Everglades National Park and is $35 per car, with a pass good for seven days. If you park outside Shark Valley and walk or bike in, the fee is $20 per person. (As soon as you turn 62, get a senior pass. For $80, it offers lifetime admission. Also: Take advantage of these free days in national parks.)

Cash is no longer accepted at the entrance booths; you need a credit card.

More information about Shark Valley and Everglades National Park

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

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Alejandra

Tuesday 9th of January 2024

Hi! Thanks for the information shared. I have a doubt maybe you can help me with. Do you know if it possible to go with my bike and ride from the last bus stop to Shark Valley? At Google maps I see some bike ways marked, but it doesn’t seem to be the entire stretch. Thanks.

Bonnie Gross

Tuesday 9th of January 2024

The Tamiami Trail is no place for a bicylist, I'm afraid. It wouldn't be safe and it would be miserable.

Raisa

Saturday 25th of November 2023

Today Saturday November 25 is it flooded?

Bonnie Gross

Saturday 25th of November 2023

On Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023, only the west side of the paved road is open, this is the section along the canal that generally has the most wildlife. The east side is flooded. The tram ride is operating, but only on the west side. The ranger providing information by phone said it was likely to take at least a few days for water to subside.

Dan

Friday 9th of June 2023

Can you get off one tram, take photos and board another tram arriving later or do you have to stay with the same one for the length of the tour?

Bonnie Gross

Wednesday 14th of June 2023

No. It's not a hop-on-hop-off format. -- Bonnie

Ray Horan

Saturday 24th of September 2022

Is it possible to get a hard copy of these trails?

Great info, thank you

Bonnie Gross

Saturday 24th of September 2022

We don't have anything in print at this time, so your only recourse is to print it out yourself, which isn't great. Sorry.

Alison Block

Monday 29th of November 2021

Appreciate the detailed information! Just wanted to point out that the address to Shark Valley is listed as "6000 SW 8th" but I believe it should be "36000" just based on a quick google maps search. I haven't actually visited the park so I can't say for certain! But just an observation based on my preliminary google maps search.

Bonnie Gross

Tuesday 30th of November 2021

Thank you! typo has been fixed!

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