If I had to recommend one place in the Everglades to do a day trip, it would have to be at Shark Valley National Park. Don’t expect to see one single shark out here though because your deep in the Everglades; too far from any close encounters with any kind of shark. The origin of the name is beyond me, but I’d guess it has to do with the geological history of this part of Florida going back to prehistoric times. Way back when global warming was only an act of God, rather than a result of humans’ activity. Back when the global temperatures were a bit warmer, Arctic ice thinner, and the ocean levels were higher. Florida was mostly under water. A shallow sea covered most of South Florida and the ancient remains of ocean life can still be found. Shifting through the sediment of rivers and canals, one might get lucky and find a shark’s tooth, as well as bone and tooth fragments from prehistoric mammoths, mastodons, horses, and saber-toothed cats. But you don't come here to look for fossils. You come to Shark Valley to experience the living side of the Everglades.
Just over thirty minutes west from downtown Miami, you will find the entrance to the park along Tamiami Trail. Entrance fees have increased dramatically from $10 a vehicle to $25 in just five years, but it’s still worth it. I recommend arriving by 10am to avoid the crowds, because it can feel a bit like Disney when the trams start operating at 11am. The tram cost $25 per adult and lasts about two hours with a park ranger narrating interesting factoids. It’s the most common and least physically challenging way to see the park. As an alternative, if you’re down for a more adventurous experience, bring your bike or rent one for $9 an hour. It will take you about three or four hours to bike the full 15 miles of paved bike trails. Packed lunch and plenty of water recommended.
Back in the 1940s, the Army Corp of Engineer discovered oil here and created the 15-mile loop to begin drilling. Fortunately, the oil company concluded it wasn’t economical and the land was sold to the National Park Service. Thus, Shark Valley National Park was born. A great victory for conservationists and the wildlife that call this place home.
What makes this habitat unique for visitors is the amount of wildlife and majestic scenery one finds and wading aimlessly without a guide or GPS and the mosquitoes have never been that bad. Along the side of the paved loop, is a canal that provides a wet habitat for birds, insects, fish, small mammals, amphibians, alligators, and other reptiles. Mid way, along the loop is a 45-foot observation tower that provides an incredible view of the surrounding Everglades for miles. It's like watching a National Geographic documentary film live. Below is a lake full of wildlife interacting in harmony just as Mother Nature intended. A true oasis and excellent photo opportunity to capture the virgin landscape.
I’ve been here at least five times, and if you’re looking for an absolutely unique experience with some fangs, then come to the park during a full moon. The access gate is to the park is closed, as the park shuts down before sunset, but you can park just outside the gate and easily lug your bike through to bike the 15 miles under a full moon. It’s a bit eerie to be in the middle of the Everglades, in the middle of the night with alligators lazily posted on the edge absorbing heat off the asphalt. Don’t worry; no one’s ever been successfully attacked from my knowledge. Your biggest concern will be the bugs.