Spotting alligators in the Everglades is on everyone’s bucket list when visiting Florida’s Everglades National Park.
Being from Colorado, I’d never seen an alligator outside of the zoo and was hoping to see one or two on our visit to Everglades National Park. I had no idea how prolific alligators are. We ended up seeing so many alligators on our day trip into the National Park that we stopped counting!
While seeing an alligator in the Everglades isn’t guaranteed, if you follow this guide there is a good chance you will spot one of these incredible reptiles.
About Alligators In The Everglades
The American Alligator is the species of alligator found in the Everglades. These pre-historic-looking reptiles are both fascinating and formidable.
American alligators were almost hunted into extinction before being put on the endangered species list in 1973. Since then, their numbers have recovered significantly. There are now over a million American Alligators in Florida alone and hunting alligators is again allowed in the state (with the appropriate permit).
Some interesting facts about American alligators –
- Alligators can live up to fifty years in the wild and eighty years in captivity
- Male alligators are larger than females and can grow up to fifteen feet long and weigh up to 1,000 pounds
- Alligators like to live in freshwater ponds, rivers, and marshes
- Alligators are carnivores and eat fish, other reptiles, and even small mammals
- Alligator attacks on humans have been known to happen but they are a rare occurance. Even so it is important to keep a safe distance when viewing alligators in the Everglades
Best Place To See Alligators In The Everglades
Everglades is a huge National Park, the third biggest park in the lower 48 states. Much of the 1.5 million acres aren’t accessible by road.
The Northern Shark Valley entrance is a perfect day trip from Miami or Fort Lauderdale. Shark Valley is approximately sixty miles from Fort Lauderdale and only forty miles from Miami. On the way to Shark Valley is Gator Park, the perfect place to take an airboat tour into the National Park.
Fun Ways To View Alligators In The Everglades
There are several unique ways to view alligators in the Everglades. You can take an airboat tour, attend a wildlife show, and bike or take a tram to an incredible observation tower in the National Park.
Airboat Tour Of The Everglades
Gator Park is located along Highway 41, ten miles before you get to Shark Valley. The airboat tours from Gator Park go right into Everglades National Park.
I’ve spent a lot of time on boats but had never experienced riding in an airboat until our visit to Florida. It was such a unique experience!
The flat bottom boat skims along the top of the shallow water propelled by a huge air fan in the back. Without the propeller in the water, the boat can go over grass and through shallow water with ease.
Not only is the airboat ride fun, but viewing alligators right next to the boat is amazing. The tour guides are knowledgeable and informative. Our guide had been giving tours at Gator Park for over 10 years.
Yes, airboat tours are a huge tourist attraction. But, where else are you going to be able to experience seeing alligators in the Everglades from an airboat? It is well worth adding the airboat tour to your day trip into the National Park.
*TIP – There are no assigned seats on the boat and there is usually a mad rush for the front row. Our tour guide told us that the back is usually the best place to be and he was right. The guide is perched up in the back and by the time he sees an alligator and gets the boat stopped, the gator is closer to the back than the front of the boat.
Airboats are LOUD but disposable earplugs are provided for the tour.
Reservations are recommended to secure a spot on the boat. Visit Gator Park’s website for current prices and tour availability.
Attend A Wildlife Show After Your Air Boat Tour
An added bonus of booking your Airboat Tour through Gator Park is the wildlife show included in the ticket price. Before the show, get an up-close look at a huge alligator (behind a fence thankfully). Then, learn all about alligators from the entertaining presentation.
*For the ultimate alligator experience, order some fried alligator nuggets while you are visiting Gator Park. They are a little tough but other than that, not too bad.
Bike From Shark Valley Visitor Center To The Observation Tower
After Gator Park, drive 10 more miles west to Shark Valley visitor center.
Shark Valley visitor center has interactive displays, a park video, and informative Ranger-led programs. If you are traveling with kids, you can pick up a Junior Ranger book.
There is a paved bike path from the visitor center to an observation tower where you can get a panoramic view of the Everglades.
Bikes are available to rent from the visitor center. The path is completely level so the bikes are all single speed. The visitor center has adult bikes and 20-inch children’s bikes. If you have a child under 35 pounds, you can rent a bike with a child seat.
Visit Shark Valley’s concession website to see prices and bike availability.
You can also bring your own bike. E-bikes are allowed on the loop path to the overlook.
How Long Is Shark Valley Trail To The Observation Tower?
The paved trail from the Shark Valley Visitor Center to the observation tower is a fifteen-mile loop. If you don’t want to do the whole loop, you can cut a mile off of your trip by going back the way you came after reaching the Observation Tower.
The miles are marked on the path so you know how far you have gone and how far you still have to go.
The entire trip takes about two to three hours because you will want to make a lot of stops on the way to view wildlife. The path follows a river for much of the way where you will see countless alligators, turtles, and birds.
The observation tower is 45 feet in elevation, the highest point you can climb in the entire park. Climbing the observation tower provides you with views up to twenty miles away.
There is a bathroom and drinking water available at the observation tower but no food so make sure to bring your own snacks.
It can get extremely hot on the path and there is no shade. Make sure to be prepared for the heat with plenty of water, a hat, and sunscreen.
Take A Tram Tour From Shark Valley Visitor Center
If you think a fifteen-mile bike ride in the Florida heat is crazy, don’t worry. There is another option. You can take an open-air tram tour to the overlook.
We chose to ride bikes because it afforded us the freedom of stopping whenever we saw something that interested us. But, a tram ride is also a great option. The tram drivers are naturalists who are knowledgeable and trained to spot animals and birds.
The tram ride can be booked through the same Shark Valley Concession website that rents the bikes.
A limited selection of snacks are sold at the visitor center but I recommend packing a lunch.
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Avoiding the Crowds
The busiest time of year in the Everglades is from December to April. If you plan on visiting the National Park during these busy months, try to avoid the weekends which are always busier. Also, start your day early. If you can get your airboat tour in first thing and arrive at Shark Valley visitor center before 10, there will be a better chance to find a parking spot.
For detailed information on where to stay, campgrounds, kayaking, and some more amazing hikes in Everglades National Park check out this detailed post from fellow blogger Big Brave Nomad- What To Do In Everglades National Park With Kids
Seeing alligators in the Everglades is an incredible experience. It is well worth your time to leave the beach and take a day trip from Miami or Fort Lauderdale into the Everglades National Park.
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This is great! We’re heading to Florida next spring and Everglades is on our list!