See Everglades from two wheels at Shark Valley

Riding a bike in Shark Valley gets you up close and personal with the “river of grass.”

A visit to Everglades National Park in Florida, the largest subtropical wilderness in the country, can be overwhelming because of its sheer size and remoteness of many trails, both water and land.  But Shark Valley offers an excellent way to experience the park, especially if you like to explore on your own. Rent a coaster-style bike or bring your own, and peddle your way along a loop road through this northern section of the park.

You'll want to stop often for photos

With only slight elevation changes and no rough terrain to navigate, the scenic 15-mile paved road is ideal for bike riders of all ages.  Plan on three hours, maybe more if you stop often or a gusty head wind crops up.  At the half-way point, in the heart of this unique ecosystem, the Observation Tower provides a convenient place to pause and enjoy panoramic views. 

To get a feel for the significance of this region, plan to ride the entire loop, but check to be sure it’s open all the way since the curvy east portion, with expansive sawgrass prairie, is sometimes flooded and impassable. 

Start on the western side of the loop road, which is fairly straight, butts up against the wetlands, and hosts the greatest variety of wildlife and plants.  Alligators sunning themselves, lying partly on the road and partly in the marsh, provide perfect photo opportunities if you keep your distance—10-15 feet away is recommended.  Raccoons, white-tailed deer, turtles, frogs, otters, and other wildlife may also appear near the road or on hiking trails. 

Overview of the paved path in Shark Valley
Birds including egrets, ibises, ospreys, herons, cardinals, warblers, mockingbirds, hawks, and more catch your attention as they wade through marshes and then suddenly zip into the air.  Snap quickly if you want pictures.  Some larger species wander along the road, but they don’t linger long when humans are around.

Tiny flowers in pastel hues—white, pink, yellow, and purple–grow along the swamp’s edge.  Butterflies flit around the blooms, and don’t be surprised if one hovers just inches from your face.

Beautiful reflections are seen all along the path

Riding with a tail wind, the road uncoils beneath your wheels with amazing speed, and mile markers printed on the road pass quickly. However, it’s not uncommon for gusts or summer thunderstorms to appear, especially in the afternoon, so the trip could take longer after reaching the midway point.  If you decide not to ride the entire distance, go back the way you came because there aren’t any shortcuts.

Observation Tower at half-way point

Highlight of the ride is spectacular 360-degree views of wetlands, prairie, and trees seen from the 45-foot high Observation Tower.  Views change as you walk along the elevated spiral ramp to the platform, so take time to enjoy scenes like blackbirds perched on railings cawing back and forth to each other and Monet-like reflections of clouds fluttering across the shallow, liquid meadow.  Besides allowing an overview of the ecosystem, the Tower offers tranquil vistas of the Everglades up to 20 miles in all directions.

Take water and a light snack as there is nothing available to eat or drink once you leave the Visitors Center.  If riding a bicycle isn’t your style, the Shark Valley Tram offers a two-hour, open air tour on the same path.  Trained naturalists point out wildlife and narrate information about the park.  Recent wildlife sightings are listed at www.sharkvalleytramtours.com/recent2.html

The tram is another option for touring in Shark Valley

Shark Valley Visitor Center is located on U.S. Highway 41 (Tamiami Trail) 39 miles from Everglades City, 46 miles from Fort Lauderdale on the east coast of Florida, and 69 miles from Naples on the west coast.  Check www.nps.gov/ever/planyourvisit/svdirections.htm  for more information or call 305-221-8776.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Read more travel articles at www.goingonadventures.com and http://tinyurl.com/bevtrvl

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