Explorer See You Later, Alligator
Biking through Shark Valley in the Florida Everglades
If you want to see alligators up close in the wild, then a day biking through Shark Valley in the Everglades should be on your bucket list. Located off the Tamiami Trail, the Shark Valley entrance to Everglades National Park lies midway between Naples and Miami. This national park is both eerie and impressive with plenty of opportunities to see a variety of wildlife in their natural environment. Places that feel truly wild are few and far between in the United States, especially Florida, but this unique area will not disappoint if you are seeking an authentic view of nature.
Create your own one-of-a-kind Everglades ecotour by taking a self-guided bike ride. Shark Valley has a 15-mile paved trail that is ideal for any bicycle, and since the road is flat and free of rough terrain, just about anyone can make the ride. You can
bring your own bike or rent one there on a first-come, first-served basis.
A typical ride on the loop trail takes two to three hours. Plan to make many stops to take it all in, especially alligator sightings. I had every intention of counting how many alligators I saw, but after 30 minutes I gave up as the gators were literally everywhere—sunning on the side of the trail, lurking in the water and even crossing the road in front of me.
ALLIGATORS BUT NOT SHARKS
Despite the area’s name, sharks are one form of wildlife that you will not see in the shallow waters within Shark Valley, though they are not too far away. The brackish waters of the Shark River and Little Shark River just to the southwest
The view from the 45-foot-tall observation tower, overlooking Shark Valley in Everglades National Park.
Despite the area’s name, sharks are one form of wildlife that you will not see in the shallow waters within Shark Valley, though they are not too far away.
provide wonderful feeding and nursing habitats for several species of sharks, including bull, blacktip and lemon sharks.
It’s also hard to tell that Shark Valley is in any way a valley. There are no mountains framing the area, but it lies between the coastal ridges of South Florida, which are higher than the interior part of the state. The western coastal ridge is approximately 14-17 feet above sea level; the Atlantic ridge is 1520 feet above sea level; and the Shark Valley Visitor Center area is about 7 feet above sea level. That puts this area of the park in a valley between those two ridges.
So, while you may not see any sharks, and certainly no visible evidence that you are in a valley, what you will see plenty of in the misnamed Shark Valley are gators. The word alligator comes from the Spanish word el lagarto, meaning the
lizard. These particular “lizards” are the largest creatures living in the Everglades. Males can reach 14 feet in length and weigh 1,000 pounds.
Alligators are social creatures and often stay in groups called congregations. You will see this as you bike through Shark Valley. These groups are typically seen basking in the sun or taking a swim. This is because alligators can’t control their temperature internally. So, when they are cold, they sunbathe, and when they are hot, they go for a swim. Their appearance says, “Stay away,” and that’s certainly the best advice, though these animals typically keep to themselves and are unlikely to attack humans unless they feel threatened.
TRY THE TRAM
Though biking the Shark Valley trail is a great way to experience this part of Everglades National Park, you can also see it by walking or taking the Shark Valley Tram Tour. Passengers will learn quite a bit from the tram operator on the way out to the 45-foot-tall observation tower overlooking Shark Valley, but they will not get a chance to stop and explore all the areas the tram drives by.
For more information, visit nps.gov/ever. Mandy Carter is a local mom with a passion for family travel, a popular travel blogger including her own family blog at acupful.com, and the managing editor for TOTI Media.
Places that feel truly wild are few and far between in the United States, especially Florida, but this unique area will not disappoint if you are seeking an authentic view of nature.
A guided tram tour is a good way to see Shark Valley, but bicycles provide more freedom to stop along the way. The American alligator is a frequent sight along the paved trail.