Riding Bikes and counting Alligators…
Riding bikes on the 15-mile/24 km scenic Loop Trail in Shark Valley inside the Everglades National Park was on our bucket list for a long time. I knew we had to visit during the winter month, because it is just too hot during summer. When I recently started to collaborate with #LiveWildlyFL, a movement that was created to help raise awareness of the benefits of wildlife corridors and inspire more people to get out into these great spaces and connect and protect the lands at risk. I knew Shark Valley would be the perfect location. I am so glad we can be part of this mission and love to encourage people to #LiveWildlyFL in the Florida Wildlife Corridor. January is the perfect month to get out exploring and truly the perfect time to visit Shark Valley which is part of the Florida Wildlife Corridor.
The Florida Wildlife Corridor stretches from the Panhandle to the Everglades, and is the core of what makes Florida, Florida. If you want to learn more about it and Live Wildly, check out their amazing website here.
Shark Valley can get pretty busy during the winter months, so we made sure to arrive early. Once the parking lot is filled, no more cars are allowed to enter. Visiting on weekdays, and arriving before 10 am or after 3pm, definitely helps to make sure the adventure can happen. There are plenty of things to do from biking, taking the tram tour, hiking to exploring, bird watching and alligator counting.
Shark Valley Visitor Center
We started by exploring the Shark Valley Visitor center inside. I really liked the educational displays inside and outside of the visitor center. The perfect adventure is not only about having fun riding bikes, but also learning about our environment and the beautiful Florida Wildlife Corridor. It is important to protect the Corridor to continue to enjoy activities like this one in nature. The visitor center also has a park video and informational brochures, pictures and maps. Books, postcards, and other souvenirs can be bought in the adjacent gift shop.
Outside of the visitor center was more interesting information about the Florida Wildlife Corridor, alligators, wildlife, plants and more Florida facts. It was hands-on and we learned a little bit of everything from alligator poop, birds to pig frogs.
We found most interesting was the life size alligator replica that was thoroughly inspected from head to foot. In addition, there is a daily Ranger Walk and a separate Ranger Talk to learn even more about the beautiful Everglades.
Renting a Bike
We brought our own bicycles, but there is the option to rent bicycles at the rear side of the visitor center. Bicycles are $23 per day and there are adult and kid sizes available. It is first come, first serve, but bikes can also be reserved in advance.
Biking the Loop
The scenic Shark Valley Loop Trail is amazing. It quickly became my favorite bike trail in South Florida. We saw so many alligators just lying on the side of the road. It is very special to share the road with these majestic animals. Even though we live in Florida and have seen lots of alligators before, we have never experienced them like this. Riding a bike close to a wild alligator sunbathing on the side of the road was thrilling for the kids and made me feel all kinds of emotions. It was both exhilarating and nerve-wracking having such intimidating animals within feet of us.
The shark Valley Scenic Loop Trail is a 15-mile round trip. The trail is about 20 feet wide, and the only traffic is the ranger car and the park tram, which will pass every couple of hours. There are no short cuts, but a park ranger passed us twice and asked if we needed any assistance. It is divided into the east and west trail with the observation tower in between. The east trail meanders 8 miles through a sawgrass prairie dotted with islands of bay, cypress, willow and hardwood trees, along with alligators, other wildlife and birds. The Observation Tower is near the midway point of the trail. The west trail is 7 miles in length and follows a canal where more wildlife, especially alligators can be viewed. Both trails are gorgeous and show different sides of the Everglades.
The loop took us almost a half a day or more with the kids. The trail itself is not very hard, because it is paved and flat and beautiful to ride on. But the Florida weather conditions can make it a bit challenging. The sun can feel hot very fast and there is almost no shade on the entire trail other than the observation tower. It is important to bring enough water for the day (at least 1 gallon or 4 liters), as well as some snacks or lunch. We also noticed that the wind could make bicycling more difficult. It made pedaling against the wind harder on the way back from the observation tower then the smooth ride on the way in. Always check the weather beforehand!
You will be disappointed if you visited Shark Valley to see sharks. Despite its name, you’re unlikely to find any sharks in the freshwater sawgrass prairie here. This shallow sheet flow of water which is essentially a 30-mile-wide river, is known as the Shark River Slough. It flows south into the Shark River, named for the bull sharks found at the mouth of the river. But depending on the time you visit, you will see plenty of wildlife, including alligators.
Sooooo many Alligators
How many alligators did we see while biking through Shark Valley? We started to count while passing them and the kids got more and more excited with each alligator. We were lucky enough to end up seeing 91 alligators! That was so amazing. They were basking in the sun, lying in the water and just minding their own business.
Of course, we kept our distance and admired them only from afar. Most of them are on the side of the road, but there were some alligators whose body parts extended onto the trail. Even though we stopped several times to take pictures or to rest, we always kept a distance of at least 15 feet or 5m from all wildlife including the alligators. It is prohibited to feed, touch or harass wildlife. It is important to follow all the park rules when interacting with wild animals.
Alligator sightings can vary drastically. It is possible to visit in summer and not see a single alligator because they spread out over the vast watery river of grass. November through April is the best time to visit to see them. Dry conditions and cooler temperatures result in animals gathering around the remaining pools of water, so wildlife viewing is better. I truly recommend coming in the Winter months because we had the perfect day.
Making a Stop
In the beginning, we almost stopped every time we saw an alligator. Just a moment to admire the animal or to take a picture. Our first real stop and water break was at the only park bench on the trail. Other than the observation tower, it is the only other break stop with a little shade.
I really enjoyed all the different scenery. From the River of Grass to water holes, swaps and marshes, there are lots of different landscapes. Also depending on the season, the Everglades can look much different. The dry season from November to March marks for example the arrival of many migratory birds. There are egrets, herons, white ibis and wood storks.
The rains of summer rejuvenate the parched Everglades and flood the Shark River Slough. Most fascinating for me is that virtually every creature in South Florida depends in some way on the shimmery expanse of the grassy water of the Everglades.
The Observation Tower
One of the highlights of the trail other than the Everglades itself, is the observation tower. The tower is 65 feet tall and it provides spectacular 360-degree panoramic views of the Everglades and all the diverse landscapes. On clear days, visibility is over 20 miles. Because of the deep water next to it, there is lots of wildlife. We saw alligators, turtles, birds and fish.
The observation tower has a facility with restrooms, garbage cans and a water filling station. I also liked that the long winding ramp is wheelchair accessible. Even though there are no picnic tables or benches, with a blanket on the grass, it is still a great place for a lunch break.
The park and trails are actually open 24 hours. Only the visitor center and more importantly the parking lot closes at 6 p.m. There are possibilities to park outside the park and access the Loop Trail after closing time. The ranger in the visitor center told us that there are even guided full moon/new moon bike tours available.
One More Interesting Stop
Since Olivia learned about the alligator poop at the visitor center, we noticed a lot of poop on the side of the trail too, and it turned into another hands-on learning experience. She wasn’t allowed to actually touch it but used a stick to feel the consistency. We saw the difference between fresh and dried poop and somehow it was really exciting. I love a learning experience like that.
After the Ride
After we were finished biking, we went back to the visitor center to record our findings. We saw 91 alligators, lots of different birds, a snake. fish and 2 turtles.
Other than the main scenic Shark Valley Loop Trail, there are three small walking trails inside the park. The Bobcat Boardwalk, the Otter Cave Trail and the Borrow Pit Trail.
This is the Bobcat Boardwalk Trail. It is located very close to the visitor center and is only 0.2 miles long. This trail explores a bayhead full of Sweetbay Magnolia, Cocoplum, Dahoon Holly, and Wax Myrtle. Birds can be found hiding along the trail and bobcats have been known to prowl the boardwalk at night, giving the trail its name.
The Otter Cave Trail is 0.3 miles long and begins 0.6 miles from the visitor center. It leads through a hardwood hammock with trees like Gumbo Limbo and Strangler Fig, as well as exposed limestone bedrock and solution holes. The trail can flood during the summer months and was also closed on the day we visited.
The Borrow Pit Trail was submerged partly in water that day, so we decided to keep our feet dry and skip it. The trail skirts the edge of a borrow pit created during oil exploration before the park was established. The open water mimics an alligator hole with seasonally abundant wildlife. The higher ground mimics a bayhead – small, dense, and impenetrable, an island of higher ground that provides a kind of oasis for plant and animal life.
More Things to Do
Another great way to see Shark Valley is on the Shark Valley Tram Tours, which offers two-hour guided tours along the trail. The open-air trams are covered and stop frequently to point out wildlife. Guides offer insights into this unique ecology, identify animals and plants and more interesting facts. The tour starts at the visitor center several times a day and stops at the observation tower. Prices are as follows: Adults $29, Seniors, $23 and Children (3-12 years) $15
Departure Times and Prices are subject to change.
It is a great alternative to biking, particularly for those with mobility issues. We did see people walking on the trail. Scooters and roller-skates are not allowed to be used in the park.
Shark Valley is only a small part of the Florida Corridor. LiveWildly makes it easy for anyone in FL to experience the Corridor in their own way. They have an amazing “interactive map” on their explore page here.
Other important Information
36000 SW 8th Street
Miami, Florida 33194
Shark Valley Visitor Center is located on Highway 41 (Tamiami Trail / SW 8th St.) 25 miles west of the Florida Turnpike, exit 25A (from the north) and exit 25 (from the south).
The entrance fee of Everglades National Park is either $30 per car, $25 per motorcycle or $15 per Person (walk-in/bicycle). There are Annual Passes, Lifetime Passes and Group Rates available.
Hours of Operation (Every Day)
- Visitor Center: 9:00AM – 5:00PM
- Shark Valley Tram Tours: 8:30AM – 6:00PM
- Parking Gate & Lot: 8:30AM – 6:00PM
Contact by Phone
- Shark Valley Visitor Center: (305) 221-8776
- Tram & Bicycle Reservations / Questions: (305) 221-8455
- General Park Information: (305) 242-7700
Even though this is a #sponsored post, all opinions are my own. I only work together with companies and organizations that I feel great about.