Shark Valley Visitor Center is a popular stop in Everglades National park because it is just 15 miles west of 997 and a great stop on your way in or out of the Florida Keys.
We had heard great things about the amount of wildlife seen on the 14 miles multi-use trail and wanted to see for ourselves. As soon as we got to the start of the path we weren’t disappointed!
There were alligators galore along with turtles, fish and many varieties of birds. The kids made it about four miles out when the excitement of the gators wore off and we decided it would probably be best to head back. If you make it the full seven miles, there is an observation tower and then the path comes back with a view of new scenery.
You can also take a tram tour to see the entire stretch, but at $23 per adult ($12.75 for ages 3 to 12) we decided our bikes were the way to go. There is also bike rental available for $9 per hour, if you don’t have your own bike. Park rules require that all kids 16 and under must wear a helmet on the path. More information on the tram tours can be found at www.sharkvalleytramtours.com/tramtours.html
There are two walking trails less than one mile in on the path. The first boardwalk (Bobcat Boardwalk Trail) is stroller and wheelchair accessible, and is just a 0.4 mile walk through a tree covered path. The kids loved the freedom to run without worrying about tripping into an alligator filled stream like on the main trail.
The second trail (Otter Cave Hammock Trail) is only 0.2 miles long, but not wheelchair accessible. A heavy-duty jogging stroller would be okay, but don’t think about taking an umbrella stroller on this one. The highlight on this trail are the Solution Holes which are caused by the acid eating through the limestone bottom, so make sure to watch your footing!
Tips: Parking fills up VERY quickly here and there is really only room for about three big rigs at a time. We got there just after the gates opened at 8:30 a.m., and got the second RV/bus spot.
There is a $10 admission fee or you can use your annual national parks pass. There is overflow parking located on U.S. Hwy. 41. The extended shoulder has plenty of room for vehicles and rigs, but you will have a much longer walk to the visitor center and start of the trail.
Jr. Ranger information
Big Cypress, Everglades and Biscayne Jr. Ranger programs are available in an all-in-one booklet for children ages 6-12. Our kids are on the young side for some of these more complex books, so it was a family effort to complete the booklet. The book is broken down into sections for each park, with some sections overlapping the parks.
The child must complete three pages for each park and then visit the corresponding visitor center to earn a badge. If they visit all the three park systems and complete all the pages in the booklet, then they can also earn a patch!