Best Places to See Wildlife in Florida
For all its mass development, Florida remains a supremely wild place. Alligators roam golf courses and plunge into neighborhood swimming pools. Bald eagles patrol urban streets. And wherever there’s a power plant near ocean access, hundreds of manatees snuggle up for warmth during the winter months. But the best places to spot the state’s awesome wildlife bounty remain its wildest corners -- and they aren’t too far from reach. Follow our lead to Florida’s top places for spotting some very wild life.
Within the refuge’s 220 square miles you’ll find 500 species of wildlife including American alligators, bald eagles, roseate spoonbills, manatees and some 15 endangered species, including the Florida scrub jay. For the most accessible wildlife spotting, drive along Black Point Wildlife Drive. The 7-mile route winds through marshes and flatwood environments. Hop out at your leisure for a closer look at critters most folks only ever get to see in a zoo.
Sometimes the creatures congregate so thickly it looks like a log jam. Scuba divers come from around the world to explore the crystal waters, but you can also snorkel with the chance of spotting manatees within a few feet of your mask (also look for longnose gar fish, speckled perch, turtles and flounder swimming through the waving grasses on the sandy river bottom).
But the Anhinga Trail -- a nearly mile-long journey over boardwalks and paved trails through a typical section of Everglades sawgrass marsh -- gets you up close and personal with some of the Glades’ most famous denizens, including cormorants, alligators and wading birds such as great blue herons and egrets. For serious adventure, back country outfitters such as Backcountry Cowboys offer paddling trips and overnight camping in the Everglades.
The refuge stretches more than 20 miles along an undeveloped patch of coastline. The best time to see the turtles nesting is June and July. Take part in a Guided Sea Turtle Watch program -- a 3-hour beach walk led by a park ranger or naturalist during which you’ll likely spot a nesting loggerhead or 2.
Alligator feeding demonstrations take place throughout the day, but for something different, plan to visit after dark when you can walk along wooden boardwalks through a breeding marsh and listen to the splashing, grunting and rustling of feathers (birds on the wing to escape become an easy feed) that surround you. There’s alligator wrestling and you trainer-for-a-day programs here, too.
You’ve done the theme parks and beaches—now get out and get in touch with the Sunshine State’s truly wild side!
Terry Ward, a freelance travel writer based in Cocoa Beach, FL, has seen sea turtles hatch in front of her condo and alligators hunker down in drainage ditches along the interstate.
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