Everglades National Park | SHARK VALLEY AREA

"I think I'll go down to Shark Valley and do some people watching today."

“I think I’ll go down to Shark Valley and do some people watching today.”

Shark Valley Visitor Center

Shark Valley Tram Tour

Airboat Tours

Shark Valley Wildlife Photos

Bobcat Boardwalk Trail

Otter Cave Hammock Trail

The Shark Valley Area of Everglades National Park is hands down the best place to see wildlife. You can probably spot nearly every bird the park has to offer, plus alligators, turtles, and snakes. And unlike the skittish animals you find in the less popular areas of the park, the animals here are so used to tourists that you’d practically have to jump on one to get a reaction. Anhingas dry their spread wings, posing like supermodels while everyone takes photos. Alligators lay on the side of the road like dogs. People stand ten feet from them and they couldn’t care less. It’s like being in a zoo with no cages.

Taking a selfie with an alligator

Taking a selfie with an alligator

A 15-mile, paved loop road is open to pedestrians, bikers, and those on a tram tour, which is obviously the easiest way to see the area. However, even if you take the tour you owe it to yourself to see at least part of Shark Valley on foot, especially the west side of the loop road that runs along a canal. Only when walking are you going slow enough spot animals that you can’t see when passing by on a bike or the tram, plus you can view and photograph the animals on your own schedule.

Biking has its benefits as well. You can get around the entire loop road in a couple of hours, and you can stop and take your time to see the animals. For those without a bike, the same concessionaire that runs the tram tours also rents bikes (see the Shark Valley Tram Tours company website for details). I’m not sure how many bikes they have, but during the winter tourist season all of them are usually rented by late morning, so expect a wait. From what I hear, a thirty-minute to one-hour wait is typical. Beat the crowds and arrive first thing in the morning. You can never go wrong at any National Park by getting there early.

Shark Valley, which was only added to Everglades National Park in 1989, is home to the Shark River Slough, the environment at the heart of what the Everglades is all about—the river of grass. This refers to what is essentially a prairie, but one with a very slow moving and shallow sheet of water on it, in most places less than two feet deep. The water comes mainly from Lake Okeechobee, but rain also adds to the volume. The presence of water year-round is the reason animals congregate at Shark Valley.

The Shark Valley area is also the place to get your airboat rides, and private companies line the Tamiami Trail (Hwy 41). Some head north into Water Conservation Area 3A, and others head south into Everglades National Park. However, other than that, all attractions and trails are located along the loop road.

The entrance to the park is gated and not open to vehicles until 8:30 AM from mid-December through mid-April, and 9 AM the rest of the year. A line to get in may start forming prior to opening hours. The gate is shut at 6 PM, so be sure to have your car out by then. Shark Valley is open 24 hours a day, so you can park on the highway and walk or bike in before and after the gate opens/closes. Opening hours can always change, so before making travel plans be sure the check Everglades National Park’s Shark Valley Visitor Center web page for the latest schedule.

During the winter tourist season, within a couple of hours of opening the parking lot will be full (LOT IS FULL sign will be posted) and you won’t be able to get near the place. You could end up with a mile walk, depending on how far down Highway 41 you must park. Shark Valley is the most popular area of the Everglades because it is right off the highway. People who weren’t even intending to visit the park may be enticed to stop due to the easy access. When I was trying to leave around 1 PM on a Saturday in February, the traffic was worse than in Atlanta.

There is a fee to enter Shark Valley, whether entering by car, bike, or on foot. Once paid, your pass is good for seven days at all areas on the park (if you purchased a ticket earlier at the Homestead Entrance for Royal Palm and Flamingo, the pass is good at Shark Valley). For the latest prices, check the park’s Fees web page.

I ended up spending about four hours at Shark Valley, which included the Tram Tour, hiking the area’s two short trails, and walking a short section of the park road to take wildlife photos. I did not attend any Ranger programs, and there are plenty of them, so you could easily spend a day at Shark Valley if you did any of these. Also add another 1.5 hours for an airboat ride if you desire one. For a schedule of Ranger programs, see Everglades National Park’s Shark Valley Ranger Guided Tours web page. If you are at the Visitor Center, the daily schedule is posted, plus there should be a brochure listing the programs specifically for Shark Valley.

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Last updated on February 21, 2021
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