As Everglades National Park primarily consists of an intricate network of wetlands and canals, roads within and leading to the Florida preserve are few and far between. In fact, amid its mammoth 1.5 million acres of swampy terrain, there are only four total entrances and two principal roads serving motor vehicles.
So beyond cruising on the 39-mile-long Main Park Rd (Florida Rte 9336), which connects the Ernest F Coe Visitor Center and Cape Sable, or spotting alligators along the Tamiami Trail (US 41), the question becomes: in which Florida city should I begin my trek to Everglades National Park?
Fortunately, in Florida you have road-trip options that touch cosmopolitan cities, additional national parks and orange-grove-draped country roads. Here are the five best ways to get to Everglades National Park.
1. The Tamiami Trail
Best road trip for history lovers
Miami-Everglades National Park; 64km (40 miles)
The closest major airport to Everglades National Park is Miami International Airport, some 35 miles east of the Shark Valley Visitor Center. Spend some time in Miami taking in the turquoise Atlantic vistas in Miami Beach, watching the boats zip around Biscayne Bay and snacking on croquetas and cafecitos (Cuban coffee) along Calle Ocho, Little Havana's main thoroughfare.
After Miami, head west along the Tamiami Trail. As you visibly transition from suburbia to swampland, note the numerous attractions that the Miccosukee tribe operates along the trail, including airboat rides and the Miccosukee Indian Village museum. Within the museum, you can see beadwork, patchwork and photography that sheds life on the tribal community, dating back to the early 19th century.
2. The Overseas Highway
Best road trip for water vistas
Key West-Everglades National Park; 216km (134 miles)
Start this three-hour road trip by exploring the coral-reef-surrounded and party-filled downtown of Key West, which is the southernmost city in the continental US. Mallory Square is known for its daily sunset celebrations, but it's really a place to gather all day, with the raucous Hog's Breath Saloon and a nearby Ron Jon Surf Shop outpost.
From there, you’ll find only one road leading through the Florida Keys to mainland Florida: the Overseas Highway, which weaves through numerous cozy, art-gallery-draped confines, including Marathon, Islamorada and Key Largo. Along your drive, snag a reservation at the Fish House in Key Largo for regional delights, like fresh mahi mahi and conch salad.
For a bonus park en route to the Everglades, Bahia Honda State Park has the clearest of waters and rentable snorkeling equipment on-site.
Detour: Dry Tortugas National Park and Biscayne National Park are both detour options with this road trip. Book reservations months in advance, and note that you’ll need a boat – or access to one – to make the most of them.
3. US Route 41
Best road trip for parks and wildlife in a small stretch
Naples-Everglades National Park; 117km (73 miles)
It doesn’t get much easier than this. From Downtown Naples’ boutiques and upscale eateries, hop on US Rte 41 and take it directly to the Shark Valley Visitor Center for an Everglades adventure. But you’ll want to make some stops along the way.
Among them are the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, which has a 110,000-acre waterway with boat and kayak rentals for navigating the lush mangroves. Fakahatchee Strand Preserve makes for a nice pause as well. Its Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk spans more than half a mile and winds through a swamp, culminating in an alligator pond.
Planning tip: The Gulf Coast Visitor Center – located in Everglades City – is the closest Everglades visitor access area to Naples. Keep an eye on its reopening schedule, following damage sustained from Hurricane Ian.
4. US Route 17
Best road trip for Central Florida charm
Tampa-Everglades National Park; 407km (253 miles)
With vast white-sand beaches and an increasingly hip bar and nightclub district in the form of Ybor City, Tampa is officially a place to be. After touring the Florida Aquarium or getting your thrills at Busch Gardens theme park, the easy way out of town and en route to Everglades National Park is the Interstate 75 straight-shot, but resist temptation and opt for a more rural trek south along US Route 17.
On your way to Shark Valley Visitor Center, make a pit stop in Haines City at Ridge Island Groves for some farm-grown oranges and blueberries. Wauchula has a quaint downtown that’s home to a handful of antique shops, like Heritage Park. Once Rte 17 connects with Interstate 74, Fort Myers and Naples are both seamless detours within 10 minutes of the highway.
5. Orlando to the Everglades
Best road trip for a bonus National Park experience
Orlando-Everglades National Park; 410km (255 miles)
For those Walt Disney World–goers seeking a nature-infused reprieve, Everglades National Park is doable in approximately five hours. From Central Florida, the quickest route is Interstate 95 through West Palm Beach, Boca Raton and Fort Lauderdale. However, traffic on I-95 is totally unpredictable, and the road gets particularly congested during snowbird season (October through April).
You'll find a quieter way south via US Route 98/27. Memorable stops include Immokalee, which is home to the Pioneer Museum at Roberts Ranch. The operation sheds light on the cowmen, ranchers and pioneers who settled the swamp-adjacent farmland in the late 1800s. Before arriving at Shark Valley Visitor Center, Big Cypress National Preserve is also on the way, and it has swamp tours and eight campgrounds.
Planning tip: As this trip can easily evolve into a multi-day affair, consider lodging well in advance. If all else fails, you can try your luck in Everglades City, but you'll find fewer than a dozen hotel options there.