Shark Valley sounds like it should be the headquarters for the villain in a James Bond movie, but it is in fact a slice of National Park Service grounds heavy with informative signs and knowledgeable rangers. Shark Valley is located in the cypress, and hardwood and riverine section of the Everglades, a more traditionally jungly section of the park than the grassy fields and forest domes surrounding the Ernest Coe visitor center.
A 15-mile (24km) paved trail takes you past small creeks, tropical forest and ‘borrow pits’ (human-made holes that are now basking spots for gators, turtles and birdlife). The pancake-flat trail is perfect for bicycles, which can be rented at the entrance for $9 per hour. Bring water with you.
If you don’t feel like exerting yourself, the most popular and painless way to immerse yourself in the Everglades is via the two-hour tram tour that runs along Shark Valley’s entire 15-mile trail. If you only have time for one Everglades activity, this should be it, as guides are informative and witty, and you’ll likely see gators sunning themselves on the road. Halfway along the trail is the 50ft-high Shark Valley Observation Tower, an ugly concrete tower that offers dramatically beautiful views of the park.
At the park entrance, the easy Bobcat Boardwalk Trail (0.5 miles) makes a loop through a thick copse of tropical hardwoods before emptying you out right back into the Shark Valley parking lot. A little ways past is the Otter Cave Trail (0.25 miles); which heads over a limestone shelf that has been Swiss-cheesed into a porous sponge by rainwater. Animals now live in the eroded holes (although it’s not likely you’ll spot any) and Native Americans used to live on top of the shelf.