Best Place to Enjoy the Everglades (2001)
Royal Palm Visitor Center
To hear some folks tell it, one can truly enjoy the Everglades only by dropping a canoe into the sawgrass and paddling into the sunset, armed with merely a compass, a bottle of insect repellent, and a healthy respect for the region's scaly dominant predator. Fortunately for the less intrepid among us, one needn't go to such extremes to view the wondrous flora and fauna of the River of Grass. The Royal Palm Visitor Center, located on a side road four miles from the park's main entrance in South Miami-Dade, marks the beginning of two short yet breathtaking walks. The Anhinga Trail, much of which extends over the swamp as a boardwalk, teems with wildlife; herons and egrets stalk the shallows, alligators up to 12 feet long vie for prime sunbathing spots, ospreys wheel overhead in search of aquatic prey, and female soft-shell turtles dig their nests -- sometimes within two feet of the trail. The nearby Gumbo Limbo Trail winds through a hammock of the red-barked trees and offers a cool, quiet respite from its more bustling neighbor, the silence broken only by the fluttering of the occasional flycatcher or catbird. If you're feeling particularly adventurous, the center stands near the entrance to the 28-mile network of Long Pine Key Trails, which wind through hardwood hammocks and sawgrass prairie. Or drop a canoe into the water; they're for rent in the Flamingo Lodge, Marina, and Outpost Resort, at the park road's end.