The Tamiami Trail – Everglades, Miccosukee, and the Big Cypress National Preserve

October 28, 2010
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Tamiamia Trail (US Hwy. 41), Homestead to Everglades City, Florida

Tamiami Trail

When departing from Miami or the Florida Keys, and traveling back North, I must recommend taking Highway 41, also known as Tamiami Trail to at least Naples. This 247 mile drive was one of many great recommendations made to me on my road trip around the Florida coastlines  by Kevin Mims over at WahooHiker. I need to thank Kevin for lots of great advice on outdoor travel while visiting Florida. For some great information and videos on Florida Travel head over to his site .

Airboat Rides:

Airboat

When beginning this drive, one of the first things you will notice are a number of airboat tour companies along the side of the road. These are a lot of fun, and a great way to see the landscape of the Everglades. The company I went through gave us about a 25 minute airboat ride, which does not really go deep into the Everglades, but did give us the opportunity to see a number of alligator (most were around 3-4 feet or so), different species of turtles, and a number of the larger birds in the Everglades, including several egrets, herons, a Purple Gallinule. I am not a bird watcher normally, but some of these massive birds were fun to see flying just a head of the airboat.Airboat

Airboat Tour Airboat Tour

Purple Gallinule Airboat Ride

The airboats also provide some excite for speed junkies. When they hit open water, our driver began power sliding across the water for some extra fun.

Airboat Ride Airboat Ride

After returning from the Airboat ride, our park admission included an alligator wrestling demonstration. This was entertaining, but in some ways slightly depressing that these alligators were kept in captivity for the duration of their lives. The alligator in our show was never harmed, or really even wrestled. The demonstration consisted of the very typecast alligator wrestler putting his hands in the gator’s mouth, and then jerking away when he’d evoke the gator’s quick mouth snap. Afterwards, visitors are given an opportunity to hold and have a picture with a smaller alligator.

Alligator Wrestling at Airboat Tour

The ride and show was $21 each, and something to do once in a lifetime, but probably not worth repeating. Also, I took some issue with the fact that a site that makes a profit off of nature (which I am okay with), also sells souvenir alligator body parts. My sincere hope is that these parts are from alligators that have deceased from natural reasons, rather than for the harvesting of souvenirs.

Everglades Airboat

Miccosukee Indian Village

Continuing west, the number of airboat operators will begin to decline, and you will enter into the Miccosukee India Reservation, and an Indian Village can be seen along the Highway.

Miccosukee

Better than Alligator Alley, the Tamiami Trail

Tamiami Trail

While a faster alternative route across the souther part of the state on I-75, which has been labelled as alligator alley, the Tamiami Trail is a much more realistic alligator alley as the road is one lane each way, and has no high fences to be prevent the viewing and/or crossing of wildlife along the roadside.

One of the treats of Tamiami Trail is that a small river runs parallel to the road for almost the entire distance to Naples. Westbound passengers can easily spot a hundred or more alligators on the trip along the Everglades Northern border. The picture of the alligator at the top of this page, was just laying out along the banks of the highway.  Along the trail there are a number of places one can pull off and get some pictures. While several wildlife viewing centers and campgrounds randomly dot the highway.

Bahia Honda State Park (175)

For the best chance at seeing a gator, look along the river bank opposite of the highway underneath areas where there is a combination of limbs overhanging the river, and rocks embedded in the bank. The alligators like the warmth of the rocks, and spend almost as much time sunbathing as the residents of Miami.

Oasis Visitor

Ochopee, Florida

Smallet Post Office

While one is driving down the Tamiami, they may as well stop over and see the United States’ smallest post office in Ochopee. Located just over 60 miles west of Miami, the tiny 7-foot by 8-foot building is just one of the many quaint spots along the Trail. After a fire that burned the original post office, this former irrigation pipe shed began serving a three county area, and serves as the nearest post office until Everglades City.

Two National Preserves – Everglades and Big Cypress National Preserve

One may not know it, but traveling down the Tamiami trail actually brings visitors along to areas set aside for national preservations. At many parts, the highway serves as the northern border of the well known Everglades National Park, but one may not realize is that the highways also serves as the southern border of the Big Cypress National Preserver.

Everglades:

Along Highway 41, visitors can find two park entrances to the Everglades off of Tamiami. The first you will arrive at is the Shark Valley Visitor Center. At the Shark Valley Visitor Center. Shark Valley offers visitor’s two hiking trails along the boardwalks, but it’s main attraction is the Tram Road observation tower.

The other park entrance, the Gulf Coast Visitors’ Center can be found near Everglades City. The Gulf Coast Visitors’ area provides entry to Ten Thousand Islands, and the Wilderness Waterway Trail, a 99 mile boating trail through mangrove-lined creeks.  No hiking trails are available here.

Big Cypress National Preserve

On the other side of the road is the other South Florida National Preserve. The Big Cypress National Preserve is a large Cypress Swamp to the North of Tamiami Trail. The main visitors’ center, Oasis Visitor Center can be found approximately 50 miles from Miami and Naples, and contains exhibits on wildlife in the area, as well as an observation deck to see several large alligators that are likely to be sunbathing below it.

Interestingly, the visitor center also offers parking for off road vehicles and airboats. The center is open until 4:30 daily.

Naples:

By the time you finish this long drive, you may be ready for some time at the beach. Naples is a great place to grab a bite to eat, and hang out at the beach after the drive. More on Naples later!

Naples, FL Naples, FL

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8 Responses to The Tamiami Trail – Everglades, Miccosukee, and the Big Cypress National Preserve

  1. […] Seen @southernhiker.com […]

  2. sharon on November 6, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    Is it safe for me to ride my bicycle along Highway 41? Getting eaten by an alligator wouldn’t be fun. Lie-what might happen if I fell off?

    • JP on November 8, 2012 at 7:08 am

      It’s a pretty busy, higher speed vehicular highway. I’d worry more about the high speed car traffic than the Alligators. Most of the gators are down on the water’s edge, and the road is slightly elevated above those canals. Unless you’re really unstable on a bike, the alligators shouldn’t be a problem if you’re on the actual road. Again, though, riding a bike on this highway is not something I would suggest.

  3. Jessica on March 5, 2013 at 8:49 pm

    We are considering traveling to the keys with four children ages 2-12. I am wondering if this is a fairly safe route to take for tourists, also any recommendations on kid friendly attractions and points of interest?

    • JP on March 11, 2013 at 12:26 pm

      I would say this is a very safe route to drive. It’s two lanes, and usually 65 mph, but I have never seen it congested. As far as kid friendly attractions, there are two Everglads Visitor Centers along this route. One has a somewhat expensive tram drive that is suppose to be nice, but I haven’t taken it. As you get close to the Miami/Homestead side you will start seeing a lot of AirBoat Tours.

      We did the ones at Everglades Safari Park and enjoyed it. They have an alligator show, and then the airboat ride goes out for a short trip where you will see a few different types of wildlife. Kids should really enjoy that aspect of the drive.

  4. Florida Resident on April 2, 2013 at 9:45 am

    That’s not a river along the East Trail. They are canals. It is how the East Trail and Alligator Alley were built. Two parallel canals were dug. The matter/ground/soil removed from each canal was piled in the middle of the two canals and the road was built on top of this. The Collier-Seminole State Park showcases the Bay City Walking Dredge used to build the East Trail back in the 1920’s.

  5. Paul on May 7, 2014 at 10:42 am

    The wife and I are going to be riding the motorcycle down from Kansas City, Mo. in July and going to Key West. I’ve always wanted to make a trip across the Everglades area of Florida to see some gators. I am torn between Alligator Alley (I-75)and the Tamiami trail (41 highway)out of Naples. I’m leaning more toward the Tamiami trail for alligator viewing. Which do you recommend?

    Thanks.

    • JP on May 12, 2014 at 10:51 am

      I recommend the Tamiami. Although July may be a tougher time to see them, as they may be out sunning on the roadsides less. Also, you can stop by the Everglades and Airboat Ride Parks if that interests you along that route.

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