By Erin Grady / Men’s Journal / December 2019
[dropcap]W[/dropcap]ith temperatures in much of the country hovering toward freezing, you’ve got two options. For one, you could just go with the flow, layer up, maybe drag ski or snowboard gear from the closet and embrace winter. Or, you could throw some warm-weather gear into a bag and head for Everglades National Park.
If that sounds like a curious choice, you may be in the majority of travelers who write off Everglades. For a national park of its size, in such close proximity to so many sizable population centers, calling this treasure underrated is no short stretch. Consider overall visitation. For sake of comparison, another southeastern national park, Great Smoky Mountains NP, is roughly one-third of the size of Everglades, but sees over 10 times as many annual visitors. According to recent stats., Everglades National Park sees around 1 million. annual visitors (aside from last year’s government shutdown).
The reason the park is undervalued is simple: everyman access. It’s an enormous, wild and empty park. Beside Death Valley it represents the largest (non-Alaska) wilderness area managed by the NPS. With only three entrances, none connected to one another by road, it’s daunting to know where to go what to do.
The flip side of this challenge is the opportunity to experience wild, protected wetlands without the crowds, where a little willingness to get on the water and take advantage of the park’s backcountry assets can make all the difference. Here are a few key points on why the park deserves deeper consideration as the launching point for your next winter adventure.
Yes, wintertime (aka the dry season), is the busier of seasons in the park, but there are still plenty of places — about 1.5 million acres of wetland to be exact — for you to enjoy a little bit of peace and quiet. To take full advantage, head to the literal end of the road: the southernmost Flamingo Visitor Center. It’s a long 37-mile drive on the main park access road from the eastern, main park (Homestead) entrance, but well worth the effort. Pick up a backcountry permit there. The Flamingo Marina. can provision and equip paddlers with canoe and kayak rentals, a campground, store, plus paddler drop-offs to nearby reaches to get you off the grid for a few nights. Conversely, backcountry permits are also available at the park’s other main launching/landing location for multi-day paddling ventures, the Gulf Coast Visitor Center, at the northern entrance closest to Naples (there’s a $15 processing fee, but it’s only $2 to camp).