American Nomad Blog
About this blog
American Nomad covers the best of U.S. travel—from vacation deals to festivals, weekend getaways, travel tips, and more. A seasoned traveler and Moon author, Laura is the perfect guide to help discover new gems when traveling domestically.
- A Southern Girl's Wintertime Adventure in Yellowstone
- One Novelist's Odyssey Across America
- Gearing up for a Family Camping Trip
- Mint Juleps and More at Oak Alley Plantation
- Avoiding Identity Theft While on Vacation
- Money-Saving Travel Tips from Nomadic Matt
- Fashion, Fun, and Convenience for the Modern Traveler
- In Search of Irish Museums Across America
- The Inspiring Journey of a Solo Kayaker
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 2
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 1
- Experiencing Yosemite with YExplore
- Two Travel Contests Worth Mentioning
- A Word About the TSA's No-No List
- A Reader's Advice About Airport Security
Exploring Florida's Everglades Via Airboat
During the next couple of months, I plan to share some of my recent experiences in the Florida Keys, where I've spent a lot of time over the years – most recently, in preparation for my next guidebook, the first edition of Moon Florida Keys. Besides exploring the main islands of the Florida Keys, the guidebook will also feature the region's two gateways, Miami and the Everglades, which motorists typically encounter on their way to Key Largo.
On a recent trip to the Keys, my husband and I decided to see the Everglades via airboat – a popular Florida attraction, especially for families on vacation. Although there are several airboat tours in the area, we opted for Coopertown Airboats (22700 SW 8th St., Miami, 305/226-6048, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. daily, $22 adults, $17 children 7-11), the self-proclaimed “original” among airboat tour operators. In addition to the popular airboats, Coopertown – which is situated along Tamiami Trail (U.S. 41), about 11 miles west of the Florida Turnpike (SR 821) – also offers a country-style restaurant, featuring such regional delicacies as catfish, frog legs, and 'gator tail. But, of course, the narrated scenic tours are why most folks come – and luckily, we had arrived just in time for one. (Note: While we were able to join the tour right away, reservations are sometimes necessary for airboat rides in the Everglades.)
Before boarding the airboat, Dan and I (plus the six other passengers present) stuffed cotton balls in our ears, as instructed by Michael, our friendly tour guide, who warned us that the airboat fans can get pretty loud. Soon, we were winding our way through the “river of grass” – the slowest-moving river in the world – searching for alligators and other curious creatures amid the sawgrass, cattails, and hammocks (small, tree-filled islands) that comprise the East Everglades Expansion Area, a proposed addition to Everglades National Park.
During the course of the 40-minute journey, we covered approximately nine miles, and Michael paused several times to explain the ecological attributes of the region. For instance, we learned that 75 percent of the Everglades are submerged by water, the depth of which can vary greatly. In fact, it's water – along with hurricanes and lightning strikes – that have shaped the Everglades most. Today, the water-soaked region nurtures a wide array of animals, including alligators, birds, crawfish, 120 varieties of fish, 27 types of snakes (four of which are poisonous), and, surprisingly, large mammals like panthers and deer.
As we drifted through the gator hole, we spotted water lilies, several yellow-bellied slider turtles, and numerous birds, including ibises and greenback herons. At one point, Michael plucked some sawgrass from beside the boat and allowed us each to test the sharpness of the saw-like blades. One passenger even tasted the specimen, which Native Americans once used as a source of food.
Eventually, we observed a ten-foot-long alligator sunning himself along the shore. Like others of his kind, he sported battle scars (in his case, a missing foot), and yet he was remarkably calm as we edged closer to him. As Michael explained, a crocodile would never have allowed us to get that close. We hovered for a while, snapping pictures, until Michael said, “If anybody wants to pet him, I'll let you do it twice – once with each hand.” Everyone chuckled, but no one accepted his offer.
Although the tour was a lot shorter than Dan and I would have liked, we still enjoyed our experience in the Everglades. It was a gorgeous day – sunny and cool – and we relished our wind-whipped journey on the airboat. We even had the tousled hair to prove it – and as Michael quipped, “People pay a lot of money for the hairdos I just gave you.”
In addition to Coopertown, you'll find nearly a dozen other operators in the Florida Everglades, including:
Billie Swamp Safari (Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, 863/983-6101 or 800/467-2327, 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily, $15)
Captain Doug's Everglades Tours (SR 29, Everglades City, 800/282-9194, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, $37.50 adults, $22.50 children under 13)
Everglades Alligator Farm (40351 SW 192nd Ave., Florida City, 305/247-2628, 9 a.m.-5:25 p.m. daily, $23 adults, $15.50 children 4-11)
Everglades Holiday Park (21940 Griffin Rd., Fort Lauderdale, 954/434-8111 or 800/226-2244, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, $22.50 adults, $12 children)
Everglades Island Airboat Tours (929 Dupont St., Everglades City, 239/695-2333 or 866/626-2833, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, $37.50-52.50 adults, $18.75-26.25 children 5-12)
Everglades Private Airboat Tours (U.S. 41, Everglades City, 800/368-0065, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, $40 adults, $20 children under 13)
Everglades Safari Park (26700 SW 8th St., Miami, 305/226-6923 or 305/223-3804, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. daily, $23 adults, $10 children 5-11)
Gator Park Airboat Tours (24050 SW 8th St., Miami, 305/559-2255 or 800/559-2205, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, $21 adults, $10.70 children)
Jungle Erv's Airboats (U.S. 41, Everglades City, 877/695-2820, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, $37.50 adults, $25 children 3-10)
Speedy Johnson's Airboat Rides (621 Begonia St., Everglades City, 239/695-4448, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, $40 adults, $25 children 3-10)
Wooten's Everglades Airboat Tour (32330 Tamiami Trail E., Ochopee, 239/695-2781 or 800/282-2781, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily, $25 adults, $21 children 4-12)
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below or contact me via laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com.