Compiled from a series of stories by Jeff Klinkenberg for VISIT FLORIDA
The legendary River of Grass is one of the wonders of the world, a vast subtropical wilderness that has been declared a World Heritage Site, International Biosphere Reserve and Wetland of International Importance. There are many ways to experience the Everglades - here are eight entry points.
Corkscrew Swamp: Land of Giants
Deep in the heart of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, in the largest stand of old-growth cypress trees on the planet, living giants tower over the primeval landscape. Some of the trees measure more than 135 in height and nearly 40 feet in circumference. A 2.1-mile-long boardwalk leads into the Corkscrew wilderness.
Big Cypress: Brake for Alligators
Along the Tamiami Trail in the 720,000-acre wilderness of Big Cypress National Preserve, alligators line the canal banks like scaly, cold-blooded Lincoln logs. The reptiles reign in the swamp, particularly along the 25-mile Loop Road that leads off the main highway into the deep Everglades.
Step Into the Mystery of Fakahatchee Strand
Venture into Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park and you could see an elusive Florida panther, or a black bear, or the famous ghost orchid, which was featured in Susan Orlean's best-selling book "The Orchid Thief" (which was made into a movie starring Meryl Streep and Nicholas Cage).
Rolling Down the Gator Trail
Shark Valley Visitor Center is located 25 miles west of Miami and 70 miles east of Naples. The 15-mile Tram Loop is closed to motorized traffic except for the regular tram tours; many visitors choose to bike the trail, stopping halfway to take in the view from the observation tower.
Store Stocked with Tales of the Florida Frontier
Stepping through the doorway of the Smallwood Store on the island of Chokoloskee is like stepping back in time. Opened in 1906 by Florida pioneer Ted Smallwood, the wooden building on pilings is more museum than retail establishment now, with a trove of stories and artifacts from bygone days.
Eat Your Fill, Sit a Spell at Joanie's
Joanie's Blue Crab Cafe isn't fancy, but it serves up heaping helpings of old-fashioned Old Florida character with every plate of fresh seafood. Proprietor Joanie Griffin, who practically grew up in the Everglades fishing and hunting with her late husband, presides with downhome charm and hospitality.
Visit 'the Disney World of Tropical Fruit'
At Robert Is Here, browse the aisles for exotic produce - dragonfruit, lychee, sapodilla, Monstera deliciosa - as well as more familiar fare, like tomatoes cucumbers, bananas, mangoes and more. Owner (and namesake) Robert Moehler, a big, friendly man who will talk your ear off, grows most of what he sells.
Go Deep for Everglades Chickee Camping
Canoe into Hell's Bay in the southern tip of the Everglades for a backcountry chickee camping adventure. Chickees are sheltered camping platforms standing in the water. Open on all sides to allow the breeze to flow through, the chickees make roughing it not so rough for wilderness camping novices.