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If you are looking for a truly intact subtropical wilderness without having to travel outside of the continental United States, we have one not too far away in South Florida. The Florida Everglades is certainly more than dangerous mosquitoes, alligators, and snakes, and it’s more than just a huge swamp. It is a giant and fragile ecosystem that contains many forms of wildlife in their natural habitat.

Beginning in 1848 there was talk of draining the Everglades, and some of the canals that were built in South Florida helped promote the land boom in the first half of the 20th century. But mother nature in the form of floods and hurricanes proved too much. After studies on the environmental impact of a large airport found that the South Florida ecosystem would be destroyed, the emphasis in the 1970s turned to restoring the Everglades.

So far, about 50% of the original Everglades have been converted to urban and agricultural areas. UNESCO has designated this area as Wetlands of World Importance; only two others in the world have a similar designation. Obviously, a lot of damage has already been done, so the entire area is on the brink of rupture, and since 2000 the US Congress put a restoration plan in place, but politics has helped delay the most comprehensive and costly attempt at environmental recovery in history.

There is so much to do for the family in the Everglades, and if you are in South Florida, you must visit Everglades National Park. This is the place where you will find a unique and abundant fauna that you will only find in a swampy habitat like this. After visiting the Ernest Coe Visitor Center, which offers orientation films and exhibits to get your bearings, you’ll want to be sure to consider the following activities:

1. Airboat tours. This won’t be the quietest way to get around the Everglades, but it is a lot of fun.

2. Canoeing in Los Claros. The park has many water trails for canoeing or kayaking. Going to the water will allow you to see much more of the park’s wildlife, and these modes of transportation will be the least intrusive way to do it.

3. Shark Valley Observation Tower. Listen if the weather is clear you can see it for miles. It is located about seven miles from the Shark Valley Visitor Center, and can be reached by walking, bike, or trolley.

4. Gumbo Limbo Trail. This half mile hike is a paved path through mostly gumbo limbo forest.

5. Mahogany hammock. A very interesting half mile boardwalk through one of the Glades unique ecosystems.

6. Anhinga Trail. This is a paved trail a little less than a mile on foot; this will take you through a swamp of sawgrass.

7. Camping. If you like camping, there are a variety of camping options.

When in South Florida, try to enjoy this incredible natural area. You won’t find anything like it anywhere in the United States.

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