Photo Fiona Sunquist ©
Alligators are everywhere in Florida – official estimates suggest there may be more than 1.25 million of them in Florida’s waters. The easiest way to see an alligator is to go to one of the many zoos and alligator farms, but if you want to see these impressive reptiles in the wild, there are several places you can go to increase your chances of getting a really good look at them.
South Florida is prime alligator country. Almost all the lakes, swamps and canals should be considered alligator habitat, and if you are fishing, walking a dog, or thinking about swimming anywhere, you should be aware that there will most likely be alligators in the water. Be careful.
In South Florida, winter is the best time to see alligators in the wild. Look for them basking along the edge of almost any water body, canals, ponds and even water hazards on golf courses. The best place to see them is Everglades National Park, at the Shark Valley Loop off the Tamiami Trail. For a real adventure you can rent a bike; if you don’t want to do that you can walk, or take the tram tour.
Shark Valley is an alligator bonanza. In winter, the 15-mile paved trail is dotted with alligators basking on the warm black tarmac. They seem to be accustomed to bikes zipping by, but don’t get too close, and never feed or poke at them. They may look sleepy, but they can be fast and dangerous. In 1996 a boy fell off his bicycle and onto an alligator while riding on the trail. The gator grabbed the boy and tried to drag him into the water, but some adults intervened, and the alligator released the child.
The Shark Valley entrance to Everglades National Park is on the Tamiami Trail. Admission is $10 per car. Tram tours leave hourly beginning at 9 a.m. For more information, call (305) 221-8455; www.sharkvalleytramtours.com.
Another excellent viewing site for alligators is the Anhinga trail
in the Royal Palm area of Everglades National Park. The whole trail is wheelchair accessible and the alligators and birds are accustomed to people, so the photo opportunities are amazing.
If you don’t want to go into Everglades National Park you can always see gators basking on the north bank of the canal that runs along the Tamiami Trail (SR41). However, traffic is heavy, the highway is narrow and there are few places to pull off the road.
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