Hannah – 4 years old – National Park #2
After visiting the Rocky Mountains with Hannah, I knew I wanted to do more parks with her. I also wanted to do a warm weather trip as the winters can get long here. I decided on Florida because it is an easy flight and the Miami weather is great in April. Also, I had been to the parks in Florida previously, so I had some ideas of what I wanted to show Hannah.
My Dad had recently retired and after finding out we booked this trip, he asked if he could tag along. While I was thrilled to share this experience with my Dad, I also felt extremely sad that I wasn’t sharing it with my husband. After all, the National Park trips were what we did together, and what we had envisioned doing together as a family for years to come. But as far as Dads are concerned, mine is second to none and we felt lucky to spend this vacation with him.
We flew into Miami pretty late at night. I typically do not like booking hotels in advance of trips to allow for more spontaneity along the way, but with flying in so late, I had pre-booked a hotel in Homestead – about a 45 minute drive from the airport. Homestead is a city located right between Everglades and Biscayne National Parks, so a great place to stay when visiting them both.
The next morning, after breakfast at the hotel and a Starbucks run, we started on our way to the Everglades. We stopped at the park sign, of course, for a picture, and then at the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center to make a plan. I had taken the drive all the way down to the Flamingo Visitor Center on a previous trip with Jim, but unfortunately we did not enough time for that on this trip as we had boat reservations at Biscayne NP in the afternoon. TIP: Flamingo is one of the places you can see both crocodiles and alligators in the same area!
However, having been here before, I knew Hannah would absolutely love the Royal Palm Anhinga Trail. The trail is the first left after the visitor center and it is full of wildlife and gators galore! You can hardly walk without seeing a gator in the waterway surrounding the trail. It is amazing at how close we could get to the gators and the birds and fish you can see are pretty amazing as well. And at only about a mile long, it was definitely feasible for a 4 year old.
I want to also give a shout out to the Shark Valley section of Everglades National Park – on the north side of the park off of Hwy 41. I visited this section many years earlier and would love to take Hannah back here someday. It is a 15 mile round trip loop that can be walked, biked, or you can even take a tram. The tram and bicycle rentals do cost money, but you can bring your own bike too. I was there with my sister and we rented bikes. There were times when alligators were literally just lying across the trail sunbathing and we would have to walk our bikes around them.
Alligators on the trails?! Aren’t you nervous?
Yes and no. Yes, alligators are large reptiles that can move faster than we sometimes give them credit. But as with most animals you may encounter in nature, it’s important to educate yourself on the dangers and precautions you should take around them. Alligators feed mostly at night, so they are typically not hunting during the day, therefore daylight hours are much safer to be around them. They are typically taking in the heat from the sun, trying to warm their body temperatures by laying out on or near the paths. So if you don’t bother them, they shouldn’t bother you. Also, it is imperative to always stay on the trails and never go in or near the water where posted.
Even if you do not have time to visit every section of a park you want to visit, you can still have an amazing experience. Every part of each park is different and beautiful in its own way and coming back at different times in your life also creates different experiences and meanings. Seeing a park through a child’s (or grandchild’s) eye brings a new level of joy and discovery.