The “River of Grass”
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  Posted November 14th, 2011 by Zdenko  in Travel | One comment

Traveling USA

By: Zdenko Kahlina

Florida Everglades stretch for miles…
The “River of Grass” as the Everglades are sometimes named, encompasses the southern tip of Florida. As such, it is the point you must pass through to reach Key Largo and your ride down the Overseas Highway. The Everglades stretch for miles, however.

In the Everglades on the airboat

Vera and I were returning from the Keys, and once we reached Florida City I made a left turn (west) at the lights, on Palm Drive and we drove straight for about 2.5 kilometers. At the next stop sign make a LEFT turn again (SOUTH) on 192 Ave and drive 4 miles until you arrive. You can’t miss it, because it is at the end of the road.

Map of the area

The natural abundance of the Everglades accounts for its fame. Florida panthers and alligators and crocodiles, roseate spoonbills and great egrets… they all can be found here. There are 300 varieties of birds and 600 kinds of fish. And the variety of environments spread across its vast expanse is remarkable, including cypress domes and mangrove swamps, saw grass “rivers” and scattered clutches of slash pines, and more than 40 indigenous species of plants.

Everglades Alligator Farm is great for a stop to get a taste of the Florida Everglades. It’s especially convenient if you’re planning a drive down into the Keys, or when returning from the Keys like in our case, because it’s located just off the end of the Turnpike, when you pick up US-1 in Florida City.

I was very excited to visit the alligator farm as it was the only touristy thing we’d be doing on our short road trip between Key West and Miami. It definitely did not disappoint! It actually surpassed all my expectations! I didn’t think we’d spend there more than one hour, but it ended up being so much fun that we stayed for half a day!

Vera by the alligator and anaconda skins

Admission was $23 for adults, which includes the airboat ride (if you don’t want the airboat ride, it’s a bit cheaper).  A trip to the Everglades Alligator Farm includes an exciting airboat tour of the surrounding river of grass, tour of the canal system around the farm and the nearby Everglades National Park. These guided tours highlight the wildlife that can be seen from the boat.

You can also go on a walking trail around the farm, to see the alligators, crocodiles, caimans, and wildlife, a great display of local and exotic snakes, and informational wildlife shows every hour. Everglades Alligator Farm is open daily between the hours of 9 am to 6pm. If you are headed to Key Largo or Key West, this is an attraction you absolutely won’t want to miss!

Patiently waiting for the feed time

Alligator Feeding
The Everglades Alligator Farm holds daily shows involving alligators and snakes as well as demonstrations on alligator feeding. The shows were very short but fun because they gave everyone a chance to hold baby alligators and snakes!

Alligators came for the food

This was the first show we watched. It’s lunch-time for gators, and they’re always hungry! In this show, we did see and learn about how alligators feed in the wild. I learnt alligators go into brumation, which is somewhat like hibernation, but not really. They don’t sleep, they just slow their metabolism way down and hide and stop eating, waiting for the weather to warm back up so they can get back to business.

Here in Florida they’re active through most of the year, but on a day when it gets cold they’re going to be hiding unless they have somewhere sunny and out of the wind to haul up and bask. Their optimum temperature is about 88 degrees, so they’ll be trying to stay as close to that as possible.

Over 500 gators live in this breeding pond area. It’s a wild and crazy show. Watch gators chomp down, and crawl over one another to get a hearty meal. The little trail around the alligators nest pond was really nice as well… I can’t believe we almost missed it.

They had enough tourists for three boats

Airboat Rides
They had three boats and when we were visiting, all three were booked full. Once you get seated, they warn you that the first row of seats will get splashed and wet, so if you don’t like it move at the back of the boat. I was holding my camera, so Vera and I sat at the back. When water conditions are low you could also get muddy, but this certainly didn’t apply to our visit. We were there just after a weekend of unusually high rainfall – totals were recorded Saturday, when more than 9 inches fell in the areas. These airboats are very loud, so they provide you with the ear protection, but it is your responsibility to use it properly.

Our camera’s were ready: there is alligator on the left

Going through jungle canal

The ride starts slow, and there are alligators left and right immediately from the start. Gliding across the river of grass is the highlight of the alligator farm. Our guided tour cut through several miles of preserved everglades, ripe with wildlife. The ride can be wet, wild, and loads of fun. Our boat pilot made several 180 degrees turns and there was water everywhere… but it was fun for all in the boat.

Swimming not allowed

The finest moments in the Everglades can happen in an instant: All is serene until you spot an osprey swooping from above to pluck a fishy treat from the shallows. There’s a brief splash, but that’s it. In another moment the powerful bird, with its squirming prey in tow, is gone again. And all is as it was… silent!

There are 300 varieties of birds in Everglades

This alligator is not bothered by the passing boats

So is not this bird

Everglades Alligator Farm Florida – Airboat show

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Going through the Everglades

The boats are very fast but noisy

Our pilot Jeff

Beautiful natural park

Zooming through the Everglades

Speeding through the Everglades

The Farm

In addition to the airboat ride, you can walk around the farm, and see hundreds of alligators, and other wildlife, including geese, huge iguanas, and some very cute Florida panthers. They also do a snake show and an alligator show, in addition to the gator feeding. The women who sell the tickets are very helpful and friendly, and will direct you to what shows at what times work best with your visit & the airboat ride you’re automatically scheduled for.

This bird landed right in front of tourists

There’s a little snack cart on the grounds, but I wouldn’t waste a meal there, unless you’re absolutely starving, There’s the fabulous fruit stand near by and too many restaurants that serve gator meals in Florida City. The Everglades Alligator Farm one of the few real working alligator farm, that doesn’t process alligators. Alligator eggs are collected every year, and sold to other alligator farms around the state. Home of the famous 14 ft. “Grandpa” alligator, the farm has an awesome staff of Airboat drivers, Alligator Experts, and even Snake handlers.

“Grandpa” alligator

This alligator came very close to the boat

Alligator Shows
The alligator show is one of the most entertaining aspects of the farm. Our expert handlers educate guests on all aspects of these creatures of the swamp. You’ll see primitive capturing techniques once used by Native American Indians. Stay after the show while we pass out a live baby alligator for photo opportunities.

This was an BIG alligator

Snake Shows
Our snake show is a great opportunity for finally getting over your fear of snakes. We’ll walk you through information on what snakes to look out for while exploring the everglades. The dangerous effect of bringing new and invasive species in is also discussed. You will also get a chance to pass around a snake, and snap a picture of a face you will NEVER forget.
Sean was very good with the snakes

If you are coming from North FL (Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, etc.):

  1. Take the Florida Turnpike South to EXIT 1 in Florida City.
  2. Turn RIGHT (WEST) on Palm Drive and drive 1.5 miles.
  3. Turn LEFT (SOUTH) on 192 Ave and drive 4 miles until you arrive.

If you are coming from the Keys:

  1. Drive NORTH on US 1 until you reach Florida City.
  2. Turn LEFT (WEST) on Palm Drive and drive 1.5 miles.
  3. Turn LEFT (SOUTH) on 192 Ave and drive 4 miles until you arrive.

If you are the outdoor type this is definitely a place to visit! They’d added a new feature – get your picture taken on the back of a gator (don’t worry, the gator’s mouth is taped shut).  None of us opted for this souvenir – but it looked pretty cool – and you can use the resulting picture to regale your friends back home about how you wrestled a gator in the Everglades!

Yes, when visiting Florida for a week, spending about 2 or 3 days in the Keys, include a side trip to Everglades and the rest of time in Miami Beach is a very good plan.

“Grandpa” alligator slipping… or is he?

More Everglades pictures here:

Everglades Alligator Farm



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One comment to “The “River of Grass””

  1. Comment by Matthew:

    We’re glad you had an awesome time at the Farm! Thanks for the post, and hope to see you soon.

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