For centuries, the Everglades has held a tight grip on the human imagination. Thousands of years ago the Calusa tribe of Southwest Florida carved masks of wolves, sea turtles, pelicans, deer and panthers they found there. The Everglades transfixed the conquistadors who arrived in the early 16th century. Later, it offered shelter to escaped slaves and Seminoles and Miccosukees running from the American military. Hardworking farmers, crabbers and fishermen found a way to make a living there, as did unsavory rumrunners and drug couriers.
Rhapsodized in novels, rap music and Hollywood movies, this vast subtropical wilderness became a national treasure and ecological cause célèbre with the establishment of Everglades National Park in 1947. Today the park is sadly scarred by canals, dams and levees, still threatened by development and agriculture, and more recently by climate change and invasive Burmese pythons. And yet the Everglades remains a place of jaw-dropping beauty filled with mystery and subterfuge, where what looks like a green meadow is a deep lettuce lake covered over with vegetation and crawling with alligators. A vista here might include nothing but a sighing sea of sawgrass, the shadow of clouds crawling across a plain and the purple-gray fuzz of far-off trees, but it’s a sight powerful enough to bring you to your knees.
My wife, Rachel, and my two sons, Theo and Felix, took our first trip to the Everglades in early 2020. I pored over books and maps to chart a four-day novice tour and found four easy-to-access destinations to experience this majestic place of sawgrass and sky. Come along for the ride.