Gators and Everglades: 4 invigorating day trips from Miami or Fort Lauderdale
Take a trip outside the city to go island hopping and gator spotting. | By Jeremiah Crossing | June 30, 2021 (Updated March 10, 2023)
Bars, beaches and basking in the Florida sun. Need we say more? Miami and Fort Lauderdale are undoubtedly incredible vacation spots for your next group trip. The areas just outside the cities don’t disappoint either, so it’s a good idea to extend your stay and plan a few day trips from Miami or Fort Lauderdale. We’ve rounded up our top day-trip picks for memory-making fun in the Sunshine State with your best friends:
The Everglades: Slough slogging and geocaching and gators, oh my!
Biscayne National Park: A watery wonderland with a history
The Bahamas: Hop aboard the Bimini ferry and be on island time in no time
Day trip to the Everglades (driving distance: 1 hour)
River of grass
Spend time meandering ancient lands viewing more than 360 types of bird, flowers, plants and trees that you won't find in any other place in the U.S. And, if you're lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of a Florida panther, an American alligator or a saltwater crocodile (all from a safe distance, of course).
Enter the park from the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center to get information on ranger-led slough slogging (or a wet hike, for non-Florida natives), kayaking and canoeing, fishing, geocaching and other activities. You can also access several popular hiking and biking trails, along with paddling sites, including Pine Island and Flamingo, as well as the Nike Missile Base.
If you’re a cyclist, plan to bring your bike or rent one for the day and add a few extra minutes of driving time to your day trip from Miami or Fort Lauderdale. Enter the Everglades National Park at the Shark Valley Visitor Center off Highway 41/Tamiami Trail and you'll find a 15-mile paved, circular path called “the loop.” At the halfway point, stop at the huge Shark Valley Observation Tower to observe some of the park’s largest alligators hanging out in the deeper waters.
If biking or walking the 15-mile loop sounds like more than your schedule can handle, try taking the two-hour guided Shark Valley Tram Tour, which is great for groups and meeting new people. While out on the tram, you'll see plenty of alligators soaking up the sun on the hot pavement or swimming in the canals, as well as other wildlife.
For a fast-paced adventure, look for airboat tours along the Tamiami Trail, plus tours at Everglades Holiday Park. There are also gator wrestling shows, animal encounters and talks by the Gator Boys, who are a team that works to rescue alligators from domesticated areas and bring them to a safe environment.
Day trip to Biscayne National Park (driving distance: 1 hour and 15 minutes)
Water, water everywhere
At 95% water, Biscayne National Park is a paradise for boaters, snorkelers and divers – or for anyone who just wants to spend a little time in, on or around the water.
Biscayne National Park is also a fantastic spot for history buffs. Sites like Stiltsville, a collection of houses built in the 1930s in the middle of the sea, and the underwater Maritime Heritage Trail are sure to impress those seeking to learn more about their surroundings. Groups will also enjoy the chance to paddle out to Boca Chita Key (which features a historical lighthouse), or picnic on Elliott Key.
Day trip to the Upper Keys (driving distance: 1 hour and 30 minutes)
In the Upper Keys, you can go for a scenic, sea-level drive or explore the town and find out why so many are drawn to its off-the-grid lifestyle.
In Islamorada, you can swim with dolphins, sea lions or sharks at Theater of the Sea, then celebrate with a meal at Lorelei Restaurant & Cabana Bar, a local favorite. Or you can make new friends and take a deep-sea fishing trip (or charter a boat for your group) with Key Largo Fishing Adventures.
"If getting in the water is not your thing, book a glass-bottom boat. The water is super clear and it was a great way to sit back (with a drink) and see the beautiful coral reef along with turtles, stingrays and sharks all from the comfort of your boat." -Christine Vaz, Hilton Team Member, Marketing
Return from your deep-sea adventure to have your catch cooked at the Lazy Lobster Seafood Restaurant, where you can also sample rock lobster in two dozen different styles. Top it all off by indulging in the key lime pie at the famous Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen.
Day trip to The Bahamas (boat time: 2-3 hours)
With morning departures, the ferry will deliver you to an island of white sand beaches surrounded by turquoise waters. Here, you can see the island's famous swimming pigs, but you might also find yourself swimming alongside dolphins and other wildlife.
While it's easy to spend the day on the beach, don't miss the chance to venture into Alice Town. You can meander The King's Highway and The Queen's Highway (the area's two main roads) and explore colorful shops filled with works from local artists.
Your group will love to wander through poet-laureate Ashley Saunders' Dolphin House Museum — a dolphin- and ocean-inspired museum and gallery. And before you catch the ferry back to Florida, make time for an early meal where you can dine on fresh fish, nouveau cuisine and traditional Bahamian dishes.
Florida is the perfect backdrop for your next trip when looking to reconnect with friends and family. The exciting adventures in this unique corner of the world will connect you to new experiences and memories you’ll hold on to for years to come.
Jeremiah Crossing is always searching for his next travel adventure.