If you’re hoping to come across alligators and other wildlife in the Everglades, then look no further than the Anhinga Trail.
When you get to the Royal Palm Visitor Center in Everglades National Park, one of the first signs that greets you says, “Warning Vultures May Cause Damage to Vehicles.” By the time you actually step out of your car to head to the trails you’ll probably spot a few of those large, intimidating birds.
The Anhinga Trail is often called the most popular trail in the Everglades because of the variety and accessibility of wildlife along the trail. It doesn’t necessarily get crowded, but it can sometimes be hard to find a peaceful spot along the trail on busy weekends. If you do prefer more of an escape, there are a number of trails accessible from here, although some are closed at times to protect sensitive breeding habitats for various species.
Passing through the visitor center, the Anhinga Trail is right in front of you. It starts off with a paved walkway beside a marsh. Walking along the straight, flat part of the trail you will often spot turtles, herons, anhingas, fish and alligators. There are so many alligators in the area, they will often cross the trail and it's along this portion that they sometimes take a nap! Great for taking photos but remember they are wild and dangerous animals.
Anhingas are impressive water birds and they, along with other species nest in this area. Depending in which season you visit, you may spot some anhinga chicks in the trees.
Anhinga bird eating a fish
As the trail continues, it meanders through the marshland. At times it is a paved pathway, but large sections are wooden, over-water boardwalks. Walking above the marsh, home to the birds and gators, gives you a great chance of getting very close to the wildlife.
Despite the entire trail being mostly flat, it is not open to bicycles, only foot traffic. At just under a mile in length there is no need to hop on a bike here, as you can easily walk it, even with small kids. If you’re up for a bit of a sweat, it isn’t uncommon to spot a few joggers running laps around the trail. If you want a little more exercise - go for it! (Or save your energy for running from gators!) With that being said, for obvious reasons pets are not allowed out on this trail either – so don’t come here if pooch needs a stroll.
A venue of vultures
A few shade and storm shelters, and plenty of look-outs along the boardwalk ensure that you don’t get bored, and can stop to enjoy the best views. The vultures are some of the most entertaining creatures along the trail. If you spot a group of them circling above, they’re called a kettle of vultures. If they’re hanging out in the trees, it is a wake of vultures; and if they are on the ground they are called a venue of vultures!
The trail is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the US, recognizing the special habitat and rich ecosystem of the area. As with all of the Everglades, the marshlands and trail can get sweltering hot and humid in summer. That can make it uncomfortable for some people, and also for some of the wildlife. The best time to visit, when there are more bird species, and they’re all quite active, is from late fall to early spring.