Adventure can be found anywhere, anywhere one looks that is. On a recent business trip to North Carolina I stumbled upon a beautiful respite from as I was going to pickup my dinner for the night. Driving along I saw a sign for Durant Nature Preserve North entrance. Quickly I consulted my trusty GaiaGPS app and found that there was indeed an area that looked promising. Two lakes and five miles of secluded trails revealed themselves to me. After grabbing some Tom Yum soup and a sushi appetizer, I made my way into the park to see what awaited. A brief stop at the information kiosk and I was on my way to the lake. Visions of a shore line surrounded by trees filled my head as I embarked down a well maintained six foot trail into the forest. After a short half mile walk and a quick stop to read about beavers common to the area, I was rewarded with a most tranquil scene in which to enjoy my dinner. With the sounds of nature all around and a cool breeze blowing ever so slightly, I setup my hammock (never leave home without one) and began to unwind for the days work.
I made quick work of the sushi and savored the soup as it cooled all the while rocking in my hammock and enjoying the relaxing sounds of birds chit chatting in the trees all around. Having a full belly and feeling the pressures of the day falling away, I was pleased to find a strong cellular signal available with which I used to begin this post. Keeping an eye on the time as the preserve closed at 8:00 pm, I was surprised when I realized it was five minutes until closing time. I quickly packed up and headed back to the parking lot hoping the gate had not been locked. Timing is everything... while huffing it back to the car I was rewarded with a farewell surprise. A momma dear and her fawn stood within feet of the trail just as interested in me as I was of them. Only when I passed did they turn and run. A minute before, or a minute after, and I would have missed seeing two beautiful dears.
Fortunately the gate was electronic and opened as I drove up. There was a letter on my windshield advising that I had violated the park hours of operation and that my car's make, model and license had been recorded. And there you go. An adventure that was just waiting to be had with no planning, no muss, and no fuss.
73 miles from Naples, FL and 41 miles from Miami, the Shark Valley area of the Everglades National Park provides easy access to the expansive Florida Everglades from both coasts. Shark Valley is in the middle of the 1,509,000 acre Everglades National Park just off US 41 which cuts right through the middle of the park. Once on the trail, the only distractions from the outside world are the occasional sound of an airplane heading for Miami International.
Driving to the Shark Valley Visitor Center from either coast, you will pass many other hiking trails and camping areas. The amount of outdoor recreation available in just over 100 miles on US 41 is amazing. Everglades National Park, Colier-Seminole State Park, Francis S. Taylor Wildlife Management Area, Big Cypress National Preserve, and Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve, are the major areas of public land available for the eager explorer. In addition to the bountiful recreational opportunities available on public lands, privately owned establishments along this remote stretch of US 41 offer travelers unique recreational opportunities such as airboat rides and alligator wrestling. The Miccosukee Indian Reservation offers the chance to learn about the indian tribe’s history while enjoying casino style gaming and resort accomodations.
In south Florida, the consequences of solar conditions (how hot it’s going to be) is a primary planning concern year around. Since our adventure into Shark Valley took place in early November (still blazing hot in Florida), we decided to start our hike at sunrise as temperatures were anticipated to be in the upper 80's by mid-day. It's a common practice for hikers and bikers to park along US 41 to begin there journeys before the visitor center opens at 8:30 am. We realized our plan was spot on when we discovered there was absolutely no natural canopy to shield us from the brutal south Florida sun. I was amazed by the amount of wildlife we saw in the short 100 yards from US 41 to the visitor center. Alligators, Blue Herons, Egrets, Storks, and very active fish kept our cameras rolling. Did I mention alligators….and alligators?
The 14 mile concrete loop trail starts and ends at the visitor center. Bike rentals are available on an hourly basis, $9/hr during our visit, with an average time to complete the loop of 2 -3 hours. Tram tours are also available at $25 for an adult ticket. Reservations can be made at Shark Valley Tram Tours. These two options are great if you don’t have the time or are not physically able to complete the trip as a hike, but the greatest appreciation for the beauty of the Florida Everglades comes only from putting one foot in front of the other for about 6 - 7 hours. I will admit, once the sun hit us full force on the return leg, I was wishing for a ticket on the Tram. Get the best of both worlds by riding the tram to the observation tower and then hiking back. If you're going to hike, make sure to start early, take plenty of water, pack a sunbrella, and check the weather. Florida is the lightning strike capital of the country. Don’t get caught in the everglades during a lightning storm! You’ll be the tallest thing aroung. Think lightning rod....scary.
An observation tower provides a welcome respite midway through the loop and an impressive view of the everglades. If your hiking, try to time your arrival at the observation tower just after a tram tour leaves. You’ll then have an hour and a half to eat your lunch or snack and rest a bit. Perhaps catch a short nap with a delightful breeze to keep you cool before resuming the journey.. Just as I was dozing off, two tram cars full of people arrived to end my brief but delightful intermission.
We returned to the trail shortly after noon and made it back to the visitor’s center by 3:30. The sun made us much more anxious to reach the finish line than we had been to reach the mid way point. We’ve learned the hard way to always pack a sunbrella, and that lesson paid off during the final seven miles of this hike.
If you go, let us know about your experience in the comments below. We love hearing what other people find interesting along the way.
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Wes’ passions include hiking, backpacking, camping and all things tech. With a background in technology, Wes loves finding new ways to showcase outdoor exploration with the latest technology.
A dedicated wife and mother, Joanne’s interests include teaching, nutrition and exercise. Joanne prefers hiking to stay fit and is determined to improve backcountry nutrition.