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Appeals to: Couples/romantics, Honeymooners, Singles, Families with small children, Families with teenagers, Seniors, Students, Budget travelers, Active/adventure
Seasons: Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall
1. The drive down
This is my version of the perfect day trip to the Keys. Its best in Spring and Fall, when there aren't too many bugs in the Everglades but the water is still warm enough to snorkel. In the middle of summer, you might want to skip the Everglades - you'll find more to do in the Keys!
Always, always take the turnpike towards Florida City. The turnpike ends at a traffic light. You are now in Florida City. There is a Shell gas station on the far right corner. If you turn left, you'll head to Biscayne National Park - but that's a different go list. Instead, turn right towards Everglades National Park. You can always make a quick stop at the Shell for water, gas, snacks. There's no food concession in this part of the Everglades so bring along supplies.
You'll see the building ahead of you. You need to make a left turn here. But pull in to Robert is Here on your way into or out of the Everglades - warning, many people end up needing to stop here for a milkshake going into AND out of the Everglades! Lots of fresh local fruits and veggies (the strawberries in January are the best!) Also exotic tropical fruits. But who wants fruit when you can have a fresh fruit milkshake - we like strawberry key lime.
Your first stop in the Everglades is the visitor center. It does a good job of describing this unique environment. There's a little gift shop. You might want to buy the card identifying the birds. Don't linger too long here. The good stuff is just ahead.
Leave the visitor center and drive through the park gates. You are now passing through the sawgrass prairie. The land is sloping gently and a river of water 4 inches deep is moving from Lake Okechobee to Florida Bay. Just 4 miles from the park entrance, you'll see the turnoff on your left to Royal Palm Visitor Center. Park there and get ready for an amazing experience - Anhinga Trail. This .5 mile boardwalk through the sawgrass marsh will show you alligators, other reptiles, birds galore and fish. Check the schedule for a ranger led tour. Take your camera for some amazing photos. You can push a stroller easily on this trail. Maybe you'll see an anhinga bird catch and eat a fish! Gumbo Limbo Trail is also here and takes you through a hardwood hammock (forest).
5. On to the Keys/Alabama Jacks
You've spent about 3 hours on the Everglades adventure. Now it's time to head back to Florida City. Make a right by the Shell Station and you are on the way to the Keys. You can either head straight down the 18 mile stretch or take a left right outside of Fllorida City and get on Card Sound Road. If you want a lunch stop, then take Card Sound to Alabama Jacks for grouper sandwiches and other goodies.
The best part of the Keys are several miles offshore. So plan on a 3:00 boat trip from Pennekamp State Park (mile marker 104). If you have non-swimmers in the group or think the water may be too cold, then you can opt for a glass bottom boat. Active travelers may want to try the kayaks. Pennekamp is about 45 minutes from Florida City.
Pennekamp has nice big boats that are stable in the water. There's an aquaruim there that lets you get a taste of what you are going to see. After snorkelling, clean up at the outdoor showers.
Continue on and and drive about 45 minutes to Robbies Marina (mile marker 77 bayside). Pay a few bucks for a bucket of dead fish and feed the giant, prehistoric looking fish that hang out at the docks on most days (they aren't around when its cold and windy). You may want to call ahead and make sure Robbies will be open when you get there. Once you've fed the fish, wash those hands in the bucket provided and then off to eat some fish!
Last stop on the way out of the Keys is dinner beachside where you can see the sun set. Our favorite place is Morada Bay, mm 81. There's a big sandy beach with Adorindack chairs where you have a drink. Then sit outside with your shoes off and feast on yellowtail snapper, conch chowder, grouper, dolphin or other local favorites. The kids are off playing in the sand.
10. Goodbye to Paradise
Time to head back up US 1 to the mainland. Go ahead and take the 18 mile stretch. The stars are out over the Everglades as you get back to Florida City. Then on the turnpike and back to reality. You'll want to come back!