Shark Valley in Everglades National Park is big but a great way to explore this unique area of the United States. It’s also an area of the park where you are almost guaranteed to catch glimpses of wildlife. The main trail at Shark Valley is 15 miles in length. But if you don’t have the time or energy to do all 15 miles you can loop a few of the Shark Valley trails to still see some of the best of the Everglades.
It’s hard to imagine any kind of valley in a flat and open landscape like the Everglades. But Shark Valley gets its name from the Shark River Slough. Don’t worry, there are no sharks at Shark Valley.
Loop the Shark Valley Trails
Everglades National Park has an entrance station and Visitor’s Center at Shark Valley where you have options for trails. They include a few shorter walks that showcase some beautiful scenery. Shark Valley also has a 15-mile loop paved path which can be explored by foot, bike, or tram.
Those who do not wish to walk 15 miles can rent bicycles or purchase tram tickets from the Visitor Center at Shark Valley. Right about the halfway point of the main trail, an observation tower takes visitors high above the sea of grass for an overview. But halfway along a 15-mile loop, means your committed to the entire 15 miles.
Read more about the Shark Valley Trail from guest blogger Sally Keys in this post.
Most people who walk the trails at Shark Valley only walk a short way down the Shark Valley Trail (the main trail) along the canal to observe wildlife. This paved trail follows the canal on the west side. And visitors can walk as little or much as desired.
But a great way to loop the Shark Valley trails is to walk the main trail along the canal to the Otter Cave Hammock Trail, then back along the main trail to the Bobcat Boardwalk, which will loop back around the Visitor’s Center.
You’ll begin this hike on the west side of the main Shark Valley Trail, or to the right from the Visitor’s Center. Here you will follow the main trail along the paved path that parallels the canal. After about a half of a mile, the Otter Cave Hammock Trail splits to the left. There is a sign that will directs you.
Otter Cave Hammock Trail
The short 0.2-mile Otter Cave Hammock Trail takes you through a typical hammock in Everglades National Park. Hammocks are tree islands in the sea of grass that make up the Everglades. In the Otter Cave Hammock Trail, you can see solution holes that are limestone cavities in the ground. Be careful where you put your feet here!
The Otter Cave Hammock Trail shows you an example of a hammock where the Miccosukee people built their villages.
The spur trail parallels the main Shark Valley Trail before re-entering it a little way down the path. From there you can retrace your steps along the main trail. But don’t worry, wildlife is abundant along the canal, so you will probably see different things on your return trip.
On my return trip, an alligator had come up next to the paved path and was sunning himself. However, I was still able to keep the recommended 15-foot distance to get around him.
After you walk the half-mile back to the Visitor’s Center, you will see the trail for the Bobcat Boardwalk that takes you into the bushes. Unlike the other Shark Valley trails, this trail is on an elevated boardwalk.
The Bobcat Boardwalk Trail connects the east and west sides of the main trail and is about 0.4 miles long. It has benches and a covered area for resting in the shade. Bobcat Boardwalk takes you through another tree island and you can see bays, cocoplum, ferns, and air plants.
Walking the Shark Valley trails loop is a great way to see wildlife at Everglades National Park. The Falcon Guide’s “Exploring Everglades National Park and the Surrounding Area” states that Shark Valley is a nature photographer’s playground.
If you don’t have time or energy to walk or ride a bike along the entire 15-mile stretch of the main trail, nor want to take the tram, this short 1.5-mile walk is a great way to experience the trails in Shark Valley.