The name “Shark Valley” is a bit deceiving.
It’s not that the area to which it corresponds lacks the sense of immediate danger you might expect from a depression filled with predatory fish. It’s just that in this case, the foreboding wildlife you’re likely to encounter aren’t confined solely to the water.
Welcome to Florida’s Everglades National Park, the “largest subtropical wilderness in the United States.” It’s estimated that upwards of 200,000 alligators reside within these borders, composing a vital part of Florida’s prolific ecosystem. And there’s no better place to get up close and personal with them than Shark Valley.
Here at the heart of the Shark River Slough there isn’t much to distract you from the thousands of surrounding acres of sawgrass prairie: a visitor center; an observatory tower; a 15-mile pedestrian trail. In fact, it may be the single most isolated and biologically diverse bike ride you’ll ever take.
Which can be a slightly unnerving combination, given the circumstances.
The first thing you’ll notice as you begin pedaling, besides the 180-million year old carnivores warming their bodies next to the trail, is the lack of a protective barrier between you and mother nature. It takes a little getting used to. Eventually, however, having grown accustomed to your lethargic neighbors, you’ll be able to confidently direct your attention elsewhere along the trail. It’s smooth surface and flat course may not even register right away, but they’ll help the 14.7 miles pass effortlessly underneath you.
At the northbound turn 7 miles in, you’ll arrive at the park’s observation tower. Don’t miss the panoramic vistas from the third floor viewing deck, where all of South Florida stretches out before you. You’ll get a clear sense of just how massive this 1.5 million-acre national preserve really is.
Unfortunately, due to Shark Valley’s isolation, it’s neither entirely practical nor entirely safe to bike all the way out. The entrance to the park is situated nearly 40 miles due west of downtown Miami, along the busy two-lane State Route 41. That being the case, you’ll likely have to shell out around $25 to park a car for the day – and yes, it’s totally worth it.
If you plan on riding the entire trail, it’s best to start early in the morning to avoid overheating. Give yourself 2-3 hours to complete the loop at a leisurely pace, then go appreciate all the unforgettable sights that Florida’s Everglades have to offer.