Wild Times in Florida
Everglades National Park, Florida
Ninety minutes from Miami, Everglades is Florida's time warp back to the Jurassic era — panthers, alligators, manatees, and 360 types of birds, all fighting it out for survival in the largest subtropical wilderness in the U.S. But in summer, 90-degree temps and 95-percent humidity cause even the wildlife to wilt and seek shelter. Which is why November to May — when the sky clears, the mosquitos disappear, and the water levels drop — is the best time to witness the life-and-death dramas playing out in the swamp's back channels. "You probably won't see a panther — that's a cat that can run nearly 30 miles per hour," says Charles Wright, a Florida naturalist and owner of Everglades Area Tours. "But alligators, dolphins, sea turtles, shore birds, and birds of prey, for sure." The only real way to explore the 1.5 million–acre park is by kayak or boat, and by launching in the Turner River where it crosses underneath Tamiami Trail, you'll have the best chance of seeing wildlife without packing camping gear. Slowly the channels will narrow and birds will alight as you pass. Alligators may even start patrolling the waters — and quickly your night out in South Beach will seem tame by comparison.
Fly: Miami is only an hour and a half away and has the cheapest car rentals.
Stay: Chokoloskee Island Park and Marina, which has boat rentals and is 10 minutes from the Everglades. [chokoloskee.com]