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shark valley national park

Shark Valley National Park

When visiting south florida and looking for something active to do we recommend the Shark Valley National Park bike loop! There are no other places like this, dare we say, in the world! This 15 mile loop gives you unobstructed access to all of the wildlife that the Everglades has to offer. You’ll see all kinds of birds, snakes, lizards, fish, and of course alligators! Now we don’t mean maybe you’ll come across one or two if you’re lucky, we mean you may have to swerve around alligators laying across your bike path. Don’t worry just use caution when you encounter them, they’re very docile and don’t seem to react much to people. As you can see by these pictures, all taken during our last visit.

Alligator basking in the sun  in Florida's shark valley national park in the Everglades

Shark Valley is located on the border between Collier and Miami-Dade county in the heart of the everglades right across from the Miccosukee Indian’s restaurant.  It is a national park and current admission is $10 (they encourage use of credit cards). Most of us don’t travel with our bikes so don’t worry they offer rentals for $9/hr, but be warned they are beach cruiser style.  If you’re lucky enough to have your own bike in this area bring it, as a 15 mile beach cruiser ride is no walk in the park (although you can walk in this park instead of bike). The parks name is funny and often gets asked “Why is it called Shark Valley”?  The everglades (and Florida in general) is very very flat and this location happens to be lower lying than its surroundings, plus it happens to be near Shark River, hence Shark Valley. Not because one part of the trail is windy like a sharks fin (seriously we heard this).

A view of the bike trail in Miami's Shark Valley park from the observation tower

At the park you’ll find a large amount of educational signs and tours. There is the common tram tours, but the more unique tour is the everglades walking tour. This tour guides you into and through the muddy waters of the everglades to really get up close and personal with the wildlife. Half way down the the 15 mile path is the 65 foot observation tower offering an amazing 360 degree view and a nice break with restrooms at the bottom.  The initial road and tower were originally built by an oil company, but the oil they extracted was too loaded with impurities to be cleaned with the older technology so they left it to become a park.

An aerial view of Florida's native North American Alligator in the Everglades

Helpful hints for those who go. If you have the luxury of timing your trip in the year, to observe the most wildlife we suggest going in the “dry” season of South Florida.  Meaning if you can go between November and March the water levels will be lower and the temperature cooler.  This means that the birds will be around, Alligators sunning, and mosquitos almost non existent!  Even though it is completely flat don’t mistake how powerful a steady wind can be on the curvy section of the path so bring plenty of water to stay hydrated. The bike ride will take about 2 1/2-3 hours to complete depending on speed and how often you stop to say “oh look a gator!”

Polaroid cube camera fish eyed angle of an Alligator hiding in the water in the Everglades

This photo taken with my Polaroid Cube camera

An alligator basking next to the bike trail in Shark Valley National Park

This photo taken with my polaroid cube camera

 

The park is located at 36000 SW 8th St., Miami, FL 33194 and is quite easy to get to with any GPS system so next time you’re looking for a way to explore South Florida, get close to nature, and be active go check it out!

 

A view of the pacific ocean coastline from the shores of Maui, Hawaii on the Road to Hana

Travel Tips: Maui, Hawaii

Maui can be best described as Heaven on Earth. In very few places can you find yourself constantly surrounded by beautiful scenery on all sides with mountains and volcanoes on one side and the turquoise waters of the pacific on the other.  It really does have something for everyone, whether you’re looking to chill out at a hotel and never leave or you want the full Maui experience with adventure around every turn!

Since we know most of our readers are going to probably enjoy the latter, some of these tips will gear towards an exciting trip to Maui! This is based on our experience when we visited Maui for the first time.

Pre-Planning: Some of the most expensive times to go will be around the summer but also during some of the winter months as this is whale watching season. To save some money we went in May. Even though we were after the recommended Whale Watching time, we were able to spot a few breaching whales right from the shore. The savings will not only be on the flight costs but lodging as well.

Based on the cost of some of the hotels and accommodations we grabbed a 2/2 house in an upscale neighborhood 1/2 a mile from an amazing beach. This made for a phenomenal view out the back deck while the front of the house looked up into the mountains on the West side of the Island. All we did was search VRBO.com. We were about a 5 minute drive from Lahaina. This is where a lot of touristy shops and restaurants are located along Front Street. Staying in this house gave us a full kitchen, washer and dryer, some ocean toys, and saved us almost half of what we would have spent at a hotel! Plus we were able to park our rental Jeep right at the front door. Oh yeah the yard was scattered with fruit trees ripe for the picking!

The blue ocean waters and sand beach and off shore reef with mountains in the background from Maui, Hawaii

For transportation, do your research. We used Maui Discount Jeep Rental. A quick note on why you should choose a jeep. It is the best way to get around and SEE Maui. There is so much scenery not just in front of you but above you and all around. Plus the term for highway in Maui doesn’t always mean it’s a two lane road or even paved at all! So the jeep is a perfect choice! Going with a company like this allows you to get the lowest price on a rental and you work with reputable rental car companies like Enterprise and others.

If you are looking to explore Maui on your own. You MUST buy this book: Maui Revealed: The Ultimate Guidebook. This is the 6th edition of this book as the writers are always making changes. They aren’t just people who visit and report back. They actually live there and make real world suggestions and advice on places to eat, visit, and things to do! The maps really can help sometimes especially if cell phone service drops off! Once you’ve read this book you’ll have a better idea of the things you want to do.

The visit: Once you land get ready to have some fun! The numerous hiking trails scattered throughout the island allowed us to escape the flat lands of Florida and walk amongst the clouds! Don’t be afraid to stop off at a road side beach! They can be the most relaxing and uncrowded! Plus they can hold treasures of their own. This is where we spotted the rare Hawaiian Monk Seal (keep in mind they come to shore to sleep for extended periods of time so DO NOT Disrupt them).

Try to have a plan of activities by the second day so you are able to squeeze everything in. Here are some of the top activities we enjoyed!:

Ride with some real Hawaiian Cowboys at the Mendes Ranch! These guys were great and found horses for every level rider and gave an exhilarating tour to say the least! We got to see hidden waterfalls, amazing views, and cliff side ocean views!

Get dirty in side by side ATV’s at Kahoma Ranch! We mean diiiirty! One of our outfits still has the red volcanic dirt stained into it! This is a blast though! Start off lowland on bumpy dirt trails and head up lond with a stop to have one of the best pineapples you’ve ever eaten fresh out of the ground! Then you’re off to get muddy in the wet trails of the high elevation!

ATV riding through the mountains of Maui with the pacific ocean in the background.

Explore amazing hidden waterfalls on the road to Hana! Use the book to guide you during your drive to hike off the road up rocky river beds and find yourself in secluded waterfalls! Once at the end of the road you can drive back or rent a cabin at Wai‘anapanapa State Park. Here not only can you grab a basic bungalow but you’ll find fresh water caves to dive into and get some cool history of the Island! As well as the famous black sand beach!

These are obviously not the only things to do on Maui, but just some of the exciting adventures you can enjoy! Try your hand at surfing, snorkel off of Molikini, hike the waihee ridge, kite surf off the north shore, and don’t forget to explore the island! Keep an eye our on the north west side of the island for a little food stand selling baked goods on a sharp corner on the road, its supposedly got the best banana bread on Earth!

snorkel molikini off of maui, hawaii

Even if you don’t have a trip planned yet pick up the book to start preparing! Let us know if you have any additional tips on visiting Maui in the comments below!