There is a stark difference between the immense urban sprawl of Tampa, FL, and the incredible national preserve known as Everglades National Park. While Tampa offers fantastic restaurants, shops, and a vibrant nightlife, the Everglades National Park preserves nature as created by natural forces. Following a highway that runs through the entirety of the park from west to east constructed with overlooks at essential junctures, you reach Edward F. Coe Visitor Center, the eastern entrance to the Everglades near Homestead, FL. Your trip takes you through mangrove forests, bald cypress groves, vast stretches of muhly grass, and across several islands where endangered animals like the Florida panther, American crocodile, American alligator, and bald eagle struggle to survive. Travelers creating a road trip itinerary from Tampa to Everglades National Park might consider adding trips north to visit a national historical park and a national park, and south to visit two unusual national parks and drive the incredible Overseas Highway.
Reconstruction Era National Historical Park
If you decide to add a northern leg to your road trip itinerary from Tampa to Everglades National Park, make sure to stop in Beauford, SC, 377 miles north of Tampa, to see the Reconstruction Era National Historical Park. Included in the park are Darrah Hall—the first freed slave school in South Carolina—and the Brick Baptist Church, built by slave labor in 1855, in which slaves sat in the balcony during services until they were set free during the Civil War. The park symbolizes a confusing time when federal efforts clashed with Southern sympathies. A visit to this park reminds visitors of the frailty of freedom, its obligations, and the sacrifices that make it possible.
Congaree National Park
Finish the northern leg of your extension of the Tampa to Everglades National Park road trip by driving another 137 miles northwest from Beaufort to see Congaree National Park. The park acts as an introduction to your destination—the Everglades. Combining the slow-moving Congaree River and warm temperatures creates the same environment that encourages the growth of bald cypress and other hardwoods, many of which find nourishment in brackish swamp waters. Wildlife found in Congaree is familiar to that found in the Everglades, with alligators and snakes occupying the top of the food chain. Visitors to Congaree National Park hike through the forests covering the surrounding dryland areas and walk through the swampy regions courtesy of extensive boardwalks.
Biscayne National Park
After you traverse the Everglades, you'll be near Biscayne National Park. The 176,000-acre park protects Biscayne Bay, particularly the underwater reefs between the mainland and Elliot Key—the largest offshore island in the area. While the shoreline section of the park protects an essential mangrove forest, the underwater area protects some of the most unique marine reefs in the world. Sprinkled with shipwrecks, these reefs harbor increasingly rare coral formations. SCUBA and snorkeling enthusiasts approach this park with reverence; its crystal waters and multicolored reefs present a sight, unlike any others.
Dry Tortugas National Park
Dry Tortugas National Park is the least visited park in the system for a good reason—its location. Located 70 miles west of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico, the island is reached by driving 137 miles from the eastern entrance to the Everglades National Park in Homestead, along the incredible engineering feat called the Overseas Highway to Key West. From there, visitors take a ferry to Dry Tortugas. On the island, there is an unfinished 19th-century fort—Fort Jefferson—originally constructed to protect the Gulf area from pirates and foreign invasion. During the Civil War, Confederate prisoners toiled with the intent to finish the fort’s construction. Today, the fort may be unfinished, but the incredible reefs and ocean views draw visitors throughout the year except during hurricane season. The crystal-clear waters allow people to view the reefs from the fort, while those wanting a closer view are more than welcome to float or snorkel above the reefs or to use SCUBA equipment to get a more hands-on experience.
Wekiwa Springs State Park
Wekiwa Springs State Park, 17 miles south of Tampa, preserves crystal blue spring-fed water emanating from a series of springs in the hills surrounding the park. Even when the springs pool together, the temperatures are always at 72 degrees, inviting guests to dive in for a refreshing dip. Surrounding the pool is a dense forest of hardwoods through which 25 miles of hiking trails wander.
Koreshan State Park
Koreshan State Park sits in Estero, FL, 145 miles into your road trip from Tampa to Everglades National Park. This park features a 19th-century mansion that looks out over impressive Victorian gardens. Sitting beside the Estero River, this mansion was constructed as the home of the Koreshans, a religious group that founded a colony in Estero. Visitors tour the elegant mansion, its impressive gardens, and the banks of the Estero River. Those who are adventurous can rent a canoe or kayak to paddle the river to reach the ocean bay three miles downstream.
Bahia Honda State Park
Bahia Honda State Park is a great place to stop on your way to Dry Tortugas National Park. The park is known for offering the darkest night sky in the Florida Keys, providing an excellent stargazing experience. Swimming, kayaking, canoeing, and fishing are the favorite activities that bring visitors to the 524-acre park that covers most of Bahia Honda Island.
Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Center
While you are still in Tampa, stop at Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Center. The center is an example of how industry and nature can provide a mutually beneficial environment. When the seas around Tampa cool in the winter, manatees seek the warmth of the plant’s discharge panels, allowing them to stay and flourish in the saltwater of Tampa. When manatees are not available for viewing, the site includes other attractions such as a mangrove exhibit and a butterfly garden.
Edison and Ford Winter Estates
Stop in Fort Myers, FL, to explore the winter estates of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. The 20-acre area includes the vacation homes of both men, who were good friends. These acres consist of historical buildings and gardens, including the 1928 Edison Botanical Research Laboratory. The buildings are furnished with the original furniture used by the two men and their families.
As you travel through Naples, FL, on your road trip from Tampa to the Everglades National Park, stop to visit the fascinating Naples Pier. Initially constructed in 1888 as a docking point for ships, this pier has endured fires and storms that destroyed many homes and businesses. Though the dock saw damage in those events, it was always reconstructed. If you walk the pier in the evening, you will witness some of the finest sunsets in the nation.
Sarasota, one of the most famous towns along the Florida Gulf Coast, provides a vibrant downtown where excellent seafood restaurants and gift shops draw visitors from throughout the area. A giant sculpture dubbed “Unconditional Surrender” memorializes the intense feelings evoked by the surrender of Japan that ended WWII. While you are here, take advantage of one of the dump stations in Greater Sarasota. There are plenty of campgrounds nearby if you wish to stay a day or two to take in the sights.
Fort Myers, Florida
Fort Myers lies 126 miles into your Tampa to Everglades National Park RV road trip. As a long-time favorite vacation spot for executives from northern states, Fort Myers developed some unique cuisines—some of which offer elegant fine-dining experiences and others that provide mixed cuisines that may include Mexican, Creole, and American traditional. While you are here, take advantage of the numerous dump stations and campgrounds that surround the area.
At the end of your road trip from Tampa to the Everglades National Park, you'll be near Miami. The town’s white-sand beaches are famous for their warm waters, gradual underwater slopes, and incredible views of the sun rising out of the ocean at dawn. Make sure to visit one of the many nearby dump stations available for your use before registering at one of the campgrounds in Greater Miami.
When you follow this road trip itinerary from Tampa to Everglades National Park, you will enjoy historic locations and beautiful scenery along the way. If you want to travel in comfort and style, consider an RV rental from RVshare. From large motorhomes to compact campervans, there is a rig that will meet your travel and budget needs. Once you hit the road, you are protected by our renter guarantee and 24/7 roadside assistance. Find the perfect vehicle for your travel needs in Tampa or Everglades National Park.
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