Biking the 15-mile Shark Valley Loop, Everglades National Park, Florida
If you happen to be in Miami and crave an authentic outdoor experience away from the trendy restaurants and clubs in South Beach, take an hour-long drive on the Tamiami Trail (Route 41) to Shark Valley Visitor Center in Everglades National Park. Try to get here on the early side (before 11 am), because the parking lot fills up quick, and bring water and sandwiches for lunch. Then rent a bike and head out on the 15-mile paved Shark Valley Loop. Far from the deafening noise of a propeller boat, a tourist magnet in these parts, you get to bike at your own pace along canals teeming with alligators, turtles, and an extraordinary amount of large birds. It took my family of four almost an hour to bike one mile because we had to stop every 50 yards to get a photo of that gator basking in the sun next to the bike trail. Don’t worry. They could care less about you and no one’s ever been attacked on the route. Usually near the alligator was an anhinga drying its wings on a branch and wood storks and white whooping cranes standing tall in the shallow water. There was every type of heron imaginable, from the stocky black-crowned night heron to the long-legged great blue heron. Another highlight were the pink roseate spoonbills resting in the dense sagebrush along the canal. Stop midway at the observation deck to get a good overview of the Everglades topography, a mix of sinuous waterways and tall swaying grass. This is also a good spot to have that sandwich or snack you brought before heading back.