It’s the symbol of the state. Its name is synonymous with wildlife in the state of Florida. It’s the American alligator. We’ve seen alligators all over Southwest Florida in the past year. If you’re a visitor or just a fan of the outdoors there are many places in the south end of the Sunshine State to find these prehistoric reptiles.
*Word of warning – Don’t feed the alligators. It’s a $500 fine because once the gators associate people with food they must be killed.
Not so Hidden in the Everglade
There are dozens of airboat tours that cross parts of the Everglades. Locally, most of the tours leave from Everglades City – about 45 minutes from Naples and an hour and fifteen from Fort Myers. Most of the tours run about $40 per person. This is a good time to go, as many of the winter residents are heading home.
But back to the alligators.
The airboats give visitors a good chance to see alligators in their natural habitat. The airboat community is small and close-knit, so the captains all know where the alligators hang out during the day. This means that most of the tours hit similar areas and follow similar paths. Our tour guide told us that as more of the Everglades is protected there are fewer available routes for airboat captains. The Mangrove trees also pose an impediment to airboats, as their growth and spread threatens paths, which need to be cut and re-cut through the swamps.
Overall, the airboat rides will give you a chance to see several big gators in the wild, but without the adrenaline rush of authentic discovery.
Hidden All Around
There’s a saying in Florida. “If there’s water. there’s an alligator.” There are several parks in the Southwest Florida area where you can find alligators in the wild. My favorite local place is the Six Mile Slough Cypress Preserve in Fort Myers. Besides the baby alligators at the slough, there are several 4- to 5-foot gators, along with plenty of birds, turtles, fish, and baby boars right now.
Probably the best place to see alligators in their natural habitat is the Corkscrew Swamp Preserve near Naples. The 2.25-mile boardwalk offers a variety of wildlife, including gators. The best part about Corkscrew is the interaction between the different animals. As the alligators move through the water, birds squawk in warning.
* An aside on the Corkscrew swamp: The sanctuary is home to the painted bunting, a bird you won’t see in everyday life – even in Southwest Florida.
Gators are also present at the John Yarbrough Linear Park in Fort Myers. It’s a nice walk that will lead you right to the Sun Citrus store if you walk in the right direction. The gators here are hard to spot, but there are herons and egrets who also call the Linear Park home.