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Planning a trip to the Everglades? Here's how to prepare for this year's dry season

One of the most popular times to visit the national park is during the dry season, which starts in November.

EVERGLADES CITY, Fla. — You’ve decided to take a wild vacation in the heart of Florida, home to all kinds of wildlife — even some that you’ll only see in the Sunshine State.

Taking a trip to the Everglades isn’t for the faint of heart, as it is filled with very real and very wild threats. But, if you’re prepared, you shouldn’t have much to worry about.

Spanning 1.5 million acres over south Florida, Everglades National Park is the third-largest park in the continental U.S. behind Death Valley and Yellowstone. There are three main areas with entrances near Miami and Homestead, all with visitor centers. You will want to plan which entrance you’ll be visiting, as this park is massive.

It’s home to manatees, panthers and birds, and is also the only place in the world where crocodiles and alligators co-exist. Considered a fragile ecosystem, the Everglades has been listed as a World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve.

So, when exactly should you visit the Everglades? Turns out, specific times of the year are better than others and can make a big difference for your trip.

There are two seasons in the Everglades: wet and dry. While seasonal length varies, the wet season is typically May to early November, and the dry season runs from mid-November through April. During the wet season, visitation to the park is reduced, some ranger-led programs aren’t available, and lots of rain means more mosquitoes and humidity. It may be best to hold off on your trip if you’re looking at visiting during the summer months.

However, in the winter, it is much drier and stays pretty warm. Because the winters in Florida are mild, this is a great time to see a wide variety of birds and their predators.

Almost all of Florida’s predators can be found in the Everglades, which can feel scary. But, if you stay on the trails and boardwalks, you’ll be fine. Alligators and crocodiles are a common sight and you can spot them easily from trails like the Anhinga Trail.

If you’re interested in bird watching, you came to the right place. More than 360 species of birds have been sighted in the Everglades, from wading birds to birds of prey. You can even find the Bald Eagle living here. Panthers, manatees, snakes, the list goes on, so you can expect to be fully immersed in Florida’s unique wildlife.

When it comes to exploring the Everglades, you have a few options. You can walk, bike, or even kayak (if you’re brave enough!), but there is one experience you might want to try: airboats!

Airboats have become a popular way of cruising through the wetlands. Today, airboat operations are pretty restricted but there are some companies that work in conjunction with the National Park Service and can be found in the Northeast corner of the park near Shark Valley. About 50 percent of the Everglades are covered in water, so traveling by airboat is not only practical, but you’ll also have a chance to travel further into the park than you would be walking or kayaking.

Don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes and clothing, and pack tons of water. The heat and humidity can dehydrate you quickly. Also, grab that camera because you’re going into one of the wildest areas in the United States, so be prepared to see sights you won’t find anywhere else.

Considering the move to Florida, or maybe you’re already here? You can connect with Katie by emailing her at mjones@10tampabay.com or on Twitter.

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