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Have you ever heard that if you see a body of fresh water in Florida, there’s probably an alligator in it? As far as we know, nobody has tested the theory, but we do know Florida is one of the best places to see alligators, both in the wild and in animal refuges and zoological parks. You don’t have to travel all the way to the Everglades to see them, either. There are spots to see gators in all parts of Florida.
Before you set out on your alligator adventure, be sure to study up on alligator safety. Never approach an alligator and never attempt to feed one in the wild (doing so is actually illegal in Florida). For the most part, if you respect an alligator’s space, they will respect yours and you can safely observe these awesome animals.
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Sweetwater Wetlands Park encompasses more than 125 acres of swamps, with upwards of 3.5 miles of walking trails and boardwalks where you can view the area wildlife, including alligators. Each month the park hosts ranger-led tours that are free to the public and nighttime hikes for a small fee. Pre-registration is required for each.
Wakulla Springs State Park is the world’s largest and deepest freshwater spring and it is surrounded by one of Florida’s many hauntingly beautiful cypress swamps. Visitors can explore the park and its alligator inhabitants by bicycle, horseback, or foot, or on the park’s scenic riverboat or glass-bottom boat tours.
The St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park is home to all manner of wildlife, from birds to lemurs and, of course, alligators. You can explore the exhibits on your own or attend daily wildlife shows where you can learn more about alligators, watch them eat, and observe a training demonstration. There’s even a zipline course where you can fly directly above alligator and crocodile habitats.
Known as “The Alligator Capital of the World,” you can do so much more than simply observing alligators at Gatorland. At this popular roadside attraction, you can enjoy traditional and accessible zipline experiences that fly directory over alligator and crocodile habitats, as well as Trainer-For-the-Day and Adventure Hour that let you get up close and personal with, and even feed, gators.
While Everglades National Park is in South Florida, the headwaters are located in Central Florida. Boggy Creek Airboat Adventures takes visitors on half-hour or hour tours of the Kissimmee wetlands. Private, sunset, and nighttime tours are also available. No matter which tour you choose, there’s a good chance you’ll spot alligators, birds, and other Florida wildlife. If you don’t happen to see a gator during your airboat tour, you can also find them at the park’s gator pond.
Wild Florida has it all–airboat rides, a drive-thru safari, and a Gator Park that is home to more than 200 animals, not just gators. Admission to Gator Park is included with your airboat ticket. The airboat guides are expert alligator-spotters and you are almost guaranteed to see at least a few during your tour, but you can book a behind-the-scenes gator encounter at the Gator Park if you don’t want to leave anything to chance.
A hotel is probably the last place you’d expect to see gators, but Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center isn’t like other hotels. The hotel is made up of a collection of large atriums with flora and fauna representative of various parts of Florida. In the St. Augustine atrium, you can view about 20 alligators in a lush, spring habitat. The exhibit is part of a collaboration with Wild Florida, which hosts feedings and other educational sessions each week.
The Alligator & Wildlife Discovery Center is a popular spot for school groups because of its focus on wildlife education, but visitors of all ages can benefit from spending time learning about Florida’s diverse wildlife. General admission includes a tour of the facilities and the many animals who live there, or you can reserve private VIP access for up to 8 people and have the facility all to yourselves before it opens to the public.
One of the best wildlife watching spots in Florida, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is only a short drive from Cape Canaveral’s Kennedy Space Center and actually owes its existence to the space center. NASA acquired 140,000 acres in the area, but much of it was left undeveloped and established as a wildlife refuge.Today, you can see gators and other wildlife on the refuge’s 7-mile Black Point Wildlife Drive or one of seven hiking trails.
The Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary has a unique 2.25-mile boardwalk from which you can explore the marshy forest below. Among the centuries-old trees and swampland, you’ll see birds, alligators, and plantlife like the ghost orchid, which only grows in marshy areas. While traversing the boardwalk, you’ll see naturalists stationed along the path who can answer questions and help you identify local plants and wildlife.
Most Everglades tours take place on an airboat or swamp buggy, but at Shark Valley, part of Everglades National Park, you can take a breezy tram tour. Tram tours last about two hours and include a stop at the park’s 45-foot high observation deck that offers a bird’s-eye view of the expansive Everglades National Park. Cycling on the park’s 15-mile loop is also an option if pedal power is more your speed. You can bring your own or rent one onsite.
Wooten’s offers traditional Everglades airboat tours (both group and private), along with swamp buggy and kayak tours. There are also live gator demonstrations, an animal sanctuary, and a boardwalk where you can explore the area at your own pace. Tickets for many of Wooten’s attractions can be combined, allowing you to save a bit of money if you want to experience everything they have to offer.
Everglades Holiday Park offers airboat tours and animal encounters similar to those you’ll find elsewhere in Florida, but it is also a safe haven for many of the “nuisance gators” who have been removed from residential areas on the hit Animal Planet Show “Gator Boys.” All airboat tours include admission to a live alligator show hosted by one of the Gator Boys Alligator Rescue team.
Big Cypress National Preserve has various opportunities to explore on your own or on one of their guided tours. Guided airboat, canoe, kayak, swamp buggy, hiking, and driving tours are available, or you can go it alone on your own alligator search.