Ever wanted to know what an airboat ride feels like? KAG’s Kristina took her kids on one in Everglades and tells us about it.
An airboat tour of the Everglades has been on my want-to-do list for awhile. There is so much magic in those murky waters and sawgrasses. I always thought seeing it in person would be quite the experience – oh, and I’m totally obsessed with all things related to the invasive pythons that are making a mess of the environment there. Have you seen the snakes the python hunters have caught? They are huge!
Ok, back to the airboat ride. Don’t those airboats with their enormous fans and flat, wide bottoms look cool? I was imagining flying through the waters and looking for gators and pythons. What I experienced was a tad different than what I had pictured.
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Sawgrass and Expansive Skies
The Everglades aren’t actually swamps but a super slow moving river of grass. The Everglades National Park is the third largest National Park and to see it, you really need a boat. There are hiking trails but you need a guide since you’ll be slogging around in knee deep – or deeper – water. You can camp there also, which scares me to death because of the wildlife even though I love camping.
I had briefly thought about renting kayaks to explore the Everglades but reason won out and I couldn’t comfortably do that with my two small kids. So an airboat it was – which I always wanted to do anyways.
There are a ton of airboat companies that do tours in the Everglades and we picked one of the closer ones to Ft. Lauderdale, Sawgrass Recreation Park near Alligator Alley. It was a 30-minute airboat group ride and included admission to the small nature park that housed snakes, alligators, and other wildlife – including a section where you could touch a baby gator!
I chose this particular spot because it had good reviews on Google, was reasonably priced, closest to where we were staying, and included that little nature park. Almost all the airboat companies offer private tours as well, which were just out of my budget, costing at least $300 for a small group.
A 30-minute airboat ride at Sawgrass Recreation Park, if you buy the tickets online, is $21.45/adult, $11.60/child, and kids 4 and under are free. Any age is welcome on the airboat.
Our airboat group had 14 people and we sat in every other row on the boat so there was plenty of space. Masks were required inside at the gift shop, ticket counter, and nature center as well during the boat ride.
Speeding Through the Water
Airboats, much to my surprise, go really fast! Admission includes ear plugs, which definitely caught me off guard. But then I realized why they were important – the boat was super loud because the engine was not in the water but spinning the large fans in the back of the boat.
Our captain made sure to get us life jackets for kids ages 6 and under and got us situated on the boat. Then we took off into the water.
We sped around the channels and zipped over the shorter grasses. It had just rained so the longer sawgrass was wet on top so when we ran over them with our boat, the water from the tops hit us right in the face. So word of warning – don’t sit in the front of the boat and maybe bring a light jacket and sunglasses.
We did slow down a bit to coast along and search for gators but weren’t successful. We did see a smaller one near the dock which was cool. Our guide said that the alligators come out more at night and that you can do a night airboat tour (which sounded pretty neat). We did some birds and got to marvel at the huge expanse of sky and water meeting over the low, flat grass-covered, alligator-infested river. I did love that part of it and was happy our guide knew his way around since I imagine it’s easy to get lost in there.
Local Wildlife + Biking
The park is also the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles live together and is home to snakes, birds, mammals, and even the elusive panther. While we didn’t see any of those while on the airboat tour, the Sawgrass Recreation Park nature center had everything but the panther.
We got to see a couple alligators being fed treats by the staff and much to the delight of my kids, got to pet a baby alligator and learn about their habits and diets.
Also, if you love biking, there is a long levee right near the Sawgrass Recreation Park where you can bike along the edge of the Everglades. Our guide told us you can park at Markham Park nearby and ride for miles. I hadn’t even thought of exploring the area that way and it looked like a really cool experience.
If you have a chance to visit the Everglades, I certainly recommend stopping to enjoy the park and do an airboat ride. It’s a fascinating place – next time, I’ll do that nighttime airboat ride!
Would you do an airboat ride through the Everglades?