Everglades City, Florida - Once the Last Frontier
In her book, Hidden History of Everglades City, Maureen Sullivan-Hartung titles one of her chapters, Welcome to Everglades City, Home of the Last Frontier. She was spot on describing the historical participation Everglades City Florida had in finishing the final pathway across the Everglades, the Tamiami Trail.
Today Everglades City Florida is one of the few towns that survived the swamps and challenges. There are a lot of memorable things to do in Everglades City Florida because of its relationship to the same swamps and challenges that faced previous settlers.
The early settlers found a way to cut through a previously failed attempt to cross and unforgiving wilderness.
Everglades City Part of Swamp Road Project
This “frontier” as Sullivan-Hartung called Everglades City, was a river of grass, swamps, tangled brush and mud.
Most people, including government officials, thought creating a road to Miami to be an impossible task to tame – a road through the swamp – except one man named Barron Collier.
Collier knew that a road in the 1920s that would connect Tampa with Miami would bring significant trade and development opportunities. The vast wilderness surrounding Everglade (the original name of the area) seemed impenetrable to all but Collier.
Everglades City was essential, contributing labor, supplies, and administration of the road project in 1920.
Barron Collier made a deal with the state of Florida. If they would create a new county out of the southern portion of Lee County, he would complete the Tamiami Trail to Miami with his own considerable finances.
Little Growth for 100 Years
Eventually, Collier County was created. Everglades City became the county seat and Barron Collier completed his road project in 1928.
There are records that indicate as many as 700 people resided in Everglades City in its prime, some hundred years ago. The 2020 census says there are only 469 people residing there now.
County Seat Moved to Naples from Everglades City
In 1962 the county seat of Collier County was moved to Naples, Florida. That move was a blow to the town that Barron Collier built.
Since that time, hurricanes, creation of Alligator Alley (Interstate I-75) a few miles north, and the lack of any sustainable industry except fishing have kept this a sleepy little village much the same as it was when Collier’s dream began.
But change is here! And Everglades City is growing and prospering again.
Fishing in Everglades City Is Fantastic
Everglades City is the gateway into the 10,000 islands area of the Everglades. Some of the best inshore sport fishing in the world can be chartered from Everglades City.
On occasional trips chartered from the town’s many docks, we have caught vast numbers of snook, redfish, and tarpon in the back bays, rivers, and mangroves near Everglades City.
At one time, many celebrities enjoyed the same adventures including Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Hoover and Nixon. Even John Wayne and Ernest Hemingway knew of the area’s reputation for sport fishing and hunting.
All of these notable people and many more stayed at the Rod and Gun Club, once owned by Barron Collier. The then-illustrious Rod and Gun Club is still operating in Everglades City, despite losing most of the grand reputation the hotel once had.
Charter boats line the docks along the Barron River offering fishing charters, airboat rides and sightseeing tours. Much of the tourist business is coming back.
Stone Crab Claws an Economic Boom
While sport fishing opportunities are almost year-round, Everglades City is one of the top producers of stone crab claws on the west coast of Florida in the fall. Stone crab season starts every October 15th.
Tons of claws are shipped around the state and to fine-dining restaurants in the north. Stone crab claws are considered seasonal delicacies by many seafood connoisseurs.
The economic impact of stone crab season on Everglades City is noticeably positive. These tasty morsels are reaching all-time high wholesale prices reaching $18-25 per pound.
The average retail prices at restaurants are $29-75 per pound depending on size.
Things To Do in Everglades City
Here’s a list of 14 things to do in and around Everglades City:
- Airboat Tours
– Take an exhilarating airboat tour through the mangroves and sawgrass of the Everglades to spot wildlife such as alligators, birds, and turtles.
- Everglades National Park
– Explore Everglades National Park, known for its diverse ecosystems. Hike the trails, take a tram tour, or join a ranger-led program to learn about the park’s flora and fauna. The main Gulf Coast Visitors station is in Everglades City on Oyster Bar Lane (a fitting street name!).
- Canoeing and Kayaking
– Paddle through the mangrove tunnels and waterways by renting a canoe or kayak – or bring your own to one of the many boat launches. Kayaking makes for a more intimate experience with the natural surroundings.
– We have already extolled the many opportunities for fishing in Everglades City. It is becoming one of Florida’s best-known backcountry destinations. Whether you prefer freshwater or saltwater fishing, you can try your luck in the rivers, estuaries, and coastal waters.
- Bird Watching
– Everglades City is a birdwatcher’s paradise. Bring your binoculars and observe a variety of bird species, including herons, egrets, and roseate spoonbills. Here is a list of 40 birds seen in the Everglades, that you would be hard-pressed to find all of them anywhere else in the world.
- Everglades Seafood Festival
– If your visit coincides with the annual Everglades Seafood Festival, don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy local seafood, live music, and cultural events. In 2024, the event schedule shows February 2-4th.
- Chokoloskee Island
– Visit nearby Chokoloskee Island, known for its small-town charm. Explore the historic Smallwood Store Museum and learn about the area’s pioneer history.
- Clyde Butcher’s Big Cypress Gallery
– Photography enthusiasts will appreciate a visit to Clyde Butcher’s gallery, showcasing stunning black-and-white images of the Florida landscape
- Take a “Swamp Walk” from the Gallery
– Can you imagine joining trained guides walking through ankle-deep water in the wilderness. Just you and a few thousand alligators! Less aggressive tours available also.
- Museum of the Everglades
– Learn about the history of the region at the Museum of the Everglades, featuring exhibits on early settlers, Native Americans, and the development of the Tamiami Trail.
- Island Hopping
– Take a boat tour to explore the Ten Thousand Islands, a labyrinth of mangrove islands that is part of the Everglades ecosystem.
- Everglades City Boardwalk
– Wander along the Everglades City Boardwalk, a raised wooden walkway that provides scenic views of the surrounding mangroves.
– Rent a bicycle and explore the trails around Everglades City.
- Visit the Rod and Gun Club
– Have a meal or drink at the historic Rod and Gun Club, which has been serving visitors since the 1860s.
Whether you’re interested in wildlife, outdoor activities, or cultural experiences, Everglades City and its surroundings offer a wide range of options for visitors to enjoy the unique environment of the Florida Everglades.
Where is Everglades City Florida?
Simply stated, Everglades City is in southwest Florida at the south end of Florida State Route 29. That being said, most people access Everglades City from the Tamiami Trail (Route 41).
The general directions to Everglades City are, on the Tamiami Trail from Naples, Route 29 is 31 miles from Naples. Everglades City turn off is 77 miles from Miami west on the Tamiami Trail (Route 41). Alternative directions to Everglades City is taking I-75 to the Route 29 exit about 30 miles from Naples and 75 miles west of Miami.
For a better understanding see the Google map of Everglades City directions shown at the side.
Everglades City Florida Final Thoughts
While time and Mother Nature has hammered Everglades City, the people have endured. Many structures are maintained in their original form for the preservation of the city’s past and as the heritage of being Florida’s last frontier.
Few cities in Florida have the resilience and determination to succeed at whatever task or challenge the befalls them.
Your visit to Everglades City will be a glimpse of man’s ability to flourish despite formidable negative forces. From hurricanes, economic devastation when the county seat was moved to questions of survival, Everglades City is becoming a must visit destination in the Everglades.