Live, up close and personal encounters with alligators…now that’s what I am talking about. This is exactly the sort of experience we look for when considering alternative routes though of course it’s not every day that you have the opportunity to drive somewhere that has alligators roaming around in the wild. The drive from Miami to Naples or vice-versa essentially offers two different routes, and after our amazing experience at TBEX we opted for the ‘gator route’.
If you are driving from or to Fort Lauderdale, the optimal route is to hop on I-75 and zoom across the interstate though this is undoubtedly the more boring of the two routes. We actually took this route during our drive from Tampa earlier in the week, and I have to admit that my research was correct because there was very little to see. But that’s where you have to consider the pros and cons of speed vs natural beauty.
The Tamiami Trail
We had plenty of time to waste on our return trip to Tampa so opted for US-41 across the Tamiami Trail that takes you from West Miami to Naples. We want to share just a couple of experiences we had along the way and why you should consider this rather than opting for the interstate.
The stretch of highway from West Miami to Naples is part of the Tamiami Trail which is the southernmost portion of US highway that runs across the state of Florida. The full road is 275 miles in length but from Miami to Naples it is a little over 100 miles.
From alligator sightings which are pretty much guaranteed to a myriad of other wildlife encounters, this is a scenic drive like nothing else we have seen before.
Much of the drive from Miami to Naples is through the Everglades but when you throw in a couple of other intriguing encounters, such as passing through the Miccosukee Indian Village and stumbling across the smallest post office in the United States, you may already be convinced that taking US-41 is a no-brainer.
The gorgeous Everglades landscapes with the lush, sturdy sawgrass prairies are evident throughout your experience driving along the Tamiami Trail. But it is those impromptu sightings of the alligators that make this journey incredibly worthwhile.
Much of the Tamiami Trail provides visitors with great opportunities to see alligators in their natural environment. Here are a couple of our favorite spots that you should consider taking time to explore along this route.
Shark Valley is one of the entrances to the Everglades National Park and is one of the must-see stops along the Tamiami Trail. If you are looking for an obvious starting point soon after leaving Miami, this is definitely worth experiencing.
However, we decided to keep driving and find a few lesser-known spots along this drive rather than trying to deal with hoards of tourists looking for the perfect gator selfie!
Miccosukee Indian Village
The Miccosukee Indian Village offers an opportunity to grab a bite to eat (gator nuggets are popular along this stretch of road) but you may also be fortunate to catch a glimpse of an alligator gliding downstream or you can always take one of the airboat tours that are available here.
Even if you don’t manage to see alligators here, some of the scenery is pretty spectacular with the wildlife and local vegetation flourishing along this stretch of the Tamiami Trail.
Big Cypress National Preserve
The Big Cypress National Preserve is a region just to the north of the Everglades National Park and proved to be our best spot at seeing alligators.
The visitor center which is located about midway along the Tamiami Trail from Miami to Naples provides a boardwalk that allows you to walk parallel to the stream and capture a number of gators snoozing or relaxing with the sun beaming down on them.
Many of the alligators were floating along, ominously appearing to be ready to catch their next prey, while others were content to prop themselves on the bank and take in the late summer sunshine.
Meanwhile, if you prefer to go a little off the beaten path there are a number of spots where you can head along a trailhead and explore the mysteries of the Big Cypress National Preserve.
Whether you have the nerve to go wandering among the undergrowth, knowing that an active alligator could be one step ahead of you…I will leave that decision up to you.
Watching the alligators mingling with the rest of the wildlife here is also a pretty cool experience.
Ochopee Post Office
Blink…and you may miss it! That’s pretty much what it feels like as we drove right past the Ochopee Post Office which is dubbed as the smallest post office in USA. After making a quick u-turn further up the road, we pulled into the gravel parking lot beside what I can best describe as a shed rather than a post office.
Ready for a little history? The Ochopee Post Office used to be an old irrigation shed used for a tomato farm but was called into service by the locals when the Ochopee general store was destroyed in 1953.
If you love quirky pieces of architecture, then Ochopee is the place for you. Immediately I saw this it reminded me of “The Smallest Shop” in Haworth, England which is one of the most iconic attractions along the cobbled streets of this famous Yorkshire town.
If you don’t mind taking a little more time to explore the heart of Florida’s landscape, I would strongly urge you to consider taking US Highway 41 (Tamiami Trail) if you are driving from Miami to Naples or vice-versa.
Alligator sightings are almost guaranteed, even if you are not intending on making several pit-stops along this route to ensure a sighting. The volume of gators is such that a quick glance to your right (if you are driving from Miami to Naples) and you will likely be rewarded with a sighting.