Where To See Alligators In Florida

Everglades National Park – The Highest Gator Population

From Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico, the Florida Everglades is full of alligators! The Everglades has over 200,000 alligators despite the area shrinking in size over the last century! Everglades National Park, making up about 20% of the Everglades overall, considers alligators a crucial keystone species in their park. Keystone species are usually awarded by their eating habits.

An apex predator like the American alligator eats a variety of prey and keeps populations in check. They also keep the ecosystem healthy in Everglades National Park through their nesting habits and traveling in and out of gator holes. Once listed as an endangered species, American alligators have made a tremendous comeback. If you use the Shark Valley entrance to the Park, you are very likely to see many alligators.

Does Florida Have Crocodiles or Alligators?

The Everglades is the only place on the planet- outside of zoos, of course- where crocodiles and alligators live side by side! This is because alligators can be found in the southern United States and throughout South America, plus the Chinese alligator in east Asia. This doesn’t overlap much with the range of crocodiles.

Crocodiles live in Central America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. How do they live together then? The crocodiles’ northernmost habitat range extends just into Southern Florida. With millions of alligators in Florida, the crocodiles are outnumbered but seem to do well living alongside their crocodilian cousins.

How Many Alligators Are There In Florida?

Florida is the Sunshine State, but by the number of alligators around, you’d think they might change the name! There are an estimated 1.25 million alligators in Florida, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. No wonder the alligator is the state reptile and is even seen on golf courses during a relaxing afternoon. Florida alligators can be found anywhere there is water, and in Florida, that means all over the place!

Visitors and residents alike are warned to be careful near bodies of water as you should always assume there could be an alligator below the surface. Many human attacks and deaths by alligators have happened while swimming in canals or other bodies of water. Swimming outside of a pool in Florida, especially with children, should be done cautiously and responsibly.

Do Alligators Commonly Live In Lakes?

Alligators love lakes! True, alligators live in swamps and marshes, along with slow-moving rivers, but they thrive in lakes throughout Florida as long as they don’t become a nuisance. There are commonly alligator sightings in Lake Kissimmee, Lake George, and Sand Lake, just to name a few.

Another spot is Lake Hancock, which is at the center of the Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland. Alligators are commonly seen sunning and floating in the water. The Circle B Bar Reserve is a beautiful sanctuary that was previously a cattle ranch. Now, it’s a great place to see alligators and other amazing wildlife!

The St. Johns River in northern Florida, is the longest river in the state. As the St. Johns River flows, it widens out to create Lake George and Lake Jesup. Because of groundwater and swampy areas at the start of the St. Johns River, like the floodplains of Black Bear Wilderness Area and the Black Creek tributary, it is mostly freshwater, though brackish in other areas. Both of these lakes offer airboat rides. Lake George has the most alligators of any other body of water in the state. Lake Jesup boasts the largest alligators in Florida. Lake Jesup also estimates over 400 gators per mile along the shore, making it another one of the best places to see alligators in Florida!

How Large Are Alligators In Florida?

The average female alligator will be around 8.5 to 9.5 feet long, and males can be 11 to 15 feet long! The weights that go along with those sizes are enormous as well. Adult males often weigh over 1,000 pounds and can even approach 2,000 pounds or one ton! Females weigh closer to 800 pounds on average. Alligators are the world’s largest reptile, after all!

Where To See Wild Alligators in North and Central Florida

La Chua Trail, Gainesville, Florida

The La Chua Trail, one of the most popular nature trails in the area, is a great place to see wild alligators along with many other types of wildlife. Located in Gainesville, Paynes Prairie is home to the La Chua Trail, and it is a very unique prairie. Paynes Prairie is a wet and dry savanna that has a natural drain! When the drain is functioning, everything above and below the drain works like a typical prairie, with over 720 types of plants throughout. When the drain gets clogged with sediment, however, the prairie turns into a major lake and becomes the perfect spot for alligators.

The Chua Trail is just over 3 miles long on both a paved path and a wooden boardwalk. Note that dogs are not allowed on the La Chua Trail for your safety and theirs because of the alligators in the area. There are signs alerting you to stay on the boardwalk not only for alligators but also for free-roaming bison cattle and wild horses. Visitors enjoy an overlook to view alligators and wading or diving birds.

The unusual ‘drain’ is called the Alachua Sink. This is a sinkhole filled with water and connected to a water-filled cave as well as an underground system of streams. The cave reaches depths of up to 227 feet!

Lake Wauburg, Gainesville, Florida

Lake Wauburg is another great spot to see alligators and also enjoy other activities! If you visit Lake Wauburg, locals will tell you the best way to see alligators is out on the water, paddleboarding, kayaking, and boating. A less adventurous way to take a look is by walking out onto their wooden boardwalk trail.

Sweetwater Wetlands Park

These wetlands are actually man-made to help Paynes Prairie and surrounding areas with their water quality and natural flow. The Wetlands Park has succeeded in catching sediment and reducing nitrogen, but it has also accidentally succeeded in attracting many alligators. To spot some gators, you can walk on their 3.5 miles of gravel hiking trails and boardwalks or spend some time at a viewing area.

Hillsborough River State Park

The Hillsborough River creates a floodplain which makes Hillsborough River State Park and its hardwood swamp forest a great place to visit! Visitors can kayak, canoe, or meander along the wooden boardwalk that goes right over the swamp.

Where To See Wild Alligators in South and Southwest Florida

Everglades Holiday Park, Miami Area

Everglades Holiday Park is a popular place to see alligators while on our exciting airboat tours! Rather than searching for a spot to catch a glimpse, you can enjoy an airboat tour to see alligators and plenty of other wildlife along the way. Everglades Holiday Park airboat captains are experts regarding the Everglades National Park and American alligators. You will learn a lot along the way!

Another great way to learn about alligators, before or after you see them in the wild, is at the Everglades Holiday Park Gator Boys’ Alligator Shows. This alligator attraction is as educational as it is entertaining! The Park also has Animal Encounters where you can hold various wildlife, including a baby alligator!

 Myakka River State Park

Located in Sarasota County, Myakka River State Park is full of wetlands, hammocks, prairies, and pinelands. Visitors can bike on seven miles of paved roads or backcountry dirt roads. The Park has almost 40 miles to hike where trails are maintained or, again, backcountry trails to enjoy with the necessary precautions. Many visitors enjoy taking a boat tour in flat-bottomed boats; there are five boat tours per day to choose from. Myakka River State Park has plenty of alligators to spot, especially during mating season. One attraction sought out at the Myakka River is the Deep Hole. A sinkhole, the Deep Hole attracts an amazing number of alligators, but you need one of a limited number of permits to be allowed to see this backcountry area.

Alligator Alley between Fort Lauderdale and Naples, Florida

Alligator Alley is just what it sounds like! An “alley” of 80 miles slicing through the Everglades (really, the alley is I-75), and if you stop off at some select viewing points, you are likely to see some of the hundreds of alligators living in Alligator Alley. Taking a detour on Loop Road, which runs parallel to I-75, gives you an even better chance of spotting alligators from your car.

Nearby, the Big Cypress National Preserve has plenty of protected wildlife to seek out during your visit. You can keep an eye out for Florida panthers and black bears while you look for a rare red-cockaded woodpecker or cigar and ghost orchids. The Everglades Alligator Farm is in southern Florida and is home to more than 2,000 gators.

Viewing Other Florida Wildlife in Natural Habitats

Most alligator enthusiasts are also excited to do other wildlife watching and not just see alligators in Florida. There are certain spots where you can see other unique animals during your alligator-watching adventure.

The Space Coast: Manatees and Endangered Turtles

The Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, near the Kennedy Space Center, is a beautiful area to see alligators, wading birds, raptors, and more. You can ‘quickly’ drive through Black Point Wildlife Drive or take your time and spend hours driving and stopping to see as much as you can. Bird enthusiasts visiting the area have enjoyed seeing royal terns, reddish egrets, Florida scrub jays, razorbills, fish crows, and bald eagles, among many other birds. The Wildlife Refuge also has a manatee observation center. Driving along Biolab Road, which runs parallel to Mosquito Lagoon within the Refuge, is a good way to get some extra sights in as well.

The Canaveral National Seashore, a short ride north from Cocoa Beach, has over 1,000 types of plants and 300 species of birds alone! Visitors to the Seashore may spot alligators in the canals or ponds in the area, and while not typical, there are also rare sightings of wild alligators in the ocean and on the beach! Canaveral National Seashore is home to plenty of endangered species like loggerhead sea turtles, wood storks, peregrine falcons, and eastern indigo snakes, just to name a few. In fact, loggerhead, green, and leatherback sea turtles nest on the seashore!

Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary: Painted Buntings

Before we get to the painted buntings, the Audubon Corkscrew Sanctuary is a great spot in South Florida to catch a look at baby alligators up close. Along the amazing wooden boardwalk above and winding through the swamp, there are plenty of places where you can spot baby alligators sunning on rocks not far at all from the boardwalk. It’s not surprising since you are technically in the western Everglades. This makes it an excellent spot for photographing these baby gators in their natural habitat. Just outside the Visitor’s Center, you are likely to see painted buntings emerging from the cypress swamp to visit bird feeders and allow you a good look. While visiting, keep an eye out for other animals like otters, white-tailed deer, and even a beautiful wild orchid or two.

Unique Discoveries: Wakulla and Wekiwa Springs State Park

With the extremely hot weather, there are also plenty of natural springs to enjoy throughout Florida. Wakulla Springs is one of the deepest freshwater springs in the world, at 190 feet deep! While also spotting alligators, you may be excited to learn that the Wakulla Springs State Park also has fossilized remains of Mastodons and at least nine other extinct animals, including giant ground sloths, short-faced bears, saber-toothed tigers, and the Colombian mammoth. Wekiwa Springs has crystal clear water for making your own discoveries. Riverbeds and springs at Wekiwa Springs State Park can still contain spearheads and shards of pottery. These little pieces of history are thousands and thousands of years old.

Ways to View Alligators in the Wild While Staying Safe

Don’t Feed the Alligators

Besides being a dangerous idea, feeding alligators is illegal in the state of Florida. Feeding or harassing an alligator, which can make the animal dangerous for yourself and others, is punished with a $500 fine or up to 60 days in jail! Feeding alligators can make them accustomed to humans, and then they are more likely to become a nuisance or attack.

Don’t Get Close

As stated earlier, be very careful when swimming in Florida’s bodies of water. Assume there is an alligator in the water, and keep an eye out if you have to be in the water, too. The edge of the water can be an equally dangerous place, even if you aren’t swimming. Dogs or young children at the edge of the water can be mistaken for prey, and a hunting alligator can pop out of the water very quickly. It’s a good idea for everyone to keep their distance from the water’s edge. When you actually see an alligator in the vicinity, keep at least 30 feet between you and walk backward to retreat instead of turning your back to the alligator.

Alligators can move very quickly when they want to! Tourists will often see alligators very slowly floating in water, not moving at all, basking in the sun, and looking lazy. When alligators need or want to move quickly, they are very fast on land or in water for short distances.

Keep Your Dogs on a Leash and Keep Them Quiet

Keep your dog on a leash in areas with alligators. An unleashed dog on nature trails or in parks may get too close to the edge of the water or in the water and quickly become prey for alligators. They have a very good sense of smell. A barking dog can even attract an alligator to come near and investigate possible prey. Remember that alligators are opportunistic eaters. They are looking for all kinds of prey, and dogs often resemble the size and appearance of many animals that alligators eat.

Avoid Mating Season

You are most likely going to see alligators in Florida every time you visit, and they will usually look very calm. Alligators are more aggressive, though, during mating season. Mating season begins in April, with courtship, and continues through June. American alligators are most active during mating season, which can switch to aggressive or territorial behavior.

Male alligators bellowing can be a sign that you or another alligator have entered another’s territory, and the next step for the gator could be defending it. Male alligators have been known to prevent other alligators, and even kayakers, from entering their territory. Mother alligators are also fierce protectors of their nest and young babies. While the odds of an alligator attack are slim, it’s always a good idea to be aware of your surroundings!

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