It’s true that a picture is worth a thousand words. Some experiences require more than words summed up in a photo to express the true impact of that place, that moment, or that memory.
My bike ride on the Shark Valley loop is one of those experiences. I love documenting my travels, and I planned to document this adventure like any other. However, it turns out that I need to work on my shooting-while-bike-riding skills, so many of the photos (as you will see) have a hint of blur to them.
For the second half of this bike ride, I put my camera away and just let the moment consume me. I allowed myself to be fully present, and while I may not have photos to show for it, the beauty I witnessed that day will forever be etched in my mind.
So what is Shark Valley?
Shark Valley is located in Everglades National Park in South Florida. The access point for this loop is where the Shark Valley visitor’s center is. Here, you can rent bicycles for the fifteen-mile paved path, or you can go on a leisurely tram tour that takes you through the Everglades. From mid-December to April, tram tours leave on the hour, every hour from 9am to 4pm, and from May to mid-December tram tours leave at 9:30 am, 11:00 am, 2:00 pm, and 4:00 pm.
My Shark Valley Experience
I had long lost cell service, when my fiancé and I arrived at the Shark Valley loop off of the Tamiami Trail. We arrived just after 6pm to find the gates to the main park closed, as expected. Outside of the gates, there is room for about four to six cars to comfortably park so bicyclists can bike in before or after the park hours.
We went late because we didn’t want to contend with the tram tours on the path, and we looked forward to a sunset ride through the Everglades.
We brought our own bikes. I have a cruiser, which was perfectly fine for this ride because the path is paved, wide, and smooth.
My fiancé and I have made it a life goal to visit each of the US National Parks together. This is the first one we crossed off the list!
Tip: If you are considering biking this path after park hours, I recommend doing this ride with a buddy. It is a long ride and there is no cell reception. Once you are seven miles out in the middle of the Everglades, you are out there with no safety net. Make sure you are prepared.
To the Observation Tower
The Shark Valley trail is a fifteen-mile loop. Each mile is painted in the middle of the path, allowing you to know how far you have gone. Half-way through the loop, is the observation tower, and we were on our way.
Right out of the gates, we were greeted by one of the local residents.
Yes, that black spot in the center of this picture is an alligator! It was about four to six feet long, and completely ambivalent to our presence. Just to be safe, we stayed as far left on the path as possible, and left it alone.
This was the closest that we got to an alligator the whole ride, but seeing this gator at the beginning of the journey was a stark reminder to always be aware of my surroundings. In Florida, it is always wise to assume that there is a gator in any type of fresh water, whether it is a retention pond, a canal, a lake, or of course, the Everglades.
We saw many more gators throughout the rest of the trip. We saw little baby gators and a some huge mamas and papas.
There are a few benches along the loop, but after seeing so many gators, I thought it best to keep the wheels of my bike moving until we got to higher ground.
There were dragonflies everywhere. The gentle zip of their wings hummed across the grasslands. The curious ones would fly parallel to my bike to check me out. Others rested with effortless balance atop their own stalk of grass, awaiting the sunset show.
You can barely see it, but this is the first glimpse of the observation tower way off in the distance. At this point, we had been biking for almost an hour non-stop, so it was a welcome sight.
We saw a handful of wading birds during this whole trip which I found surprising because I expected to see a lot more. We did see a lot of large ravens, especially near the observation tower. They seemed out of place yet to belong.
Watch the above time-lapse video to see the first half of my bike ride on the Shark Valley Loop trail. This video covers about seven miles of trail, and ends atop the observation tower with a special surprise in store.
I filmed the video with my iPhone attached to a selfie stick wrapped to my bike with a hair tie, so while it may not be the best quality, it still captures the spirit of Shark Valley. Enjoy!
At the Observation Tower
This is the observation tower. It is forty-five feet high, and was designed by famed architect Edward M. Ghezzi. I think it looks like something you would find at Tomorrowland in Disney World. (Sorry for the awful picture, but you can’t write about the Shark Valley Loop without showing the observation tower!)
We reached the observation tower just before sunset, and the views of the watercolor sky over the Everglades are unforgettable.
Thought I would share some wonderful images of the last beach walk I took in 2015 for all of those reminiscing about their holiday beach vacations.
I started at the South Beach Pavilion in Boca Raton, and walked north towards Red Reef Park. The beach in front of the pavilion is usually concentrated with people, and this day was no different. (This is a favorite spot for the FAU students.) Despite all of the people, I was able to capture so very relaxed gulls. I also saw man-o-war aplenty, so beware if you are swimming in the South Florida region!
I took all of these images with my phone. Enjoy!
Looking south towards the South Beach Pavilion in Boca Raton.
A squadron of pelicans.
A group of cute seabirds!
Look how well the birds camouflage with the sand.
A washed-up man-o-war. Be careful, they can still sting you!
A cluster of man-o-wars, and a flower.
These gulls were lulled to sleep by the ocean breeze.
The waves were choppy, but not too intense. Great for bodysurfing or learning how to surf. Always watch out for rip currents!
Lauderdale-By-The-Sea is your quintessential beach town. Its quaint shops, casual restaurants, dive bars, and boutique hotels create a charming small-town atmosphere. Nestled 33 miles south of Palm Beach and 30 miles north of Miami, LBTS offers a low-key and laid-back experience in the coastal heart of South Florida.
The Shore-t Story
Parking: There are many different options for parking in LBTS. Recommended parking for the beach is in El Prado Parking lot and the grass lot next to it, located just north of Commercial Boulevard. Here it is $1.50 per hour, or $10 for all day. Other options included metered parallel parking, restaurant valet, parking lots on the west side of A1A, or the parking lot near the pier.
Refreshments: There are many restaurants within walking distance if you get hungry, but if you are just beaching it, it is recommended to bring your own refreshments.
Picnicking/Grilling: There are no picnic tables or grill spots near the LBTS beach. There are two covered gazebos or the grassy area at El Prado Park, but most picnicking here will be done on the actual beach.
Restrooms: The public restrooms are located behind Town Hall, which is a decent walk from the beach. This could prove problematic for anyone with small children or a bathroom emergency.
Fishing: Anglin’s Fishing Pier open 24 hours
Snorkeling/Diving: Excellent spot; the SS Copenhagen is a popular dive spot near the Sea Watch Restaurant, as is the BioRock Reef south of the pier
The entire town of Lauderdale-By-The-Sea is situated on a barrier island, meaning that on one side of the town is bordered by the intracoastal waterway, and the other side is the ocean.
Towards the end of the 2013-2014 season, aesthetic renovations to the town center were completed. Many people may have stopped going to LBTS because of the inconveniences of the construction, but worry not, because they are done and they have created many fun spots throughout the town where you can relax with family.
Murals and sculptures of sea life can be found throughout the town, every utility box is colorfully painted, and no bike rack is an eye sore. These details found throughout the town add to the charm that can only be found in Lauderdale-By-The-Sea.
Seasonal flags are found on all street lights. Some announce town events, like their local farmer’s market.
This pavilion near the town center grants shaded access to a stunning view of the beach and pier. All of the benches are repurposed boats!
Extending from the pavilion, this paved area is lined with colorful Adirondack chairs, and umbrellas. Beachgoers utilized the space to play bags and giant Jenga.
The town center meets at El Mar Drive and Commercial Boulevard. For any holiday, LBTS is very festive.
This is the round-about of LBTS. On any corner of the round-about, you will find shops and dining.
A zoom in on the pelican sculpture that is situated in the middle of the roundabout. A group of real pelicans flies by in the distance.
A tropically painted utility box in Lauderdale-By-The-Sea.
This is a fishy bicycle rack!
Tip: All of the hotel accommodations in LBTS are boutique hotels, which are perfect for large groups to rent out. They might not satisfy those looking for glitz and glamour, but will be a comfortable fit for those looking for a low-key vacation.
Lauderdale-By-The-Sea’s beach provides ample room for any beach activity. It is a wide beach, so unless it is a super busy day, there is usually enough room to spread out and not crowd onto someone else’s beach blanket.
Just north and south of the pier will usually be the largest concentration of people, even though you are supposed to stay at least 300 feet away from the actual pier when you are in the water. Go south of the pier if you want to snorkel the BioRock Reef; go just north of the pier if you are looking for a fun atmosphere near the town center.
From El Prado Park access point looking south. The beach is nice and wide.
Beautiful shore and water.
Looking from the pier north to Lighthouse Point.
Looking from the pier south to Fort Lauderdale beach.
As you continue north on the beach away from the town center, the upbeat tempo of reggae beats from a restaurant’s musician will fade away, and you will be left with the sound of the ocean waves and the faint chatter of the beach crowd.
Even in this area north of the pier where there is not a reef, you can still snorkel and see many different fish just offshore. Snorkeling directly offshore LBTS is great for beginners.
The other area that becomes concentrated with people is the access point at El Prado park. Across from El Prado park are two decent sized parking lots for daytrippers. El Prado Park is a nice grassy area good for picnicking or playing frisbee, and it is framed by colorful adirondack chairs and umbrellas. There are two gazebos that offer shade and some excellent people watching.
View of El Prado Park from the El Prado Parking Lot, just north of the town center.
El Prado Park features two gazebos, a bike rack, and many Adirondack chairs and umbrellas for relaxing. The lawn is a nice spot for picnics or yoga.
If you exit the beach from this access point, follow the sidewalk through the El Prado lot, and then cross A1A, you will find the LBTS public restrooms.
Showers can be found at this access point and at the beach entrance near the pier and beach pavilion.
Colorful Adirondack chairs underneath the gazebo are an excellent place to watch the sunrise.
A seating area with recycling.
Looking at El Prado park.
The inviting beach entrance to LBTS.
This beach does not have lifeguards. They do have life rings available just in case, but everyone here is swimming at their own risk.
Would we classify this beach as being family friendly? Yes and no. Yes, if you are on vacation and have your own hotel room, with an accessible toilet and air conditioning. No, if you are a daytripper, because there are no lifeguards and no public restrooms in a comfortable vicinity. We would recommend Pompano Beach, just north of LBTS, that features a playground, bathrooms, lifeguards, and refreshments, for daytrippers with small children.
The pier in Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, Anglin’s Fishing Pier, is open 24 hours so no matter your work or vacation schedule is you can get your fishing fix. It costs $7 per adult fisher. Common catches include snook, snapper, mackerel, bluefish, and more. With the reef being just south of the pier, in the deepwater part of the pier you are able to catch a variety of fish.
If you are not a fisherman or fisherwoman, the LBTS pier offers great views of the Lighthouse Point lighthouse, Fort Lauderdale beach, and plenty of wildlife. It is a $2 fee for sightseers. Bring a camera!
Remember to stay at least 300 feet away from the pier when you are swimming!
Everyone enjoys the view!
At the end of the pier, the ocean blue begins.
Tip: We recommend this local secret for down-to-earth beach destination weddings, couples, and older family get-togethers.
The Diving and Snorkeling
There are two main spots to dive in “The Shore Diving Capital of the World.” Shore diving means that the reefs are a short swim from the shore, and boats are not needed to access them.
The BioRock Reef
Lauderdale-By-The-Sea features the first of its kind fisheries restoration project that utilizes a technology called BioRock. In a nutshell, the BioRock technology speeds up the growth of a coral reef by mimicking reefs natural growth in order to replenish dying reefs and marine life populations. Steel structures are installed and charged by solar energy that attracts and propels the growth of limestone over them.
The BioRock Reef is excellent for all levels of snorkelers and divers, and this pilot project provides a great opportunity to see a variety of fish and marine life. Being a strong swimmer is highly recommended, as the maximum depth is around 12 feet. Often times people will dive/snorkel off of a kayak or paddle board.
This reef attracts a lot of fish and marine life, and offshore in any part of LBTS you will at the very least see a few different species of fish if the visibility is good.
The SS Copenhagen Shipwreck
In 1900, the steam-ship schooner SS Copenhagen hit a reef and became stranded carrying almost 5000 tons of coal. The crew attempted to salvage the cargo, but the ship ended up being left behind. The ship remained visible above water until World War II, when it was used for target practice, ultimately causing it to sink. Most of the machinery was salvaged, but the features of the ship are still visible. The bow now sits separate from the ship after an excavation attempt gone awry.
The SS Copenhagen is a protected state underwater archeological preserve.
Throughout Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, we found a variety of recycling receptacles! Unfortunately, they were not always in use. LBTS sometimes has a lot of leftover trash from weekend revelers. If you don’t pick it up, no one else is going to, except maybe a hungry bird.
Pier goers also have to make an effort to secure their trash, especially plastic bags, that can easily be blown away and into the ocean by the breeze.
We appreciate LBTS taking the steps to attempt to promote recycling, but it takes the beach goers to make this plan came to fruition.
If you had the pleasure of enjoying the beach, let the next person have the pleasure of enjoying the beach without your trash.