If you’re hoping to see wild alligators in Florida, your chances are pretty high! Alligators were once almost extinct in the United States due to excessive hunting. But thanks to monumental conservation efforts, they’ve come back from the brink and gators now number over a million in Florida alone.
They live in all 67 of Florida’s counties and are thought to inhabit every body of fresh or brackish water in the state. So, you might just spot one of these prehistoric reptiles by accident as it takes a stroll across a golf course or lies down to sunbathe on a hot tarmac road.
But, if you don’t want to leave your alligator encounters up to chance, we’ve put together a list of the top spots in Florida to see wild alligators. Plus, we included a few tips to keep you safe while you’re out looking!
Everglades National Park
The best place to start is the Everglades National Park on the southernmost tip of mainland Florida. This 1.5 million acres of protected wetlands is home to all manner of rare and wonderful wildlife, including over 200,000 alligators. It’s also one of the few places in the world where you can spot alligators and crocodiles living side by side. Keep an eye on the snouts of the reptiles you see because alligators have broader, u-shaped mouths, while crocodiles’ noses are more pointed.
The Everglades National Park is massive and has 4 separate visitors centers. You’re in with a good chance of spotting gators all over the park, but if you enter via the Shark Valley area, you can take a bike or tram tour out into the heart of gator territory. You can also climb the Shark Valley Observational Tower to gain an amazing birdseye view of the everglades.
For a true Florida experience, join one of the tour companies offering airboat rides through the everglades. They guarantee to get you up close and personal with the reptiles, so keep your hands inside the boat!
Myakka River State Park
Another place where you’re almost guaranteed to see some wild alligators is Myakka River State Park in Sarasota County, Florida. The park consists of 37,000 acres of unspoiled wetlands, wildflower-strewn prairies, and pinelands. It’s a haven for kayakers, canoers, boaters, and anglers who regularly spot gators sunning themselves on the banks of the Myakka River.
But if you want a gator sighting that you’ll remember forever, take the trail out to Deep Hole. This 5-mile trek will take you to a sinkhole on the river’s edge that – for reasons as yet unknown – alligators flock to in high numbers. It’s not uncommon for over 100 alligators to gather at Deep Hole simultaneously.
Entrance to the Deep Hole trail is limited to avoid over-tourism, and it’s not possible to book ahead. Each day, 30 same-day permits are handed out from the ranger station on a first-come, first-served basis. They are generally gone within the hour, so get there by 8 am if you want a chance to view this incredible sight!
Hillsborough River State Park
Hillsborough River State Park is a popular spot thanks to its location near tourist-favourite Tampa. You’ll find over 7 miles of hiking and biking trails running through wetlands that make the perfect gator habitat. You’ll spot plenty of them lounging beside the paths, sunbathing on the banks, or camouflaging with the logs in the river.
The presence of the gators doesn’t stop people from getting in the water, though. This park is a favorite with kayakers who come to tackle the class 2 river rapids. But if you don’t fancy those, you can join a canoe tour that takes a more gentle pace and paddle to the best gator-spotting points instead.
Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is located in the western everglades, near Naples’ city. This swampy patch of wetlands has been a protected area since the 1950s, when measures were taken to save the cypress trees from being chopped down for lumber. As a result, the bald cypress forest is now the oldest of its kind in the US, and it offers a chance to explore a wonderfully preserved patch of Everglades ecosystem.
Take a looping trail through the pristine forest and keep an eye out for otters, wading birds, white-tailed deer, turtles, and of course, alligators. The Audubon Sanctuary is known as somewhere you can safely view mother alligators with their young in the wild. This is thanks to the raised boardwalks that keep you out of harm’s way and the alligators from feeling threatened.
Take a guided tour of the sanctuary to learn about the old-growth forest and the rare flora and fauna of the area. And to make sure you don’t miss any of the alligator’s favorite hangouts.
The stunning barrier island of Sanibel is located on Florida’s gulf coast. It’s a popular tourist spot, favored for its small-town America feel and the many beautiful seashells that wash up its coastline.
It’s also home to a large, protected wetlands area named The Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge. This network of brackish water channels and mangrove forests is the perfect habitat for alligators. Sightings are common on the Indigo Trail, which you can walk or cycle, and along the Wildlife Drive, which allows you to gator spot from your car.
But you don’t have to enter the refuge to be in with a chance of spotting a gator. You don’t even have to take a break from your vacation since alligators are regularly spotted at the pond beside the island’s general store and from several of the golf courses. What could be easier? You don’t even need to break your swing!
It’s not all about the wetlands. Alligators live in every major body of water in the state, and Florida is home to around 30,000 freshwater lakes, so that makes a lot of opportunities to see wild gators!
The title for the lake with the most alligators is a tightly contested one, but according to recent studies, Lake George in Northwest Florida holds the title with a count of over 2300.
One of the best ways to spot alligators on Lake George is to get out on the water. Take a boat out for the day and look for gators cruising through the waters or sunbathing on the far shores. While you’re out there, why not make a fishing trip of it? Lake George is the second largest lake in Florida, and its brackish water has a high enough salt content to sustain several species of fish you would usually only catch at sea. So why not try your hand at fishing for blue crab, mullet, bass, or stingray?
With just under 2,000 alligators, Lake Kissimmee comes in second for most gators. But what it lacks in numbers, Kissimmee makes up for in size. When the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) did its research, Lake Kissimmee was found to have a higher number of bull alligators than the other lakes.
The FWC defines any alligator – male or female – over 9 feet long as a bull alligator. Lake Kissimmee was found to have 170 of these monsters, while Lake George, with its higher numbers, only had 40.
So, if it’s size you’re after, head to Lake Kissimmee State Park near Orlando, where you’ll find plenty of space to camp, hike, bike, and kayak in between gator viewing trips. Explore this historic area by horseback and visit one of the Cow Camps where 19th-century cowboys once wrangled their cattle. And if you’re lucky, you might also see bobcats, deer, bald eagles, and cranes.
Is it safe to look for alligators in the wild?
As with all wild animals, there is an element of danger involved if you go into their habitat. But, if you’re cautious, don’t take unnecessary risks, and follow these safety tips, you should reduce that danger.
- Never feed alligators! Feeding them is illegal because it encourages them to approach people and associate humans with food. If you’re caught feeding one, you could face a hefty fine and even jail time.
- If you are fishing, dispose of all bait and fish scraps in a bin, not the water. Throwing fish waste into the water can attract gators and counts as feeding them whether intentional or not.
- If you see an alligator, keep away to a safe distance of 50 feet or more. Alligators can move extremely quickly over short distances, so stay back.
- If you see an alligator on the road, do not approach it even if it looks dead. Chances are it’s just enjoying a snooze on the hot tarmac. Keep your distance.
- Do not swim in areas that are known to be alligator habitats.
- Only swim during daylight hours. Alligators are more active at dawn and dusk and impossible to see in the dark.
- Be extra cautious around the water in spring. This is the breeding season when gators can become more aggressive.
- Never approach a nest or young alligators.
- Keep children and pets away from the water’s edge around lakes and canals.
Is it easy to see alligators in the wild in Florida?
Yes, it’s pretty easy to see wild alligators in Florida. It’s thought that a quarter of all the alligators in North America are living in Florida. This number is estimated at over 1 million, and they do tend to wander freely. So you might come across an alligator taking a stroll around a lakeside neighborhood or sunbathing on a road. But if you want to maximize your chances of spotting a gator or two, head to one of the state’s many protected wetland areas or national parks.
Where is the best place to see wild alligators in Florida?
The Everglades National Park is the best place to see alligators in Florida. The 1.5million acres of wetland is the perfect habitat for these creatures, and they live there in numbers exceeding 200,000. You’ll also find plenty of information and tours available to help you in your search.
Do alligators often attack people in Florida?
Alligator attacks on people in Florida are not common but they do happen. Statistics going back to 1948 suggest a rate of 3-7 bites a year, and only a small percentage of these bites were fatal. Since the records began there have been only 25 fatalities.
Alligators are not voracious hunters, they can go months between meals without hunting or eating. And humans are not alligators’ natural prey. In fact, rather than pursuing a person, an alligator will most often be unsettled by their presence and try to avoid contact unless they feel there is a threat to their nest or young. Attacks most often occur when a person comes upon an alligator by surprise or gets too close to a gator’s nest or young. Attacks can also occur when tourists get too close to an alligator in an attempt to take photos.
The best way to avoid danger is to remain alert in alligator territory, respect these wild creatures and their habitat and keep your distance!