Alligators in Florida represent the best of our beautiful natural environment.
Alligators are essential to Florida’s ecosystem. They are apex predators and are usually at the top of their food chains and food webs. Alligators shape their environments both literally and metaphorically.
Alligators are also important parts of Florida’s ecotourism economy. Visitors from around the world to see alligators, learn about them and experience their prehistoric magic.
Many visitors believe that they can’t come to Florida without visiting an alligator farm or taking an airboat ride through the Everglades. Or, at least seeing a gator filled swamp.
Alligators are found in all parts of Florida, and in all 67 counties. They can live in all sources of freshwater in Florida, including natural springs, rivers, lakes, ponds, swamps, wetlands and more.
Alligators are occasionally found in brackish or saltwater environments, although this is less common.
Occasionally, alligators find their way into residential yards, homes and even swimming pools.
How do alligators get into Florida pools? They are amazingly resourceful. Many people are surprised to learn that alligators can climb fences.
One alligator literally broke through a window and surprised a woman in her home.
American alligators are essential to Florida and our natural environment. Sadly, alligators in Florida were almost hunted to extinction in the past.
The wild alligator population has recovered after they were protected as an endangered species in 1973.
Thanks to protection, the number of alligators in Florida is now considered to be relatively healthy again. Hunting alligators in Florida is even allowed with a special permit, issued by the State of Florida.
Seeing alligators in the wild is always exciting. This guide will share some of the best places to see Florida alligators in the wild.
Alligator Safety Precautions
Alligators in Florida are extremely dangerous. Extreme caution should be used in any environment which may contain alligators or other dangerous forms of wildlife.
This guide shares some excellent safety tips for being around alligators. Anyone who enters a natural environment with wild animals should know that caution and safety measures reduce the risk of injury or death, but accidents can happen and the risk can never be fully mitigated.
Everyone should properly educate themselves on appropriate safety guidelines and take all prudent, responsible safety precautions before going anywhere near an alligator, natural environment, or any other potentially dangerous situation.
The Florida Everglades
The Florida Everglades are the best place to see alligators in Florida because of its enormous size and natural beauty.
The Florida Everglades are huge. Everglades National Park protects more than 1.5 million acres of wetland and other natural Florida ecosystems, including pinewood flats, mangrove, sawgrass marsh and more.
The greater Everglades region is even larger, and covers almost the entire southern tip of Florida from the Atlantic to the Gulf of Mexico.
Sadly much of the Everglades have been destroyed by industrial agriculture and human development, and new damage is caused every day.
The Everglades’ natural ecosystem and natural flow of water has been ruined, causing problems throughout all of south Florida’s water systems, the Gulf of Mexico and the Florida Keys, among others.
The surviving Everglades are approximately half as large as they were before humans destroyed them.
The Everglades provide a perfect habitat for both American Alligators and American Crocodiles.
Nobody knows exactly how many alligators live in the Everglades, but biologists estimate that there are probably more than 200,000 alligators in the region.
Because there are so many, and because the remaining protected habitat is so pristine, the Everglades are an excellent place to see Florida alligators in the wild.
Alligators in the Everglades are essential for the entire ecosystem, and affect it in a surprising number of ways. For example, female alligators dig and burrow into the marshy terrain, which actually shapes the landscape and the Everglades’ hydrology.
They also maintain appropriate populations of other animals and serve a variety of important functions.
The Everglades are a remote and difficult region to access except for the designated visitor centers. Alligators can often be seen near National Park lookout areas, and throughout the more wild regions. One of the easiest ways to see alligators in Everglades National Park is to take a guided tour.
Myakka River State Park
Myakka River State Park is one of the best places to see alligators in Florida.
Myakka River State Park is located near Sarasota and is near Tampa Bay so it is a great option for many tourists. It is one of the best things to do near Sarasota and definitely one of the most fun.
The state park is enormous. It covers 37,000 acres, or 57.81 square miles.
Visitors can see alligators in many areas throughout the park. The best places to see them are near Lake Myakka and in the Myakka River. Some of the best viewing areas are from a bridge almost as soon as you enter the park.
For true adventure visitors can apply for a backcountry pass and hike to Deep Hole, where hundreds of giant alligators can be seen basking in the sun.
Alligators can be seen in Myakka River State Park year-round. The best time is during mild warm weather, especially in the spring and fall.
During Florida’s hot, humid summer months it is uncomfortable for visitors to be outside. Alligators also try to avoid the heat, and spend more time underwater where they’re harder to see.
Alligator mating season is also a good time to see them because they are more active. They may become increasingly aggressive around mating season. Extreme caution should be used at all times, but even more so during mating season.
Visitors can usually see alligators in Myakka River State Park without a tour or guide, but there are tours and guides available, including boat tours on Lake Myakka and tram rides through the park, among others.
Hillsborough River State Park
Hillsborough River State Park is a great place to see alligators. It is especially good or people who live in Tampa or are visiting the Tampa bay area because the state park is extremely convenient to the city and surrounding metro area.
The state park protects a variety of natural Florida ecosystems, including wetlands, riparian floodplain and many others.
Alligators can be seen in many places in the river. They are usually sunbathing on rocks in the river or on the river banks.
The Hillsborough River State Park is beautiful and a great trip, so even if you don’t spot an alligator, it’ll still be a great experience.
The state park covers almost 3,000 acres and has several miles of nature trails and hikes
Canaveral National Seashore
Alligators can be found in several areas, including nature walks and trails. Visitors can drive down Biolab Road.
Biolab road is a scenic, 6 mile-long dirt road which runs parallel to Mosquito Lagoon. It’s located inside the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.
Alligators have also been seen swimming along Playalinda Beach.
Many people visit the Canaveral National Seashore for its beautiful beaches.
There are also other popular things to do, including rocket launches, the Kennedy Space Center, and much more. Most people don’t know that this region is also an excellent place to see alligators.
The Indian River, Banana River and Mosquito Lagoon are all excellent places to see alligators. Each of these waterways have islands and natural shorelines where alligators rest.
The National Seashore is a protected area which prevents development and ensures a natural habitat for the alligators and other wildlife.
Black Bear Wilderness Area
The Black Bear Wilderness Area is located north of Orlando.
The area got its name because it is home to Florida blackbear, although the numbers of blackbear used to be much higher than they are today.
Many other forms of Florida wildlife live in the wilderness area, as well. Many bird species roost in the area, making it a haven for bird watchers. There are also the usual cast of native Florida animals, including deer, raccoons, alligators and others.
There are nature trails within the wilderness area. Some parts of the trail have natural surfaces; other parts are raised wooden boardwalks which span over flooded areas and sensitive wetlands.
The Black Bear Wilderness Area is quite large and covers more than 1,650 acres.
There is a 7.1 mile loop trail which follows alongside the St. Johns River. The hiking is moderately difficult and has numerous hazards, including steep slopes, tripping hazards like holes and roots and otherwise rough terrain.
The official website warns that the area is subject to significant flooding during the rainy season and that bug spray is highly recommended, along with adequate water, proper hiking shoes and other wilderness essentials. Warnings also note that emergency access is very limited in case of emergency.
Lake Jesup is one of the best places to see alligators in Florida because it has one of the highest concentrations of alligators in Florida.
There are an estimated 13,000 alligators in Lake Jessup according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission
The Lake Jesup Wilderness Area covers approximately 490 acres along the north shoreline of Lake Jessup. The property was acquired to help preserve the natural lake ecosystem and to provide a habitat for the native wildlife.
The wilderness area is open to visitors and hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking. There are approximately three miles of trails through the lake floodplain. The trails meander through a variety of ecosystems, including hydric hammock, marsh and more.
There is a wide variety of wildlife in the wilderness area. Visitors often see bald eagles, hawks and many others.
Alligator sightings are very common. The wilderness area is inside the lake floodplain and often floods during the rainy season. Areas around Lake Jesup may be closed due to flooding, visitors should check the status before going.
There are three separate sections of the conservation area, located at different points around Lake Jesup. The conservation areas protect thousands of acres of shallow marsh and swamp habitat. They ecosystem is crucial for a variety of wildlife, especially migratory birds and resident shorebirds. Large flocks of migratory birds visit the area annually in both their northern and southern migrations. There is an observation tower in the East Lake Jesup tract.
Wekiwa Springs State Park
Wekiwa Springs State Park is a very large natural area. It covers more than 7,000 acres of natural area, including beautiful natural springs. The springs are very popular for swimming, kayaking, SUP paddle boarding and canoeing.
There are many native Florida animals in and around Wekiwa Springs State Park, including many alligators and the animals they feed upon, especially rabbits, deer and other land mammals.
There are numerous trails throughout Wekiwa Springs State Park, including paddling, hiking, bicycle and equestrian trails.
One of the best trails to see alligators is the Volksmark trail which traces along Sand Lake. Alligators can usually be seen basking in the sun, especially during mild weather.
Wakulla Springs State Park
Wakulla Springs State Park is located in Florida’s panhandle near Tallahassee.
The state park protects more than 6,000 acres of native Florida ecosystem and many of the largest natural springs in Florida, which feed into the Wakulla River.
Ecosystems in the state park include pinewood forests, wetlands and several others. There are many wildlife species in the park, including a large population of alligators.
There are several nature trails in Wakulla Springs State Park. There are also paddling trails so visitors can explore the waterways via kayak, canoe and SUP paddle board.
St. Johns River
The St. Johns River is located on Florida’s north east coast near Jacksonville. It is 310 miles long which makes it the longest river in Florida.
The river meanders from south to north and travels through a large portion of the state before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean.
The St. Johns River ecosystem contains large swaths of swamps, marshes and wetlands. Not surprisingly, it is home to many hundreds of alligators.
The exact number is unknown but wildlife experts suspect that approximately 700-800 alligators live in the region surrounding the St. Johns River.
The Black Creek tributary is one of the best places to see alligators on the St. Johns River. They are often found basking in the sun during cool to mild weather. During hot weather they are less likely to be seen because they retreat underwater to escape high temperatures.
The St. Johns River is a popular recreation area. It is especially popular among bird watchers, paddlers and boaters.
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
The Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is a large expanse of land that protects a variety of Florida ecosystems.
The area is natural, pristine and beautiful.
The wildlife refuge protects more than 140,000 acres. It shares an island with NASA and the Kennedy Space Center.
There are many opportunities to see alligators in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.
The Black Point Wildlife Drive is an excellent drive-through wilderness trail. It is approximately 7 miles long and there are usually alligators along the route.
There are also hiking trails and a manatee observation center.
Visitors should be aware of their surroundings and appropriately prepared for the wilderness, including safety precautions and bug spray.
Ocala National Forest
Ocala National Forest is one of the most wild and natural parts of Florida. It covers large, expansive swaths of land and covers more than 600 square miles.
The entire area is filled with Florida wildlife, including the largest population of Florida blackbears, Florida scrub-jays, alligators and more.
There are numerous trails within the Ocala National Forest, as well as lakes, rivers and natural springs.
There are numerous paddle trails and routes for kayaking, canoeing and paddle boarding. All of these activities are among the best ways to see alligators; appropriate caution should be exercised at all times.
Alligators can be found in many of the wild areas or on scenic natural driving routes. The national forest is home to the Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway which cuts through the forest and gives a beautiful view of the wilderness.
Lake Okeechobee is the largest waterway in Florida, and is a major headwater for the Florida Everglades. Not surprisingly, it has a huge population of alligators.
Lake Okeechobee is one of the best places to see alligators in Florida
Circle B Bar Reserve
Circle B Bar Reserve is one of the best place to see alligators in Florida. It is located in Lakeland and is relatively near both Tampa and Orlando.
The large nature reserve was formerly a cattle ranch, and has been converted into a natural conservation area. There are numerous trails throughout the property.
One of the most popular nature trails is “Alligator Alley” which runs alongside Lake Hancock and other wetland areas. There can be alligators on both sides of the trail and it offers an excellent opportunity to see alligators in the wild.
There are also fun and exciting wildlife viewing opportunities. There are wild hogs, white tail deer and many other native Florida animals.
The Circle B Bar Reserve is also a popular place for birders and bird watchers. The preserve protects a rookery for both migratory birds and many species of native Florida shorebirds.
Circle B Bar Reserve is free to visit and is highly recommended.
There are alligators all over Florida. In fact, rather than asking “Where can I see alligators in Florida?”, a better question might be where can you not find them?
If you’re in Florida, there are almost certainly alligators near you, or within a short drive. If you do decide to see alligators in Florida, be sure to be respectful of the natural environment, the wildlife, and take all safety precautions so you remain safe!