>> Sunny banks “They prefer flat ground that lets them slide quickly into the water,” says Pete Corradino, wildlife biologist with Everglades Day Safari, Fort Meyers, Florida.
>> Gator holes When water levels start to drop in the fall, alligators seek out natural depressions in the shore-side limestone and then scrape out the mud and vegetation; these bowls hold water longer, attracting both gators and their prey, like raccoons, birds, turtles, and fish.
>> December through May Cold temps lure ectothermic gators onto sun-baked banks.
>> Mid-morning This is when the biggest specimens stake out the best beachfront. As the day heats up, they slip back into the drink.
>> Walk slowly when approaching, or stake out a sunny riverbank and wait. Never sneak up on a gator, says Corradino. Attacks are rare, but gators will flee into the water at up to 20 mph.
>> Look for the nests of storks, herons, and other birds, built above the water in cypress or mangrove trees. During nesting season (November through February), alligators lurk beneath the nests, hoping a chick will tumble down.
>> On sandy beaches, a gator’s dragging tail makes a line between his footprints, helping you identify the tracks.
Florida and Louisiana have the highest gator densities. Paddle the 99-mile Wilderness Waterway, in Everglades NP .