Beyond the Mangroves

Paddling the Everglades' Coast
© Karin Herrero

If you go: information about paddling the Everglades' Coast

Where to start: Logistically we found it a bit tricky to follow the route we did. There was no one-way car rental possible from Miami Airport to either Flamingo, the settlement in the southern part of the Park, or to Everglades City, the town bordering the northern part of the Park. At arrival in Miami, we took a shuttle van to Key Largo, paddled from there all the way to Marco Island, collapsed the boat and took a taxi to Naples Regional Airport (about 18 km north of Marco), where we rented a car, which we returned at the Miami Airport. An easier way would be to do a loop, starting in Flamingo, then paddling the inland route north to Everglades City, then south along the coast back to Flamingo. The only challenge is getting from Miami to Flamingo. There is no public bus or van service. If you don’t have your own car, there seem to be only a few choices: Take the Greyhound from Miami to Homestead, then a cab to Flamingo, or pay someone on a fishing boat to take you from Key Largo or Islamorada to Flamingo. That way, you would at least get a scenic tour of Florida Bay.

When to go: December through April (the dry season) is the best time for paddling the Everglades. Days are usually clear, average highs range from about 20o C to 27o C, the hurricane season is (officially) over, and the bugs are fewer. But of course, these are all averages. The cold front that stormed down from the north at the end of our kayak trip pushed the nighttime temperature down to about 8o C! (That felt cold – but it froze the bugs!) Before we arrived, Florida had experienced unseasonably warm weather, which explained why the insects were still fierce when we got there. Perhaps it was the bugs, or the fact that we arrived shortly before the busy tourist season (around Christmas) that we had most of the campsites to ourselves.

Boat/Equipment: If you’re not bringing your own boat, Florida Bay Outfitters in Key Largo rents canoes and kayaks and sells paddling equipment, nautical charts and guide books, and they offer guided tours from half a day to a week. We spent an hour talking to the owner, who provided us with valuable information about the route. In Everglades City, North American Canoe Tours rents boats and gear. Of the few paddlers we met or caught sight of during our trip, most were in canoes, but for paddling the coast we definitely prefer a kayak.

Permit: To camp in Everglades National Park, a backcountry permit is required. The permit is US $10 and can be obtained at the Park Visitor’s Center in either Flamingo or Everglades City, or, as we found out, can be arranged via phone if you’re entering the Park from the east (Key Largo or one of the towns on the Keys). You have to write up a float plan, which specifies where you are camping each night, and your total stay in the backcountry must not exceed 14 days (In our case, Parks personnel in Everglades City graciously allowed us to complete our 17-day trip on one permit.) At some campsites (mainly the chickees), you are only allowed to stay for one or two nights. On others, such as the beach sites along Cape Sable, you can hang out for up to a week.

Maps/Guidebooks: To follow the route we did, you need three nautical charts: #33E (Florida Bay), #39 (Lostmans River to Whitewater Bay), and #41 (Everglades & Ten Thousand Islands). Another good source of information about the route and each campsite is A Paddler’s Guide to Everglades National Park by Johnny Molloy, University Press of Florida, 2000.

Hot Tips:

  • Unless you want to drown your body in DEET daily, bring a bug shirt with a head net.
  • If you’d like to supplement your dinners with fresh fish, bring a spincast (we had only moderate success trolling with hand-lines.) Fishing licence: US $32 obtainable at marine supply stores.
  • Since there is no freshwater available along the entire route, make sure you’ve filled up before you leave (we found that 3 litres per person per day worked well for us, although outfitters and guide books recommended a gallon per person/day.)
  • If you’d like to take advantage of favourable winds, bring a golf umbrella.
  • Alligators: Don’t believe other people’s horror stories. Most alligators are very skittish – we only saw one or two during our entire kayak trip.