This 3-day loop threads through Gulf of Mexico islands along the park’s northwest corner in what may be the world’s osprey capital. The feel is decidedly oceanic, with liquid horizons, crushed-shell beaches, big tides, and excellent fishing for sea trout, tarpon, jack, and snook. There are long crossings of bays and channels exposed to wind and waves, but most of the route is sheltered. Mazelike channels and endless green shorelines make navigation challenging, but shallow gaps through peninsulas and between islets let you avoid powerboat traffic.
Start by paddling northwest across shallow Chokoloskee Bay, threading between mangrove peninsulas to find West Pass Channel, the gateway to fine beach camping on Tiger or Picnic Keys. Paddling southeast to Rabbit Key involves a stout 11.7-mile push that hugs the outer isles to minimize wind exposure, yet often requires paddling hard and long against crosswinds and quartering waves. Day 3 is a 4-mile open-water crossing to the expansive beaches of Pavilion Key; in bad weather, it’s for experts only. From there, it’s a 12-mile return to your starting point. Store all food and water securely against raccoons.
Mapped by Steve Howe