→ In the Everglades, water and sky rule—think Technicolor sunsets and flocks of cormorants. But solid ground is scarce, which makes the 7.5-mile (one-way) Coastal Prairie Trail your best ticket into this waterlogged wilderness. The old roadbed, made of pulverized coral (marl), is a pleasant, packed-dirt path—when dry. Wet, it turns to foot-grabbing muck. And summer’s 90°F temperatures are hellish, though “it’s the bugs that make you suffer,” promises John Roark, a park volunteer who’s been exploring these wilds for 40 years.
Venture off-trail, and you’ll encounter pudding-thick mud, skin-slicing sawgrass, and waters choked with cottonmouths and mangrove roots. “Hikers have disappeared here,” Roark says. “It’s real wilderness.” Visit in January or February, though, and you can plumb these wilds in relative comfort: Mud is scarce, temps are mild, and a solitary beach campsite lets you savor pastel skies.
DO IT At Flamingo Visitor Center, get a permit to camp at Clubhouse Beach (mile 7.5; carry at least 2 gallons of water per person). Next morning, wander west about .5 mile off-trail through sawgrass and mangroves to ogle cardinal airplants (flowering bromeliads that grow in tree branches) and enjoy birdsong. Return to the trail and enjoy the relatively easy walking back to Flamingo. Info nps.gov/ever
Hardest hike you’ve ever enjoyed?
“Portering for Jackson Hole Mountain Guides. I had 75 pounds on my back and had to carry it nearly straight up a brutal climb to a plateau and then set up camp. The reason I liked it is that the cook made Me a steak to eat before I headed back down.” – Steve Sullivan Pocatello, ID
“Angel’s Landing in Zion. I’m incredibly afraid of heights, but I knew the view from the end was spectacular. I’m so grateful to have mustered up my courage and taken in the grandeur and peacefulness at the end.” – Heather Richey Bloomington, IN
“THE OZARK TRAIL. THE SHARP ROCKS are GUARANTEED TO TORQUE YOUR ANKLES AND KNEES AND BRUISE THE BOTTOMS OF YOUR FEET.” – Tim Rhoads St. Charles, MO