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Adventure Travel

The Works: Paddling Florida's Wilderness Waterway

Learn everything you'll ever need to know about swamps while canoeing the Everglades.

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The Hook The mangrove mazes and sawgrass prairies can leave you more disoriented than a red-state Democrat. There are more birds than you could ID in a year. Those streamside logs? Almost definitely gators. This 99-mile traverse of Florida’s Everglades teaches you all you’ll ever need to know about swamps–and more.

Swamp things North America’s only subtropical preserve is seething with manatees, dolphins, wild orchids, and exotic water birds like wood storks and roseate spoonbills. The Glades are the only place on the planet where alligators and crocodiles coexist. (Tip: Don’t paddle directly toward them, or you’ll provoke them.)

Navigation Most canoeists take advantage of prevailing winds in winter and spring by traveling north to south, starting in Everglades City and ending in Flamingo, paddling 10 miles a day. While numbered channel markers help orient you, they alone aren’t adequate, so navigational skills are a must. You’ll need NOAA charts 11430, 11432, and 11433, plus a compass that floats.

Ebb and flow Use tide tables to avoid getting stuck in the muck during low tides. In particular, mind your way in a tight channel affectionately called The Nightmare, roughly halfway through the trip.

Camping There are three types of sites: chickees, which are elevated 10-by-12-foot wooden platforms with roofs (only freestanding tents work here); beaches; and earthen mounds called ground sites. Get a backcountry camping map at

Traffic Jet skis are forbidden, but you’ll need to angle your canoe into passing motorboats’ wakes to avoid an unwanted swim. If you’re in a jam, boaters are your best bet for help–cell phones are useless out there.

Solitude Maximize quiet time (and minimize bug exposure) by traveling in November, April, and May. And shoot for limited-capacity campsites, like the Plate Creek chickee.

Water, water everywhere… but not a drop to drink, since you can’t filter the brackish Glades. There are no fill stations, so bring 1 gallon per day, per person. Other necessities: a shovel for cat holes (dig them above the high-tide mark) and a high-octane deet to keep the skeeters away-it’s as vital as water.

Grub Fish for plentiful red snapper, snook, and flounder (call 888-347-4356 for permits). Live bait works best; buy shrimp in Everglades City and bring a cast net for minnows. Bring a camp stove; fires are allowed only on beaches below the high-tide line.

Bandits Raccoons claw through Styrofoam coolers and collapsible water bottles. Hard plastic dry boxes and coolers foil them.

Permits They cost $10, plus $2 per person per night; get them (along with nautical maps and tide charts) first-come, first-served at all visitor centers, including Everglades City’s (239-695-3311).

Outfitters The national park rents canoes for $24 a day. Call 305-242-7700 for reservations.

Books Get Jonny Molloy’s A Paddler’s Guide to Everglades National Park.

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