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Everglades National Park

This 49-Mile Paddle Through the Everglades Is an Epic Coastal Adventure

Kayak to pocket beaches and Gulf islands in south Florida.

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Don’t feel like you’ve squeezed every last drop out of summer yet? There’s still plenty to go around in the 10,000 Islands, a maze of mangrove keys and islets off the shores of Everglades National Park. Share the wild coast with shorebirds and marine life on this 49-mile Ten Thousand Islands Loop, which shows off some of the best of it. Park at the Gulf Coast Visitor Center, pick up permits, and file a trip plan (you should have intermediate paddling and navigation skills). Launch from the boat ramp and head southeast along the shore on a three-mile paddle to the town of Chokoloskee. Continue southeast 3.5 miles to Wilderness Waterway marker 127, then turn Gulf-ward to pick your way through the mangrove maze of Rabbit Key Pass. Go past the white-sand paradise of Turtle Key before the 2.3-mile crossing to Rabbit Key. Lunch on shell-covered shores before heading southeast for the 3.7-mile crossing to Pavilion Key’s long, sweeping beach.

Make camp on the island’s northeastern side. The next day, head southeast between two mangrove-covered islands, then it’s an 8.2-mile open ocean crossing to Mormon Key. Follow the shoreline to the mouth of the Chatham River, then snake up sandbar-lined waterways to the upland campsite at Watson Place. (Tip: Gather wood for a fire to ward off bugs.) Continue .6 mile up the river on day three and veer left at the major fork. Continue until the water opens into Last Huston Bay and the Wilderness Waterway. Paddle northwest, reaching Sunday Bay in 3.2 miles, then turn north and then west to navigate to the Crooked Creek Chickee, an elevated tent platform (with outhouse!). On the final day, head west and curve north through the Wilderness Waterway  across Cross Bay, Mud Bay, and Hurdles Creek, then head west to the Turner River and Chokoloskee. Take the canal for a lazy two-mile cruise toward Everglades City, then turn under the causeway bridge to reach the ranger station.

Trip Planner

Driving From Naples, take US 41 32 miles south. Turn right on Collier Ave. and go four miles to a left on Copeland Ave. After .6 mile, turn right at Oyster Bar Lane to reach the Gulf Coast Visitor Center.

Permits Reserve campsites 24 hours in advance from November to April:

Gear Up Rent kayaks, paddles and accessories from Everglades Area Tours

Water There’s no place to fill up in these islands; pack one gallon per person per day.

When to Go Fall temps are manageable all season, with October lows in the 70s and highs in the 80s; rain (and the danger of hurricanes) tends to die down by November.

Key Skill: Channel Crossing

10,000 islands
Kayaking the 10,000 Islands (Photo: Franz Marc Frei via Getty)

Ten- to 20-knot winds can quickly roil calm seas, turning the Gulf into a frothy, perilous waterway. Use these tips to navigate the open stretches between keys safely.

1) Assess If winds are faster than 20 knots or you see whitecaps, hug the shore.

2) Time it High tide holds the best conditions (slower currents, fewer exposed shoals and mud flats). Time your crossing’s midpoint with exact high tide.

3) Plot a ferry angle (the angle you’ll paddle to compensate for wind or current drift). On your map, draw a straight line from your present position to your intended destination. Then, draw a parallel line one inch long for each knot of traveling speed (average is three knots). At the distant end of that line, draw a perpendicular line to represent wind speed and direction (one inch per knot). Close the triangle to find your “ferry angle.”

4) Line it up Pick two points on the distant shore (one in the foreground, like a bend along the shore, one farther back, like a tall tree) that are on your ferry angle. Stay on track by always keeping these points in line as you paddle.

Local Tip: Watch Out for Raccoons

Thieves! Adorable thieves, though. (Photo: Fotosearch via Getty)

The raccoons inhabiting these mangrove-knotted keys might as well be pirates. “Some of them have gotten pretty smart over the years,” says Joel Beckwith, a guide with decades of experience in south Florida. Think those round rubber hatch covers will do it? Think again. “They can open those faster than me,” Beckwith says. Secure food in boat holds, then bungee or duct-tape them shut. Even unattended drinking water is fair game, so use hard-sided containers or stow water and food together, but leave nothing out, or else. “They’ll get in your wallet and steal your Social Security card,” jokes ranger Joe Sterchele.

What to See: West Indian Manatee

Everglades National Park is perhaps the best place on earth to see one of the 3,000 to 4,000 West Indian manatees remaining in the wild. Sea cows, which can grow up to 13 feet long and weigh 1,800 pounds, tend to congregate at river mouths, like the Chatham, where they have access to fresh water for drinking and salt water for grazing on sea grass. Look for the “manatee trail,” which is the line of sand and mud they kick up during their foraging.

What to Talk About: Everglades Outlaws

Dubiously known as “Swamp Bandit” and “King of the Everglades,” John Ashley rained murder, robbery, and moonshine on southern Florida until 1924, when he and his gang died violently at the hands of the local sheriff. Though a judge ruled the assassinations justifiable homicide, they were widely criticized as being frontier justice. Crimes are rare in the wilderness, so hikers are usually left to police themselves. Discuss: Is there such a thing as trail justice? Should there be?

What to Eat

Breakfast 1 & 3

Bacon, egg, and cheese on bagel

Breakfast 2 & 4

Granola with milk

Lunch 1 & 3

Apples, peanut butter, two energy bars

Lunch 2

Avocado and cheddar on bagel

Dinner 1

Mac ‘n Cheese

Dinner 2

Paddlin’ Potatoes

Dinner 3

Fish Chowder

Snacks Trail mix

Special Recipe: Paddlin’ Potatoes

An energy-replenishing dish

  • 1 cup potato flakes
  • 1 piece bacon, crumbled
    (from Day 1 breakfast)
  • 1/2 cup cheddar, crumbled
  • 1/2 head of broccoli, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Tabasco sauce

Bring two cups of water and the butter to a boil. Add broccoli and simmer for five minutes. Stir in potatoes, bacon, cheddar, and spices. Remove from heat; add Tabasco to taste.

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