Paddling in Everglades?

We are plannning to spend couple of days paddling in the Everglades NP (around 10.000 Islands). Some questions:

  1. How rough is the sea (open water or sheltered water)?

  2. Do we need a VHF radio or is a mobile phone enough (we paddle max. 20-30km from the ranger station).

  3. How strong is the tide?

  4. Any bugs around x-mas time?

  5. What are the chances that we find a beach just for us or are there always other people on the same beach (x-mas = busy time)?

  6. Do raccoons pose any risk to our folding kayaks?

  7. The best paddling book for the Everglades NP?

Disclainmer: I live w/in spittin’ distance of Canadian border & Everglades are far from my home waters. Am sure others w/ more experience will post but here’s my answers based on 5 multiday trips out of E-City

  1. In 30+ days wife & I spent out, mostly in Gulf, always in a canoe, we were windbound twice. Kayaks will have even fewer problems w/ waves but not familiar w/ Dec conditions. We always went late Feb or March
  2. Never bothered w/ any type radio & never missed it. Lucky ? Stupid ?

    3 Tides can be strong in narrow passes but you can always make headway(slow)against them. Obviously it’s easier to time your passage thru a narrow pass to coincide w/ favorable tide. In open water tides weren’t noticable.

    4 Think Dec is buggier than later in Winter. Stay outa bush & avoid 99% of 'em
  3. Very few of NP campsites allow only one party/night. Near E -city only Plate Creek & Kingston Key chickees(not beach campsites) allow only a single camping party. We’ve sometimes been lucky & had a beach site to ourselves but luck improves w/ distance away from E-city & Flamingo. You can also paddle N of park boundary & increase chance of private beach campsite. Or hang out but not camp on any number of non-camping beaches where you’ll have lotsa privacy
  4. Raccoons won’t bother boat unless you leave food in it so don’t ! Use hardshell containers for all food & water
  5. Johnny Malloy’s “Paddler’s Guide to ENP” (ISBN #0-8130-1787-4) BTW he says Christmas-New Yrs is busiest time followed by President’s weekend.

    Enjoy ! It’s a great destination.

Reference questions 1 and 5:

It might be better to address a few additional things. Are you going to be camping or are you staying in Everglades City (EGC)?

If you are staying in EGC and paddling the area you will find that you are in protected waters. EGC is protected by hundreds of islands and Passes. Ivey House also has livery service for Turner River, Halfway Creek, and other day and multi day trips. Google Everglades City.

If you want to put in at the Everglades National Park Station and camp, you have many decisions. You can stay in protected waters by going South to the Lopez River and stay at Lopez campsite (6 NM). Continuing South you will mostly find mangroves and there are only Chickees for campsites. All sites require reservations. You will also need to file a float plan with the Park.

You can go SW into the Gulf to Rabbit Key (7NM), or Pavilion Key (10NM). Pavilion has a beach. You can go West to Jewel Key or Cormer Key (4NM), have a beach. Indian Key (5NM) has a campsite and beach. Picnic and Tiger Key Have beaches are a campsite, and Camp LuLu Key is just a mile North of Tiger Key.

Use Google Earth, go to Everglades City and look around. You can see the beaches and routes very clearly.

In December generally only cold fronts will give you a wind problem. The winds and get to 30 mph. This generally only lasts a day or two. The remainder of the time we are affected by convection so the wind picks up in the afternoon to about 10-15 mph (maybe) or there may be little or no wind. The Gulf can get choppy but most of the islands can be reached by using the many small mangrove islands for protection. You will have no more than 100-200 yd. stretches or open shallow water. Temperatures are generally in the 70’s in December but, a cold front can drop the temp to the 40s. This is very rare. Recenlty is has been mostly in the high 70s to mid 80s…

2. Do we need a VHF radio or is a mobile phone enough (we paddle max. 20-30km from the ranger station).

I am safety oriented. I carry both. The cell is great and works in some areas. A VHF will help you to get a passing commercial boat if you have an emergency. Ask the Park Service about this.

3. Tides can be strong during the major moon phases but are manageable should not be more than 2-3 knots, in major channels. Stay along the edges and it should fine.

4. Any bugs around x-mas time?

Bugs, I hate bugs and depending on if we get a good frost and a harm December you will have bugs. The wind usually keeps them off of the beaches and a good repellent will quickly solve the bug problem. You will encounter “no-see-ums” nasty little things and mosquitoes mostly in the mangrove areas. I use a bug suit and biodegradable insect spray. I try not to put repellent on my skin. Check with the Park again for the bug situation. They are wonderful people.

6. Raccoons: I have not had any problem with Raccoons on the outer islands. If you are camping close to the mainland this may be a problem. I have had friends have their kayaks damaged and a plastic kayak scratched through. Hang any food in the mangroves to be safe. Cape Sable is notorious for raccoons.

7. Books: I can’t recommend a book for the area you are going. One is probably as good as the other. I would use Google Earth to look around and try Googling key words that are related to Everglades City and Chokoloskee, FL.

My favorite paddle in the park is 125 miles South. I do a 10 mile paddle putting in at Flamingo heading SW to Carl Ross Key and Sandy Key. Then either paddle to Cape Sable a 7 mile sugar white sandy beach or to NE to one of several mangrove islands. The trip is all open water with an typical depth of 2 feet. This trip can be affected by wind conditions and if you get the wrong wind and tide you really have a problem. Sandy Key is a bird sanctuary. The sunrises and sets are out of this world. Check out Places to paddle.

Another option is to put in at Goodland, FL, just a few miles west on US41. This will give you a number of options. Cape Romano has a several mile beach and can be accessed from the Gulf or from protected mangrove. There is a marina and hotel at the foot of the bridge. They charge $5.00 a day for parking. Check out the Naples/Goodland area on Goolge Earth. There are also some keys South of Goodland. You could arrange with Ivey House to put you in at Goodland and you can paddle South to the Park. This would probably be a strong 2 day trip or better as a three day two night trip.

2 more questions (on Everglades)
Thks for your comments.

The plan is to use one or several of the following camp sites (never more than 1 day from the ranger station):

  • lopez river
  • sunday bay
  • rabbit key
  • kingston key
  • picnic key
  • tiger key

    I was hoping that most of these camp sites are located close to sheltered waterways (far way from/not exposed to the Gulf of Mexico). If so, sea conditions should not be that rough.

    I am asking this because I am relatively inexperienced with wind conditions of more than 17-21 knots (no. 5 in beaufort scale), which equals to “lots of white-tops” (although I have been paddling for years but in more stable, mild Mediterranean conditions). If the wilderness waterway could be done with an open canoe, the water conditions cannot be “that rough” (maybe I am wrong).

    Any idea what is the cell phone coverage around the a-m campsites?

The sites you listed are very good sites. You may need to make reservations for some. All of the sites are accessible via protected routes. I don’t ever remember waves, just chop. The water is very shallow and the deeper channels are protected by mangroves. Wind over 15 knots is not very common anyway, only with strong fronts which have become less each year.

The rangers are very helpful. They are located on the second floor of the administration building. They may have information on cell phone coverage. I have never used my phone in the area.

Keep in mind the non island sites may have raccoons and maybe a pig or two. You are also close to a bear area and that may also be a possibility. I have never seen one. Ask the rangers. Have a great trip.

ENP campsites
Lopez R is a ground site on river, very sheltered

Sunday bay is dbl chickee - expect company few ft away on adjacent platform. It’s on inside bay thus mostly sheltered. (We spent Valentine’s night here once -not romantic !)

Kingston Key is single chickee just off Indian Key pass. Close to Gulf but you can use other keys to hide from wind

Rabbit, (very small camp area & not facing Gulf) Picnic & Tiger (much larger beaches w/ W exposure)are all on Gulf. In a blow you can paddle inside of them, again using mangrove keys to block wind.

Here’s how J. Malloy rates scenery of each on 1(poor)-5(excellent)scale Kingston =4 Lopez=3 Sunday=3 Rabbit=4 Picnic&Tiger=5

Have NPS send you backcountry trip planner (maybe online?) & get a chart before you launch !

WW can be done in canoe but it’s mostly inside rte. We’ve had only 2 afternoons in Gulf itself when heading for shore in our canoe seemed prudent & winds still calmed in evening.

Don’t own cellphone.

Get a beachsite & try to avoid Outward bound groups. There’s a beach site just over park boundary but within site of Tiger

Hurricane impact?
I understand that the hurricane may have had a significant impact on some of the campsites (at least on chickees). Our plan was to use some of the following campsites:

  • lopez river
  • sunday bay
  • rabbit key
  • kingston key
  • picnic key
  • tiger key

    Unfortunately we have to book the flights asap. Any news of the hurricane impact?

just got an email from someone who said Everglades City was hit really hard and Chocoloskee Island even worse.

I’d see if there is any way to contact the Forest Service down there before making plans.

We normally take 5-6 weeks in Everglades City & it looks like we will have to cancel that.

ENP chat board


Give the park office a call

Everglades area post Wilma
I just returned from a week in Naples and did some paddling in mangroves between Naples & Marco Island in the Audubon’s Rookery Bay area. Except for downed trees (taller varieties) away from the water, I didn’t see much damage to docks or low lying structures in “natural” areas. Trees downtown Naples (by the hundreds), and carports seemed to be hardest hit.

Checking in with the Rangers is the best advice. Certainly the reports were that Everglades City got hit hard (city hall surrounded by water) but I have a feeling that the beaches and Chickees are still there. The high water had mostly receeded from inland areas I was near by Monday 10/31.

Fortunately I brought my camping stove for making coffee during the 3 days I was there before we got power back. For those wanting kayak rentals in Naples/Marco “Get wet sports” was a good place to rent from and they let me return after they left for the day. They bought out the inventory of a small firm on Capri and they have several locations in the area. Good inventory of paddling supplies in their shop on Rt. 41 south of Naples.

I was out this sunday from Chokoloskee and Kingston Chickee is totally destroyed so take that off your list. The park has a no camping policy to be enforced indefinately. They are going to fine anyone camping within park boundary. Alot has changed south of Indian Key Pass so call the ENP station before making any plans to come down here. South at Flamingo it is really in bad shape and they have no intention of opening anytime soon.

Any new updates
Does anyone have any additional information about the park. I just finished repairing and clearing up my home in western Broward County. I heard there as a lot of storm surge damage on the SW coast and the Keys?

Everglades Park Camping & Water Shuttle
As of yesterday, ENP is still closed to overnight use. I am helping the Park on a clean up effort and anxieously awaiting full reopening … inquiring twice a day. One of there major concerns is that the sanitation facilities were blown away.

We run a water shuttle service for kayaks, gear and paddlers/campers that use the Park. The Park is vast and many simply do not have the time to make the full crossing or get tired of the same loops. There are some spectacular places in the Park to paddle but they can a couple days of paddling to get there and most are off the Wilderness Waterway “paddling highway”. The water shuttle allows you to get to a remote area and explore the without spending a lot of precious vacation time paddling to a location. For those who do the Wilderness Waterway, we often make re-supply runs or shuttle folks to catch up with a group who may have left a few days earlier. Many can not take the full 7 days to paddle the whole way. With a shuttle, they do not have to miss out on the whole experience with their friends. Since the Park is closed, we are also shuttling folks to areas outside of the Park for camping. Hopefully, things will be back to normal soon.

A note … for ~ $50/week you can rent a satelite phone. That is a wonderful piece of mind for all concerned … both on the water and those that you left behind. If something comes up … you can always call us for supplies or an “extraction”.

email or phone and I will keep you abreast of the Park’s status.

Good Everglades info for trip planning

– Last Updated: Nov-22-05 2:54 PM EST –

Check out

Also, you can rent suitable kayaks or even take a mothership trip via
Capt. Charles, from the above post is the perfect host and is not only a fishing guide but real life wealth of knowledge on paddling the area. Doesn't hurt to file a float plan with him, at the very least.

He is your best source of information...there is a great trail that starts just "up the road" from his rental cabin that would be the perfect paddle for you. His cabin in Everglades City is perfect, right on the water with some great paddling right there.

Hope this helps.

Some sites are open
The sites north of the Broad River are open for camping. The chickees are closed as they received major damge and Kingston might never be replaced. From Broad River to Flamingo the sites as of this week are still closed.

I have personally used the shuttle that Capt Wright provides and for someone with only three days of vacation time in winter last year, I was able to go from Chokoloskee to Willy Willy camp and get deep into the glades without having to spend more time getting back in. His boat is designed to carry touring kayaks and canoes and your gear safely. Between my three friends it was a good, affordable option for limited vacation time.

We did rent the satellite phone on our trip and were able to get service to call the shuttle. It is also a good option if you are camping in remote places like Willy Willy. Or, you can take the shuttle to your destination and work your way back into Chokoloskee and forget the phone. I do get cell phone service in most places in the park and if the signal is weak try text messaging.

ENP paddling
If you’re interested an extended trip report of an 11 day trip wife & I did in 2-05 was posted today: