Everglades Diary


Please note: GPS waypoints are given in Degrees and decimal minutes, and all coordinates should be considered approximate.

Central Campsites

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Willy Willy

Willy Willy
Current Status:   Open
Type of Site:   Ground (no fires) Toilet Facilities:   Yes
Number of people:   10 Number of parties:   3
Number of nights:   3 Dock:   Yes
Nearest to:   Rodgers River - 5.5 miles; Camp Lonesome - 10.5 miles
GPS Waypoint:   N25 34.836   W81 03.327
Like nearly all backcountry ground sites, Willy Willy rests on a man-made foundation of shell built by the ancient Calusa Indians. The site has seen occupation by the Calusa and Seminole Indians, as well as white traders, for hundreds of years, right up until the formation of the Park in 1947. The campsite is located several miles north of the Wilderness Waterway trail in a long, narrow, and secluded stretch of water called Rocky Bay. A mile of winding creek connects Rocky Bay to the north shore of Big Lostman's Bay. The southern approach is made through Rocky Creek, which runs north from Lostman's Creek at the extreme eastern corner of Big Lostman's Bay. The campsite dock runs through a short mangrove tunnel that opens into a gently sloping clearing. In addition to the dock, kayakers have made a shore landing through the mangroves to the left of the dock as you approach the campsite. Willy Willy is spacious and open, shaded by tall trees and bordered by the lush tropical vegetation that abounds here at the edges of the freshwater Everglades. The water that runs out of the Glades is very clear and fresh, and the shallows just off the dock make for a refreshing swim, but please be cautious: on several visits I encountered human-habituated alligators that hung around in the water near the dock looking for handouts. Not only is it a bad idea to cause potentially dangerous animals to lose the fear of humans by hand-feeding them, it's also illegal, so please don't feed the alligators, or any other wild animal in the Park.

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Rodger's River Chickee

Rodger's River Chickee
Current Status:   Open
Type of Site:   Double chickee Toilet Facilities:   Yes
Number of people:   6/6 Number of parties:   1/1
Number of nights:   1 Dock:   Yes
Nearest to:    Willy Willy - 5.5 miles; Camp Lonesome - 7 miles
GPS Waypoint:   N25 32.206   W81 03.838
Rogers River Bay is the southernmost of the chain of big inside bays that extend from the Lopez River south to the Broad River, and it is a big body of water that is divided by a nearly-as-big island. In a cove on the southern shore of this island lies the double chickee of Rogers River Bay. I spent my first and only night at Rogers River Chickee on my through trip in the fall of 2004, and I can attest that it's one of the prettiest chickee campsites along the Wilderness Waterway Trail. The view from the chickee is wonderful at any time, but the rising sun across the bay on a clear morning is truly a sight to behold. If you're camping at Rogers River Bay for the first time, please keep in mind that the chickee is actually located about a quarter mile west of where it's marked on the nautical charts, and you shouldn't have any trouble finding the spot.

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Highland Beach

Highland Beach
Current Status:   Open
Type of Site:   Beach (fires allowed) Toilet Facilities:   No
Number of people:   24 Number of parties:   4
Number of nights:   3 Dock:   No
Nearest to:   Hog Key - 7 miles; Broad River - 4 miles
GPS Waypoint:   N25 28.860   W81 11.332 (approximate)
Highland Beach comprises nearly three miles of sandy beach that begins just south of Lostman's River and stretches down to the entrance of Rogers River. The beach is backed by a ridge of sand overgrown with trees and brush. This ridge was the site of several homesteads dating from the 1880s through the early 1930s, and roads were cut into the surrounding jungle for the purpose of transporting the great royal palms that once grew wild in this area. The palms have all been removed, many of them sent to decorate the sidewalks of boomtown Ft. Myers in the days when Thomas Edison and Henry Ford were prominent residents of the town. Today, the miles of sandy beach are empty of homesteads, and provide ample room for camping. Approaching and leaving the beach is best done on a rising tide, as the low tide will leave exposed bottom for hundreds of yards out. These flats extend as far south as the Broad River entrance, and long, muddy portages are common for those caught entering or leaving on a low tide. I prefer to camp at the extreme southern end near the Rogers River entrance where there is navigable water on most tides. On the bright side, the shallow approach discourages motors and the site is generally left to paddlers. I've also seen more wildlife, such as deer and bobcats, in the forest along Highland Beach than at just about any other spot along the Waterway and the Gulf Coast.

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Broad River

Broad River
Current Status:   Open
Type of Site:   Ground (no fires) Toilet Facilities:   Yes
Number of people:   10 Number of parties:   3
Number of nights:   2 Dock:   Yes
Nearest to:   Highland Beach - 4 miles; Harney River - 8.5 miles
GPS Waypoint:   N25 28.755   W81 08.541
The Broad River campsite is located about 2 miles east of the Gulf coast river entrance, and is one of the nicer backcountry ground sites in the Park. The site is spacious and sports a dock with a cleated wooden boat ramp. The river at this spot is subject to tidal influences that can lower the water level to more than 6 feet below the dock, and the ramp facilitates the loading and unloading of paddlecraft at low tide. Be careful, though, as the ramp is submerged at high tide and can be very slippery with silt and algae at low water. Once you've unloaded your boat, you'll find that the campsite is divided into several semi-private areas by natural walls of trees and brush, however, recent reports indicate that the site is becoming increasingly overgrown with exotic Brazilian pepper. Rumors have it that the Park intends to replace the Broad River ground site with a chickee at some time in the indeterminate future. For southbound trekkers, Broad River campsite is the staging point for a journey through the Nightmare, the long, skinny mangrove tunnel that is passable only on a high or a rising tide. I've left the Broad River site as early as 2 AM to catch the high tide, and I can say that paddling the Nightmare by night under a full moon is an experience not to be missed. For travellers heading east toward Camp Lonesome, the Wood River is an interesting alternative to the open channel of the Broad River. I recommend this route only to the more adventuresome paddlers, as the river becomes heavily overgrown for about 2 miles of it's length. You'll be dodging snags and deadfalls in waters populated with many alligators, and pulling your way through spider-laden branches and aerial roots for a good couple of hours. Not impossible, but just aggravating enough to be wearisome for the less adventurous, and it is a very difficult place to reach in an emergency. I travelled the Wood River in the winter of 2008 and can report that the passage is open for the entire length of the river. with little or no storm blowdown. The Nightmare has also been reported as clear and open at this time, but still passable only at rising tides.

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Camp Lonesome

Camp Lonesome
Current Status:   Open
Type of Site:   Ground (no fires) Toilet Facilities:   Yes
Number of people:   10 Number of parties:   3
Number of nights:   3 Dock:   Yes
Nearest to:   Rodgers River - 7 miles; Broad River - 9.5 miles
GPS Waypoint:   N25 29.286   W80 59.990
Camp Lonesome is one of the most remote campsites in the park, resembling a smaller version of Willy Willy, and sharing a similar history as an Indian settlement and trading post. Located just east of the convergence of the upper Broad River and the Wood River, the campsite is located well off the beaten track of the marked Waterway trail, and reaching the spot takes a little more effort than most other sites. When you arrive at the dock, you'll find that a short boardwalk leads to a small clearing overshadowed by fig and gumbo limbo trees. The floor of the clearing is uneven and bumpy with tree roots, and there are a couple of picnic tables taking up more room than I personally think is necessary, but even so, Camp Lonesome is one of the more appealing campsites of the Wilderness Waterway. Lush ferns and other tropical vegetation crowd the edges of the clearing, providing a break from the seemingly endless mangroves, and footpaths lead into the surrounding jungle. After dark in warm weather the fireflies will put on a light show that I have never seen equalled elsewhere. Motor boaters also like Camp Lonesome for its deep water dock and its location near prime backcountry fishing, so you may find yourself jockeying for space at the dock on a busy weekend.

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Harney River Chickee

Harney River Chickee
Current Status:   Open
Type of Site:   Double Chickee Toilet Facilities:   Yes
Number of people:   6/6 Number of parties:   1/1
Number of nights:   1 Dock:   Yes
Nearest to:   Graveyard Creek - 6 miles; Canepatch - 9.5 miles
GPS Waypoint:   N25 25.955   W81 05.461
The Harney River Chickee is one of the newer backcountry chickees. Built to replace the single platform of the original Harney River site, the new campsite is a double platform and it is located just inside the entrance to Broad Creek, directly across the river from the old location. The new platform represents a major safety improvement which significantly lessens the possibility of being swept away by the very strong tidal currrents of the Harney River should one be unfortunate enough to fall off the platform. I can remember lying in my sleeping bag on the old platform and feeling the chickee sway and rock under the pressure of the currents, and of being very, very careful when unloading and entering my canoe, especially at low tide. Falling into the water at the original location could have turned very quickly into a life threatening situation. The Harney River Chickee site has always been important as a staging point for a trip though Broad Creek and the Nightmare and it is good to see that the NPS remains committed to keeping this site available for backcountry travellers. This is the spot where I launched a 2 AM night paddle through the Broad Creek tunnel, a stream much like the Nightmare, except that it's passable on all tides. When I emerged from the tunnel and made my way out to the Gulf of Mexico, a big silver full moon was balanced on the Gulf horizon, while the sky was just beginning to turn pink with the coming dawn at my back. It was an experience that I will never forget.

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Canepatch

Cane Patch
Current Status:   Open
Type of Site:   Ground (fires allowed) Toilet Facilities:   Yes
Number of people:   12 Number of parties:   4
Number of nights:   3 Dock:   No
Nearest to:   Harney River - 9.5 miles; Shark River - 8.5 mile
GPS Waypoint:   N25 25.308   W80 56.608
The Cane Patch ground site vies with Camp Lonesome for the title of most remote backcountry campsite. Nestled deep in the backwaters of upper Tarpon Bay along Avocado Creek, the site is named for it's former role as a small sugar cane plantation. Wild cane is still to be found growing on the site, as well as banana, guava, and citrus trees. From the dock on Avocado Creek, a boardwalk shrouded in low-hanging mangroves leads to an open clearing large enough for several tent sites. At one time there were fire rings at Cane Patch, but these have been removed and ground fires are no longer allowed. Several foot trails lead from the clearing into the surrounding forest and invite exploration. I have a vivid memory of sitting in my tent at Cane Patch, watching a flock of catbirds pecking and chattering in the clearing outside. One of the catbirds hopped fearlessly into the tent to nab some bread crumbs from my lunch that were scattered on the floor. As soon as the catbird hopped over the sill and back outside, a red-shouldered hawk swooped suddenly down and grabbed the hapless bird right outside the door of the tent. The hawk sat there for just a moment, and we stared at each other in startled surprise before it lifted off with it's still struggling dinner, filling the tent with dust from it's great flapping wings. Just goes to show that you can never tell what will happen when you're in the Everglades wilderness. Cane Patch is a wonderful place to get a feel for what life must have been like for the early pioneers who eked out a spare living from the fertile soil of the Everglades. It's also a great jumping off point for exploring Rookery Branch, the freshwater creek that flows from the terminus of the Shark River Slough, the great River of Grass that the Everglades is so famous for.

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Shark River Chickee

Shark River Chickee
Current Status:   Open
Type of Site:   Single Chickee Toilet Facilities:   Yes
Number of people:   6 Number of parties:   1
Number of nights:   1 Dock:   Yes
Nearest to:   Canepatch - 8.5 miles; Oyster Bay - 5 miles
GPS Waypoint:   N25 22.122   W81 02.706
Shark River Chickee consists of a single platform backed up tight against the forest of red mangroves, and is located at the head of a nameless tributary of the Little Shark River just west of where it splits from the Shark River proper. The tidal influence here is still very strong despite the distance from the Gulf of Mexico, and water levels can drop nearly five feet below the platform on the low tide. It's location so close to the mangroves invites bugs during warmer weather, and I've spent evenings holed up in my tent listening to the shrill whine of what had to be thousands of mosquitos swarming the platform. The no-see-ums are as bad or worse. In cool or breezy weather, however, the site can be very comfortable, and the tall mangroves of the surrounding forest give a cathedral-like quality to the late afternoon light. If you're coming up from Whitewater Bay or Oyster Bay, and you're sure of your chart and compass reading skills, try getting to Shark River Chickee through one of the Labyrinth routes. The Labyrinth is a complex of interconnecting creeks and passes that starts at the extreme northeast corner of Whitewater Bay and extends north to the Little Shark River and west to Oyster Bay. Johnny Malloy outlines one route in his Paddler's Guide, but there are many possible routes through the Labyrinth.

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Graveyard Creek

Graveyard Creek
Current Status:   Open
Type of Site:   Ground (no fires) Toilet Facilities:   Yes
Number of people:   12 Number of parties:   4
Number of nights:   3 Dock:   No
Nearest to:   Shark River - 7 miles; Highland Beach - 9 miles
GPS Waypoint:   N25 22.953   W81 08.547
Graveyard Creek is located on the northern shoreline of Ponce De Leon Bay at the entrance of the creek that gives the site it's name. The campsite is situated on a high sandy ridge that parallels Graveyard Creek on the east, and despite it's "beachy" ambience and location on the Gulf, the Park service still considers it a ground site, and no campfires are permitted. I'm not sure where the name came from, but the wreckage of storm-ravaged mangroves that covers the western shoreline is certainly suggestive of a graveyard, and endows the site with a weird beauty, especially at sunset. The hurricanes of 2004 and 2005 have taken their toll on the site, and nearly all of the sandy beach along the Gulf side has been washed away, leaving just a narrow shelf along the creek. Shallow flats extend for a great distance west and south of the mouth of Graveyard Creek and a long portage across these flats is a real possibility on a low tide when approaching from the Gulf. If you're coming in from the Shark River or Oyster Bay, you can approach the site via Graveyard Creek, which is navigable on all tides. Just be careful of the oyster bars at the mouth of the creek.

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