Everglades Diary

Planning Your Trip

My goal here is to give a brief overview of how I planned and what I packed for my Wilderness Waterway trips, and is not intended to be a comprehensive guide. The links page points to a number of online guides as well as a list of recommended books that you may want to consult before attempting your own trips into the Everglades backcountry.
The information that I've provided was gathered through a combination of research and personal experience (much of it by trial-and-error), and I still have a lot to learn. What I've included here is what works for me, and you may have other, possibly better ideas for how to prepare for and conduct an Everglades canoe expedition. If so, I'd like to hear from you, especially if you disagree with any of the advice offered, or feel that any of the information is inaccurate or out of date.
The sections on gear, food, and water are aimed at the canoeist. I have no experience with expedition kayaking and have little to offer on how and what to pack for an extended kayak trip. Even so, there is useful information here that isn't specific to canoeing, and it's worth checking out no matter what your means of transportation.

Planning and Preparation
There are three basic steps that should be taken before leaving on any canoe expedition: assess your skills, plan your trip, and choose your gear.
  • Assess your skill level - It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of planning a canoe trip on the Wilderness Waterway, and you can overextend yourself if you don't have a clear and honest idea of what your abilities are before planning your itinerary. Ask yourself the following questions: Can I navigate with a nautical chart and compass? Can I navigate in the dark, if necessary? Can I paddle the distance between each destination, taking into account potential problems with tides and weather? Can I deal with strong winds and high seas? Can I self-rescue in case I get dumped in deep water? Do I have all of the necessary safety gear? Is my knowledge of first aid adequate to deal with an emergency situation? If you've answered "no" to any of these questions, it's time to start working on improving your skills to the point where you can comfortably answer "yes" to all of the above. If you're still not sure of your ability to go it alone, then a good alternative is to book the services of an experienced guide or outfitter to lead you through your first trip. This will give you an idea of what to expect once you feel comfortable enough to set out on your own.
  • Plan your trip - Once you're certain that you have what it takes to complete your journey in safety, you can start planning your trip. The campsites along the Wilderness Waterway are all placed within a few miles of each other, and you should have no problem arranging an itinerary that matches your skill level. If you're a newcomer to canoe tripping, you may want to set your sites low for the first couple of trips and keep your daily destinations within 10 miles of each other. The Park service has recently provided a new and updated Wilderness Trip Planner (requires the Adobe Acrobat Reader) that provides information on Everglades camping, rentals, and Park regulations; a list of all backcountry campsites including time limits and capacities; and also shows the approximate distances between campsites. Always have an alternate route planned in case the sites you want are already booked, especially in the busy winter season. According to the Park Rangers I've spoken to, the busiest times for campsite bookings are the week between Christmas and New Years Day, and in February during the week of President's Day.
  • Choose your gear - If there is any subject that's certain to spark controversy among paddlers and campers, it's the subject of what gear to take. In choosing your gear, the best advice that I can offer is this - research, research, and more research! Find out as much as you can about the gear you already have, or plan to buy, to be sure that it will stand up to the rigors of canoe tripping. Remember, you'll be travelling in a predominantly marine environment, and your gear should be able to withstand the corrosive effects of saltwater. Talk to others who have taken similar trips to get a better idea of what you'll need to take. If you don't know anybody who has been expedition canoeing, then use the Internet. One of the best places to find information and get feedback on your gear and trip plans is on the Everglades Exploration Network, however, this resource will only be available until January of 2013, when the network will be replaced with a forum on this website. If you can't find answers to your questions on the Everglades Exploration Network, make Google your friend! There also are a couple of Usenet newsgroups devoted to paddlesports: rec.boats.paddle and rec.boats.paddle.touring (you will need to create a Google account in order to view these groups). Gear is always a hot topic in these groups and you can learn a lot from the folks who have been there and done that. Another excellent Internet resource is the WaterTribe website. The WaterTribe are a group of folks who sponsor a series of brutal adventure races that test both paddler and gear, quite literally to the breaking point, and they know what works and what doesn't.

  • Gear
    While weight is always a consideration when travelling long distances by canoe, this isn't backpacking, and you can get away with taking more than you would ever consider for a hiking trip. I like my creature comforts, and my gear reflects this, especially in the culinary department. Here's a short list of essential items that I carry. This is by no means a complete list, and I recommend that you check out the links page for other camping and paddling resources before gearing up for your Everglades trip.
  • Nautical chart(s) and compass - Waterproof nautical charts and compass (bring a spare, just in case) should not considered optional under any circumstances, even when using a GPS. The mangrove shorelines can hide all but the widest river entrances and passes from obvious sight, and it's remarkably easy to get lost in the uniformly green surroundings when you're paddling off the marked Waterway trails. When I'm heading into unfamiliar territory, I plot my course on my charts beforehand with a pencil, marking the compass headings for each leg of the trip. Once I'm in the water I need only to set the compass to the proper bearing and follow this to the next waypoint on the chart. This can be especially helpful when making a long trip across the open water at night. Check out the links page for suppliers of waterproof nautical charts.
  • Dry bags - I carry nearly all of my gear in quality dry bags, and they've never let me down. Please don't be tempted to cut costs by using plastic garbage bags to store your gear, clothing and sleeping bags. All it takes is one spill to soak all of your spare clothing. It can take longer for clothes to dry when soaked in saltwater, especially when the humidity is high, which it usually is in south Florida, because the salt will condense the moisture in the air, keeping the clothes damp. Humidity combined with cold weather can keep you uncomfortably (even dangerously) wet for days.
  • Tent - A free-standing tent is necessary, since there is no way to stake down a tent on a chickee. The tent fly should be capable of withstanding a hard, blowing rain, and should be easy to set up in the dark. I use an North Face Rock 22 for my solo trips, and a Kelty Ridgeway 4-person tent for trips where I have a companion along.
  • Sleeping bag - The weather in south Florida is generally mild, even in winter, but cold fronts can bring temperatures down into the lower 40s at night, and it's been known to drop into the 30s during a rare cold snap. I use a three-season 40+ mummy bag with a liner for cold weather camping. The liner alone suffices for warmer weather, and sometimes it's all I bring when I know there is no chance for a cold snap. I also bring a self-inflating sleeping pad, supplemented with an inflatable air mattress for those nights spent on hard wooden chickee platforms.
  • Camp stove and cooking gear - I carry a single-burner Coleman Exponent Xpert backpacking stove, fueled by large size Coleman PowerMax fuel canisters that last about 3 days each. These aluminum canisters are designed to be punctured and crushed for recyling when empty. For backup I take along a couple of cans of Sterno® canned cooking fuel. Cookware consists of an inexpensive set of nested aluminum pots, pans, plates and bowls that was purchased at a local discount department store. Utensils are of the common kitchen variety.
  • Light - I have a large waterproof 6-volt floodlight for general use, and smaller waterproof flashlights for each person. A battery powered camp light illuminates the tent interior at night. I also have a headlamp for reading and night paddling.
  • Repair Kits - The saltwater Everglades provides an ideal environment for oysters to flourish, and these sharp-edged delicasies can ruin your trip in a short instant if you're not careful while paddling through the shallows. I pack a full roll of duct tape and a small repair kit for my Royalex canoe. I also carry a sailmaker's needle and a spool of light monofilament for tent repairs, as well as a small sewing kit for clothing.
  • Knife - A non-folding survival knife is attached to my PFD, and a belt knife and Leatherman-style multi-tool are on or near my person at all times. I also carry a short camp machete for collecting and breaking up firewood at beach sites.
  • Clothing and footwear - The lighter the better, both in weight and color, and they must dry quickly. I have several sets of convertable nylon fishing pants with legs that unzip for warmer weather, and a long-sleeved nylon shirt. I also carry a set of Thermolite® long underwear, and several pairs of Merino wool socks. For shoes I get by with a pair of light tennis shoes that dry quickly when it's warm. At times you may need to walk in the water, and going barefoot over a bottom strewn with oyster shells is not a good idea, so you'll need some hard-soled footwear designed for use in the water. You can buy low-cut neoprene water shoes that are made for paddlers, but I prefer to wear zippered high-top diving booties, which won't get sucked off of my feet by deep mud during the inevitable portages across muddy flats at low tide. A wide-brimmed hat and dark, polarized, wrap-around sunglasses protect my face and eyes. Sunscreen is worn even in cloudy weather.

  • Safety and Emergency Gear
    The Park Service will take care of you as far as issuing your backcountry permit, but once you're in the water you're on your own, and it's up to you to be sure that you're equipped to handle emergencies. I've had entire days go by without seeing another human being while paddling the Glades, and I try to be prepared to go it alone should the worst happen.
    The first step to a safe trip is to call in your float plan. Once I've pulled my backcountry permit, I call a friend or family member and give them a detailed itinerary and the ETA at my final destination, and we agree on a check-in date. It's important do this after you've pulled your backcountry permit to allow for changes to the original itinerary should you fail to get your first-choice campsites. The Park Service provides an 24-hour emergency dispatch number that your contact can call if you're seriously overdue for check-in , and the Rangers will presumably launch a search for you. As of this writing the emergency number is (305)-242-7740. Contact the Park Service for further details.
    Florida state boating regulations require you to carry certain items, such as PFDs. Here is a list of "must-have" items that I consider essential:
  • PFD - You're required to carry a personal flotation device (PFD or life jacket) for each person on any boat. In addition, you must have at least one Type IV throwable device (seat pad or throw bag) for all boats over 16 feet (I've been told by several people that this doesn't apply to paddlecraft, but a call to the Florida Marine Patrol [850-488-5600] will verify that this is still required. It's the size of the boat that counts, and not the propulsion method). It's not required that you wear a PFD at all times, but it has to be readily accessible - not usually a problem in a canoe. The PFD should fit snugly without restricting movement, won't chafe under the arms while paddling, and should have as many pockets and lash tabs as you can afford. Try to get a PFD made specifically for paddlesports.
  • VHF marine radio - It's possible to go for a day or more without seeing another human being while deep in the backcountry, so you'll need to have a way to contact help should the need arise. I carry a handheld VHF marine radio which also has the ability to monitor the NOAA weather channels.
  • First aid kit - A well-stocked first aid kit can mean the difference between life and death should you become injured while in the backcountry. My kit was adapted from the one that I carry under the seat of my truck for road emergencies, but first aid kits designed specifically for wilderness travel are available. I also carry a Sawyer Extractor kit in case of snakebite, and a pair of Sawyer Tick Pliers which will lift and remove ticks without squeezing the tick saliva (the source of Lyme disease) into the bite wound.
  • Mosquito protection - mosquitos and sand flies (no-see-ums) are usually not too bad in the wintertime, but can be a serious problem in warmer weather, and should never be underestimated regardless of the season. I take along one large can of repellant per person for every 5 days spent in the wilderness areas. I also carry a head net. My son and I once took a day trip in 2002, heading up the Turner River, across Hurddles Creek and down the Lopez River in the middle of June, and we stopped at the Lopez River campsite to try to shoot some photos of the old cistern there. We doused ourselves with repellant prior to beaching the canoe, but were still overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of mosquitos that swarmed us as soon as we landed. The bugs were so thick that they obscured the lens of my camera and made it impossible to shoot. We had forgotten to bring the head nets and it was difficult to breathe without sucking in bugs. Using the toilet was out of the question. In the ensuing years I've found that I can tolerate the mosquitos more and use the DEET less, but this was simply a matter of getting used to them, and not because of any aquired immunity. I still occassionally spritz the back of my hands and the tops of my feet, if barefoot, and rely on long pants and shirt, a hat, and a head net when the swamp angels are especially thick.
  • Whistle - A loud whistle will help rescuers locate you, especially in the dark. I keep a plastic safety whistle tied to the zipper of my PFD. I also take along a small lung-powered boat horn to make other boaters aware of my presence in the fog or the dark.
  • Signaling kit - I have a set of three waterproof flares, as well as a mirror that can be used to signal search-and-rescue craft. These are kept with the PFD. I also have a waterproof ACR Firefly 2 emergency strobe attached to my PFD that will self-activate upon submersion, and is used as an emergency signalling device.
  • GPS - A GPS (Global Positioning System) unit is an item that I've come to depend on, but only as an accessory to navigation, and never as a replacement for a waterproof nautical chart and compass. Batteries can fail, and the the unit can become unusable if it's damaged or wet (even waterproof types). I confess to being quite comfortable with my charts and compass, and I use the GPS mostly to record mileage, and to mark campsite locations and the entrances of hard-to-find channels and passes.
  • EPIRBs and PLBs - There is one emergency safety item that I don't use yet, but is steadily working it's way into my "must have" list. I've often found myself exploring some hidden little mangrove tunnel, or have taken an alternate route far from the busier paddling trails (the Wood River comes to mind), and was acutely aware of the fact that I was just a tiny speck in the immensity of the Everglades wilderness. Should the worst happen, it could take days before the Park Service or the Coast Guard would be able to locate me. An EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) is a device that, when activated, will send out a radio signal that pinpoints your location, and can be picked up by search-and-rescue aircraft or satellite, depending on the type. An EPIRB is limited to use on the water, and must be registered with your boat, making registration with an unregistered canoe or kayak problematic. Until recently, an EPIRB was the only option a paddler had for an emergency search-and-rescue beacon, but in July of 2003 the FCC approved the sale of Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) for use on land or water. PLBs are essentially smaller versions of EPIRBS, and operate on the same 406 MHz satellite frequency. Unlike the EPIRB, a PLB is registered to the person who owns the PLB, and not with the boat it is carried on. This registration allows instant identification of the person making the distress call. The NOAA Online Magazine website has an excellent article covering the basics of PLBs, and the Equipped to Survive website regularly publishes independent reviews of most current PLB makes and models. Check it out, and think about getting one for your next Everglades adventure.

  • Tides and Weather
    The tides will play an important role in how you conduct your trip. A falling tide can leave you stranded in the mud or riding dangerously close to submerged oyster bars. The effects of the tides are governed by the phase of the moon, and a new or full moon will cause extreme high and low tides that must be taken into account when planning your arrivals and departures. More than once I've had to drag my canoe and gear across hundreds of yards of knee-deep mud while leaving a beach site during a very low tide, and I've gone as far as leaving a site in the middle of the night to avoid these grueling portages. Even if you've been able to get out of your campsite and on the trail without dealing with a low tide portage, don't assume that you're safe from tidal influences. In some places the water becomes so shallow at low tide that you can be forced to paddle as far as a half-mile or more into the Gulf in order to find navigable water, particularly in the area between the Chatham River and Plover Key, and at the Broad River entrance south of Highland Beach. In Florida Bay the situation can be even worse, with massive banks of exposed bottom extending for miles in every direction at low tide
    Ground sites and chickees are also affected by the tides. Chickee platforms located in strong tidal areas can be difficult to reach from the water during a low tide, and the barnacles and oysters that often cover the wooden access ladders can make climbing tricky. I find that my hard plastic Mohawk paddle blade is pefect for cleaning chickee ladders for climbing. You also need to be careful not to tie your canoe too close to the chickee in areas with a strong tidal influence. If you do this on a rising tide, the gunwales of the canoe can catch on the bottom edges of the wooden planks that form the lower framework of the chickee platform. As the water rises, the canoe may eventually be forced underwater, swamping the canoe and drenching everything in the boat. I've seen this happen, but thankfully not to me. On a falling tide, the water level can drop by as much as 5 feet, leaving the canoe hanging by the rope. Wave action can cause the rope to fray on the rough edges of the wooden platform and possibly snap, leaving you stranded on the chickee with your boat floating away on the tide. This nearly happened to me on the last night of the January 2002 Whitewater Bay trip, when strong winds and a rough chop whip-sawed the canoe at it's mooring, and I had to take extraordinary measures to secure the boat. I try to tie my canoe to the leeward side of the chickee, leaving at least 10 feet of slack in the rope, and allowing the breeze (if any) to push the canoe away from the chickee. This also helps to eliminate the noise of the boat rubbing and banging against the chickee pilings while you and your neighbors are trying to sleep.
    Rivers and passes are also subject to strong tidal currents, and the terms "upstream" and "downstream" are as much dependant on the condition of the tide as on the orientation of the river itself. Try paddling upstream at just about any of the big river entrances on a falling tide and you'll soon learn the true meaning of work! On the bright side, there's nothing better than riding a strong tidal current at the end of a long day and having it carry you to your destination. The bottom line here is that you'll need to plan for the tides when planning your trip. Allow extra time for unexpected low-tide portages and detours if you're planning a trip during a new or full moon period, and be aware that tidal currents will greatly affect your speed when paddling rivers, creeks, and passes. Local tide tables should be obtained at the Visitor Centers when applying for your permit. These are very detailed and show the tidal offsets for each campsite in relation to the major tide stations along the Gulf Coast.
    The wind is the other critical environmental factor that will govern the planning of your trip. Even a moderate breeze can become a trial if you're forced to paddle against it for an entire day, and a strong wind can make paddling nearly impossible. The prevailing winds in south Florida tend to come out of the east and southeast, but this can change at a moment's notice. Plan on the wind shifting around the clock from southeast to northwest during the passage of a winter cold front. Florida Bay is especially prone to strong easterlies, and I try to avoid a west-to-east run along the southern coastline whenever possible. Be sure that you're capable of dealing with a strong wind before attempting an extended trip into the backcountry. Getting caught in a strong quartering wind that is blowing you out to sea can turn into a life-threatening situation in a very short time. Even the strongest paddlers can find themselves overmatched in storm conditions, and if you have any reason to believe that conditions are gearing up for a strong blow, seek shelter immediately, even if it's just the leeward side of the nearest mangrove key. Stay close to the shoreline as much as possible and be prepared to spend the night in your boat if necessary, rather than trying to fight a force of nature that you have no chance of beating.
    Air temperature is another variable that you need to consider when planning your trips, and I'm not necessarily talking about the cold weather. There are several billion good reasons why few people venture into the Everglades backcountry in the summer, and they're called mosquitos. The early pioneers who had to live with them year 'round called them "swamp angels", and they burned a smudge of black mangrove in their homes and camps to keep the bugs down. The early inhabitants of Flamingo used to say that you could swing a pint cup through the air and catch a quart of mosquitos, and that you had to toss a coconut through the air to create a tunnel to talk to the person next to you. Mosquitos are generally less troublesome in the cooler weather, and when the temperature drops into the low 60s they can become completely dormant. However, keep in mind that Florida is famous for it's mild winters, and temperatures routinely climb into the high 70s and lower 80s even in January. This was the case for the 2001-2002 winter season, when temperatures were unseasonably warm and the bugs were thick on nearly every trip I took. On the other hand, we do experience cold fronts that can drop temperatures down into the 40s, and lows in the 30s are not unheard of. Check the long range forecast just before leaving to get an idea of what conditions may be like, but expect this to change. In addition to getting the latest general weather forecast, you should also print out a copy of the marine forecast for the area just before leaving on your trip. If you're going out for more than a day or two, take along a weather radio or a VHF radio with weather channels to stay abreast of changing conditions.

    Food and Water
    There is no potable fresh water available anywhere in the Everglades backcountry, so all water must be packed in. The recommended minimum daily supply is 1 gallon per person per day, but I try to bring more for cooking and personal hygiene, and also to offset losses due to accidents and raccoon vandalism. I store the bulk of my water in a set of 2½ gallon collapsible polyethylene water jugs, taking enough to supply me with 1½ gallons of water for each day. These tough little containers have a vented spout and a hook for hanging from a tree to keep out of the reach of the local wildlife. I also take along a pair of plastic 2½ gallon jugs of spring water bought from my local grocery store, which I freeze solid and use to keep perishable food fresh for several days. These are not easily resuable for water storage, since they need to be punctured to vent air and allow the water to flow, but they can be recycled for other uses (trash container, bailer, "honey pot", etc.).
    Before deciding what food to bring, I had to decide on how I was going to store it while camping on ground and beach sites. It can be a serious mistake to underestimate the abilities of a determined raccoon. These enterprising little critters can be very aggressive in finding and getting to any food or water that isn't locked up tight. They have long ago learned how to open zippers, but they haven't yet figured out caribiners, so I clip the twin zippers of my tent door together with a carabiner at the top of the door, out of reach of raccoon paws. I store my perishable food in a 48-quart plastic cooler that I've retrofitted with a stainless steel lock hasp, and I use another caribiner to secure the hasp. My dry and canned foods are stored in a vinyl-lined Cordura 12-pack cooler whose twin zippers are secured with yet another caribiner, and is stored in the tent when I'm in camp (there are few if any bears to worry about in the backcountry, so tent storage of food is not a problem). Food is taken out only when preparing or eating meals, even inside the tent, and is never left alone. A young couple that were my neighbors for a night at Pavilion Key told me of having their tent window ripped out by raccoons when they left a loaf of bread sitting open inside their tent for a few minutes while they were washing their supper dishes.
    Many campers are quite happy with freeze-dried and reconstituted meals that are made for backpackers, but canoe tripping gives one a bit more leeway in menu choice, and a 48-quart cooler will fit quite nicely in my canoe. For me, paddling from one campsite to another is simply another way of getting to the next hot meal, and a camping trip is judged by the quality of the food. In an effort to maintain my high menu standards, I've come up with a way to keep perishable foods fresh for up to five days in 80° weather, while helping to alleviate the water storage problem at the same time.
    I start by freezing a pair of store-bought 2½ gallon water jugs into solid blocks before leaving for the trip. When the frozen water jugs are placed in he cooler, it leaves about 8 inches of space between them, and I fill this space with fresh vegetables, eggs, cheese, even veggie burgers and sausage. I don't eat meat or poultry, so I can't vouch for how well these will keep under such conditions, but I wouldn't recommend it. I pack the remaining space with crushed ice, and open the cooler only when necessary. It's so very nice to be able to eat a hot breakfast of fresh eggs, veggie sausage, and fried potatoes with onions on my fifth morning out, none of it freeze dried or reconstituted. By this time the ice is mostly melted, but there are still frozen chunks floating in the jugs. This is the last water used on the trip, and it is refreshingly cool for at least another day if kept in the cooler. Once the food is gone, the cooler becomes a repository for empty water jugs and trash at the end of the trip.

    Making the Trip
    It goes without saying that it's always a good idea to know where and when you're going before leaving on your Wilderness Waterway expedition. In fact, the Park Service insists on it, and you'll be need to get a backcountry permit before embarking on any overnight camping trip inside the Park. The permits cost $10 each, and in January of 2004 the Park Service added an additional $2 per person/per day to this flat fee. So, for example, if four of you are planning on spending three days in the backcountry, be prepared to fork out an additional $24. Permits must be applied for in person at either the Flamingo or the Gulf Coast Visitor Centers. The only exception to this rule is during the summer season, when backcountry camping is virtualy nil, and the Visitor Centers often go unstaffed. During these times you can "self-permit" from a box outside of the Visitor Centers. Contact the Park Service or check out their website for more details. You will be required to attach this permit to your tent with a light wire that they usually supply with the permit, a requirement that is sometimes difficult to fulfill because of the tendency of the flimsy paper permits to wear and tear during the trip. I nearly lost my permit once because of this, and I've since learned to place the permit in a ziplock sandwich bag and run the wire through the zippered part of the bag where it's strongest, and then attach it to the tent. Losing your permit is a bad thing, don't let it happen. The Park Service will summarily escort from the Park anybody caught camping without a permit, unless you can prove your identity and your itinerary matches the one they have on record.
    So, I've planned my itinerary, chosen and packed my gear, and have obtained my backcountry permit. It's now departure day, and the dawn light is just beginning to color the eastern sky as I slide the canoe off the roof rack and carry it to the water's edge. When loading the canoe, I make sure my PFD and emergency kit is near to hand, and I pack a gallon jug of water and my food container within easy reach. I have two plastic water bottles with closable spouts, one of which I fill with a mixture of water and powdered Gatorade to help maintain proper hydration. Dieting on a long trip is probably not a good idea - you really do need the calories to sustain you during the long hours of paddling, especially on windy days. I eat a good breakfast at the start of each day, and I snack on energy bars and fresh or dried fruit while paddling between destinations.
    Once I'm in the water, I follow the headings plotted earlier on my charts, and stop briefly every hour or so to drink, snack if I'm hungry, and check my bearings. I try to avoid "shortcuts", unless I'm familiar with the area I'm travelling in. What looks like a passable creek on the chart may easily turn out to be a dead end at best, or a dangerous quagmire of mud, oysters, and snags at the worst. Always be cautious when approaching any unknown shoreline, which is likely to be fringed by the extensive oyster beds that surround many points of land in the saltwater Everglades north of Cape Sable.
    Your destination each day will be either a beach, ground, or chickee campsite. Here's what you can expect from each:
  • Beach sites - These are my favorite campsites since they're the only places where fires are allowed, and they're usually open to seabreezes that help to keep the bugs down. When landing at a beach site, I first look for the high tide line, then build my camp as high above it as I can manage. Strong winds combined with the full or new moons can raise water levels above the apparent high tide line, and I don't want to find myself unexpectedly breaking camp as waves wash into my tent in the middle of the night. Some beach sites, like Pavilion Key and Highland Beach, are adjoined by extensive mud flats that are exposed at low tide, so I try to time my arrival and departure to avoid having to carry or drag my canoe and gear across a couple hundred yards of soft muck. This doesn't always work out as planned and I usually can expect at least one "Everglades portage" on each long trip that I take down the Gulf Coast.
  • Ground sites - These sites are often located on the many old Calusa Indian shell mounds that were built hundreds of years ago by the original native inhabitants, and which constitute much of the high ground in the Ten Thousand Islands south of Everglades City. The evidence of more recent settlement can be seen at sites like the Watson and Darwin Places, where antique farm machinery and old building foundations can still be found. Ground sites tend to be more buggy and can be uncomfortably wet after a period of rain, although I've had few problems so far on the sites I've visited. Campfires are prohibited at nearly all ground sites.
  • Chickee sites - Chickees are the most interesting, if perhaps the least comfortable of the available sites. The word chickee is Seminole Indian for "house without walls", and that pretty much describes these covered wooden platforms built over the water by the Park Service in areas where dry land is scarce. Chickees usually come in pairs joined by a catwalk, with a shared toilet at the center, but there are a few single-platform chickees. I've learned to bring extra padding or an air mattress if I plan to spend the night on a chickee, or I'll regret it in the morning. Don't even think about a campfire. On the plus side, there are no raccoons to worry about, the view is almost always spectacular, and fishing from a chickee is a no-brainer. For the past few years the Park Service has been renovating all backcountry chickees, replacing the wood decking with plastic composite material, and some, such as Shark River Chickee and Pearl Bay Chickee, have been completely rebuilt.

  • Home