WHAT IT IS
The Everglades is a 1.5 million acre wetland located in southwestern Florida, making it the largest sub-tropical wilderness in North America and the largest mangrove ecosystem in the Western Hemisphere. This World Heritage Site is the 3rd-largest national park in the lower 48 states, and home to an impressive diversity of flora and fauna. It is the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles can be found together. It is a paradise for birders, paddlers, nature lovers, and fishermen.
This “River of Grass”, as it is known, has access points on either end of the park where paved roads can deliver auto-bound travelers to visitor centers, trails, scenic lookouts, campgrounds, and boat launch access.
The Everglades are predominantly riparian and coastal environments, meaning a great way to see it is from the water. Depending on your inclination, this could be a boat tour from one of the visitor centers, an airboat tour from a roadside attraction, in a hired vessel, or in one you own.
The Wilderness Waterway is a 99-mile water trail punctuated by campsites between Everglades City and Flamingo. The waterway is open to both powerboats and paddlers, though restrictions and physical limitations apply to both. The Wilderness Waterway is perhaps the most obvious through-course, but other routes and shorter paddles are certainly possible.
We hired a canoe from an outfitter in Everglades City. We vaguely traced the Wilderness Waterway but, in order to maximize our time in the park and explore a bit more, we opted for a few deviations. We spent 11 days in the swampy backcountry but thru-paddles are more often done in about 8.
There are campsites every 10 miles or so along the waterway. You can find even more inland, on the Gulf coast, and north of the official start of the trail. Reservations are mandatory and can be made at one of the ranger stations no sooner than 24 hours prior to the start of your voyage. All supplies must be brought with you, including 1 gallon of water per person, per day; there are no taps or service stations along the way.
We used several resources in planning this trip.
The first thing we looked at and the inspiration for this trip came from a National Park Service brochure and trip planner:
There are a few good books available that detail routes, campsite descriptions, logistics, etc. We used:
as well as
“Paddling The Everglades Wilderness Waterway” by Holly Genzen and Anne McCrary Sullivan
For pre and post accommodation, as well as our canoe hire and transportation, we used The Ivey House in Everglades City
In both the planning stages and during our paddle, we used an iPhone app called Skipper. Charts have to be downloaded prior to your expedition but the app works just fine offline.