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Everglades N.P.

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Everglades National Park - Wilderness Waterway

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The Waterway Journey

The 99 miles of paddling or cruising between Everglades City and Flamingo provides one of the nation's finest water journeys, and the best route for exploration of the remote areas of the park. Canoeing parties should plan to spend up to ten days (a minimum of seven) on the waterway, while those with motorboats can do the trip in one long day or two easy days, but this doesn't allow much time for relaxed wildlife viewing. Obviously, with so much territory to cover, planning is essential. Navigation charts should be purchased in advance (a few days before your trip, if possible) at one of the visitor centers (at the eastern park entrance, Flamingo, or Everglades City).

Trip Planning

Then, there is food to think about, as well as the right clothing to take along, and where to make your overnight stays along the route. Campsites are located on land, on old Indian mounds, along beaches, in forested areas, and on single or double chickees built over the water. Permits are required. They are free, and available at the ranger stations in Everglades City and Flamingo.

You may wish to explore the channels off the main waterway route, and to stay at one of more than a dozen remote campsites and chickees in the park interior. During the heavily-traveled season (December through March), canoeists may wish to escape the main waterway to find the serene silence of the park at one of these more remote locations. A useful guide to these campsites and chickees is the colorful chart listing all of the canoe routes and land trails in the southern part of the park, including the areas around Whitewater Bay.

Park rangers and visitors who have traveled the waterway suggest that the trip is most enjoyable if canoes travel in pairs. This not only provides company during the long paddle, but offers a measure of security that is not available if you are one canoe, alone. An option is to rent a motorized canoe, preferably an 18-footer with the square stern made to take an outboard motor (preferably six-horsepower). This takes a lot of the physical stress out of reaching the more remote campsites and chickees. This method of travel also cuts down the days necessary to navigate the entire route. The park concessionaire at Everglades City has a canoe shuttle service to return the canoe from the end of the route at Flamingo.

Except in one or two hard-to-spot locations, all entrances to channels are easy to spot, thanks to a series of signs placed along the route, by the park (along the northern part of the route), and by the Coast Guard (from Oyster Bay to Flamingo). Consult the ranger station before you leave from your starting point on possible difficult channels. One location to ask about is the so-called "Nightmare" section north of Oyster Bay, where gauging the tide is important. Low tides sometimes make this section impossible to navigate and an alternate route may be advisable. Otherwise, the trip should cause no such difficulties.

The route leads down rivers, across wide bays, through narrow creeks and channels, and through huge mangrove swamps. Along the way you'll have access to beaches and hammocks. At about the halfway point, the trail leads along the Gulf Coast. North of Flamingo, the waterway leads down the middle of Whitewater Bay.

The preferred direction seems to be from Everglades City to Flamingo. This means that you'll encounter park waterway markers reading from No. 130 (at Everglades City), to No. 1 (at Oyster Bay), and the Coast Guard markers from No. 48 to No. 1. All the marker signs are clearly shown on the navigation charts. I have been told that those who hate to count backwards can take the trip from Flamingo to avoid "Numerical Stress Syndrome."

Everglades City to Chatham River

The start of the trip is at the park ranger station in Chokoloskee Bay. The waterway cuts around the edge of Chokoloskee Island. At marker 1230, you have the choice of two routes around the island. One takes the western shore of the island, the other a more sheltered route, passing under the island causeway. The mouth of the Turner River is at marker 129. The route then passes across open water, sheltered by the Ten Thousand Islands to the west. In just under six miles, the trail reaches the Lopez River. A campsite is located at the nine-mile mark. Continuing up the river, lined with mangroves, the route turns southwest and through a series of bays (Sunday, Oyster, Huston, and Last Huston) before reaching the Chatham River (marker 99), 18.5 miles from the start of the trip. The Sunday Bay Chickee is located on the east side of the bay. Watson Place campsite is located 1.5 miles down the Chatham River, off the main waterway which continues southwest. The Sweetwater chickees are located east of marker 97 (before reaching the Chatham River), two miles off the route.

Chatham River to Rogers River Bay

The main route continues from marker 99, leading through Chevalier Bay (keeping to the left shore), arriving at Darwin's Place campsite. This was the homestead of Arthur Leslie Darwin, a hermit who was said to be a distant relation to the more famous Charles. Darwin stayed here from the late 1930s until 1971. Past the campsite, mangroves are seen in Cannon Bay, with marker 81 at the entrance to Tarpon Bay. This small body of water is joined to Alligator Bay by one of the hard-to-find channels, Alligator Creek (markers No. 77 to No. 75). This shallow, curving creek is flanked by mangroves. The route runs across the eastern side of Alligator Bay, crosses the smaller Dad's Bay, and then runs along Plate Creek to Plate Creek Bay. The Plate Creek Chickee is a particularly scenic place for an overnight stay. One mile past marker No. 63 is the Lostmans Five Bay campsite. The trail cuts through a channel to Two Island Bay, passing Onion Kee at marker No. 58. There was a community on the island, destroyed by a 1926 hurricane. You travel on Lostmans River, reaching Big Lostmans Bay at marker 42. Marker 38 provides an opportunity to veer off the main route, into Lostmans Creek and a two-mile side trip to Rock Creek Bay, where you'll find the Willy Willy campsite. The Rogers River Bay chickee is found by traveling one mile west from marker 32.

Rogers River Bay to Harney River

From marker 32, the route leads three miles to Broad River Bay (marker 26), with the possibility of another meandering side-trip to Camp Lonesome, a campsite on the Broad River (three miles). The main waterway route continues to the Broad River route to the Gulf of Mexico (turn west, into the river, at marker 26). The Broad River campsite is 6.5 miles downriver, and the gulf is another 8.5 miles. This is the trickiest part of the whole canoe route, the narrow channel known as The Nightmare. It is basically a path through a thick mangrove swamp, impassable at low tide, and infested by mosquitoes and other critters. To avoid this bug trap, take the detour that leads south via the Broad River. Then go south along the shore to Harney River (five miles), and then take the Harney River for four miles to marker 12 (Harney River chickee location). The marked main route leads out of The Nightmare, along the coast, and up Broad Creek to reach the Harney River at the chickee.

Harney River Chickee to Oyster Bay

Paddle to marker 11 and then turn east (right) and go via the Harney River to marker 9 (5.5 miles). The main route turns (right) onto the Shark River, and the Shark River chickee (marker 6) is 4.5 miles from the turn. You could choose to take a sidetrip across Tarpon Bay to the Canepatch campground, a distance of four miles. This is an especially rewarding diversion from the main route, paddling into fresh water areas with quite different vegetation from the mangrove swamps.

You'll see many more mangroves along the sides of the Shark River, as the main route continues toward Oyster Bay. Passing the Shark River Chickee, the route offers a real river trip, with numerous fish, including tarpon, sea trout, snapper, and several species of small sharks. The chickee is past marker 6, on the Little Shark River. At marker 5, turn from the river into Shark Cutoff, the channel that leads to Oyster Bay. Marker 2 denotes the end of the park marker system. You'll see the first of the Coast Guard markers (No. 48) just ahead. One set of markers leads you directly to the Gulf, a distance of about six miles. The main waterway route follows the Coast Guard markers from No. 48 to No. 1, at Flamingo.

Oyster Bay to Flamingo

The final 25 miles to Flamingo and Florida Bay is pretty well a straight route starting in Oyster Bay, and then down the middle of Whitewater Bay, using the gap (Midway Cut) between the two large islands in the middle of the bay, on Tarpon Creek, then across Coot Bay, and finally through the Buttonwood Canal to the bay, with the Flamingo dock a few minutes to the west of the canal. The Oyster Bay double chickee is a mile southwest of marker 48. From marker 50, the route covers 18 miles to its end.

Remote chickees are located on the east and west sides of Whitewater Bay. Joe River chickee is on the west side, 4 miles from the Oyster Bay chickee. Another chickee (South Joe) is located at the southwest corner of the bay, a distance of 6 miles from the Joe River chickee. Taking this route enables canoeists to follow the Joe River, on a secluded riparian path. To veer eastward from the main route to explore the other side of Whitewater Bay, there are two chickees in the northeastern section of the bay (Watson River and North River). More remote chickees are located off the eastern shore of the bay, reached through mangrove channels. These (from north to south) are Roberts River chickee, Lane Bay chickee, and Hells Bay chickee. Pearl Bay chickee and Lard Can chickee can be reached by meandering routes from Whitewater Bay, but can also be reached (more easily) by taking the Hells Bay Canoe Trail, with the put-in point along the main park road.

This trip is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, full of natural wonder, with abundant wildlife to be seen. There are several superb (but easy) river jaunts, time spent in thick mangrove swamps, opportunities to stop to climb the mound of a hardwood hammock. Deep water is rarely seen; the average depth of the route is less than seven feet. This means that amphibians and other water-loving animals are found all along the waterway's path: turtles, alligators, lots of snails, frogs, and the sometimes-seen mam

als, including raccoons and bottle-nosed dolphins. The bird life of this region is spectacular. Anhingas plunge into the water, pelicans, terns, and fish crows are joined by the wading birds: egrets, herons, ibis. Sandpipers are found along the shores, and ducks among the mangroves. Because fresh water and salt water mix throughout the journey, birds which frequent both ecosystems converge in the western Everglades. Raptors flying overhead include ospreys and red-shouldered hawks. In addition to the fish already mentioned, anchovy are in good supply, along with striped mullet, snook, and killifish, plus the ten species of small sharks, including hammerheads.

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