White-tailed deer, bobcats, gray foxes, river otters, pilot whales and Atlantic bottle-nosed dolphins are just some of the mammals found in the Florida Everglades – that’s not even getting into fish and birds. The Everglades is a beautiful and wild subtropical oasis, unlike anything you’ve ever seen. This dense habitat means that some more traditional water sports, which would be perfect for the windy mangrove-lined rivers and open bays of the Everglades, are off-limits. Waterskiing, hydra-slides, knee boards or wakeboards are not allowed in the area. These measures are in place to protect the many rare and endangered animals. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get an up-close view, and your heart pumping, with other water sports.
Keep in mind that the best time to visit the Everglades is the winter. When the rest of the country is covered in snow and shoveling their driveways, in Miami we’re getting outdoors for water sports, camping and hitting the beach. The summers are lovely as well, but be sure to pack sunscreen with an extra high SPF and very strong bug spray. No matter the time of year, you’ll want to bring a hat for the sun. They don’t call us the Sunshine State for nothing!
Kayaking: An Hour or a Week
If you’re a novice kayaker, paddling through the Everglades’ tall sea grass on a sunny day is a great way to spend a day. The mangroves are a more protective environment for a newbie kayaker as you will not be exposed to the spray and elements of the rough open sea.
For the adventurous and hard core nature lover willing to spend over a week camping in the fresh air, watching out for dolphins or watching shore birds, there’s no better place than the Florida Everglades. Your trip will be a blend of exciting and serene, just like the Everglades.
Up for the challenge? Wade through narrow tunnels, amidst mangroves and stop to unroll your sleeping bag at a “chickee,” a word with Calusa origins meaning “house with no walls.” You’ll have to do a bit of research in advance or find a master naturalist as a tour guide, and there are plenty of businesses that can help you in the area. We recommend enlisting an expert with years of experience in the area because routes may change subject to winds, season or weather.
Some of the islands, or “keys,” that you may pass by or stay at are Mormon Key, New Turkey Key, Pavillion Key, Rabbit Key, Jewel Key and Sand Fly Island. These tiny islands are connected by different bodies of fresh water, creeks, bays and rivers. The adventure doesn’t stop on the water. Expect to stop and hike the hardwood hammocks, take some time to lie out on the beaches you’ll discover along the way and see the many inhabitants of the Everglades’ diverse ecosystem.
Some of the favorite water trails within the park are Flamingo’s Canoe Trails, Nine Mile Pond, Hell’s Bay and Gulf Coast. The Ten Thousand Islands of the Everglades National Park probably aren’t 10,000 islands, but you’ll never run out of things to see. Maybe one trip there’s a manatee sighting from your kayak on the next you might see an endangered roseate spoonbill.
Sailing: For the Rookie and the Veteran
Sailing the Everglades is similar to kayaking. You can take a leisurely nature trail or embark on a multiday expedition. Do it alone if you have the experience and equipment or you can reach out to a local expert and trust their years of experience.
Sailing eco-tours are meant to focus on the ecology of the Ten Thousand Islands area and they don’t always use a traditional sailboat. Some companies in the area use “sailing canoes,” a stable boat that uses skiffs for guiding the boat.
Paddleboarding: A New Everglades Experience
Paddleboarding has been making waves among water sport enthusiasts. While challenging, it provides a serene environment for exploring without the noise and extra equipment of some other sports. In stand-up Paddleboarding, or SUP, it’s just you, the board and the paddle. This new sport is perfect for navigating the swampy Everglades and getting up close to the exotic and unique wildlife that you can truly only find in this subtropical wetland.
Fishing: Saltwater and Fresh
Think you understand just how unique the Everglades are? Did you know that it’s half fresh water and half saltwater? That’s right, all waters from the Nine Mile Pond north and interior rivers north of the park are considered fresh.
Whether you’re looking for fresh water fish or saltwater, you’ll need a license to do it first and there are certain areas that are off limits for fishing, including everything along Shark Valley Road. We recommend that you hire a captain or fishing charter to guide you through the waters. They’ll help you troll for mackerel or fly fish, show you their lucky spots, warn you of fish that shouldn’t be eaten (for example, some bass in the area has high mercury levels) and be aware of regulations for fishing around manatee areas, shrimping and lobstering. If you’re traveling with the family, they can cater the trip to all ages and skill levels.
Get two items crossed off your to-do list at one time and go kayak fishing in the remote areas of the Everglades.
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