How to enjoy watersports and boating in the Florida Everglades

By Lori Kahn | Apr 16, 2018

Don't shy away from your rugged side and enjoy a day out in the Everglades with a paddle, oar or a fishing rod.

The Everglades is a beautiful and wild subtropical oasis and an important habitat for numerous rare and endangered species like the manatee, American crocodile, and the elusive Florida panther. It is actually the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States and home to a variety of eco and nature-focused water-based adventures you won’t want to miss out on. Take advantage of these watersport experiences during your next visit to the Florida Everglades.

Kayaking & Canoeing

The best way to experience the Everglades’ “River of Grass” is on kayak or canoe. In addition to its tall sea grass and protected mangroves, this area is home to a series of “keys” like Mormon Key, New Turkey Key, Pavillion Key, Rabbit Key, Jewel Key and Sand Fly Island. These tiny islands are connected by different bodies of freshwater, creeks, bays and rivers.

For the hard-core nature lover who’s willing to spend time watching out for dolphins or the myriad of shore birds, there’s no better place than the Florida Everglades. The mangroves are also a beautiful experience for a kayaker and you will likely see an abundance of the native animal life that call the Everglades home. Just remember that observing wild animals in their natural environment is a privilege so be mindful and respectful as your paddle your way through their home.

Depending on your skill level, you can spend a morning kayaking through the various keys or for the braver adventurers pack a bag then hop on a canoe and go backcountry camping. Spending the night in a sleeping bag under an open-air “chickee,” a word with Calusa origins meaning “house with no walls” is an experience you will never forget. Keep in mind that campers, novice or expert, need to register in person for free back country permits at the Flamingo Visitor Center and the Gulf Coast Visitor Contact Station daily, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Novices should consider enlisting a permitted guide who will outfit your trip and lead your adventure, as these canoe and kayak trips range from a few hours to several days depending on length and complexity of the trail. There’s no need for you and your crew to recreate Gilligan’s Island.

Whichever you choose, you’ll want to experience the great kayaking or canoeing at Flamingo’s Canoe Trails and Nine Mile Pond, to Hell’s Bay, Gulf Coast, and The Ten Thousand Islands. While you’re there, find a place to stop and hike the hardwood hammocks or 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.

Canoe and kayak rentals start at $20 for two hours and are available at Everglades National Park Boat Tours at the Flamingo Marina, 38 miles south of the entrance gate.

Boating & Sailing

Just like kayaking, boating in the Everglades can be an adventure you won't soon forget. The park offers a variety of tour options – all unforgettable. There is the Ten Thousand Island Cruise that will take you through the saltwater portion of the Everglades where you will likely get to see manatees, bald eagles, ospreys, roseate spoonbills, and the dolphins who love to jump and play in the wake of the boat. This tour is also available for groups of 20 or more.

Mangrove Wilderness Tour takes you through the swampy and brackish part of the Everglades. Here you have a good chance to see alligators, raccoons, bob cats, mangrove fox squirrels and a variety of bird life including the mangrove cuckoo.

Want something off the beaten path? Consider sailing on an eco-tour. These 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,” which is a stable boat that uses skiffs for guiding the boat. Take a look at some of the tours by Jenny’s Eco Everglades Wilderness Tours, Everglades Adventure Pole Boat Tours and Everglades Area Tours.

Sign up for a guided tour or explore the Everglades solo by renting a 17-foot skiff starting at $80 for two hours at Everglades National Park Boat Tours at the Flamingo Marina. The views and the species you’ll encounter are sure to be memorable so make a reservation to be sure not to miss out.

Saltwater & Freshwater Fishing

Did you know that the Everglades is made up of half fresh water and half saltwater? All waters from the Nine Mile Pond north and interior rivers north of the park are considered fresh. South of that, saltwater fishing abounds. 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 have high mercury levels) and notify you 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. To book a fishing charter, contact a company like Captain Rapps Fishing Charters, Chokoloskee Charters or Everglades Fishing Charters.

Airboat Tours

If there’s one thing the Everglades is known for, is its airboat rides. An airboat is a shallow-draft boat powered by an aircraft engine, one that is specifically used to navigate swamplands. Drive down Tamiami Trail and you’ll see them everywhere.

Now a key part of tourism in the Florida Everglades, these vessels have been enhanced with comfortable seating, and take you right through the heart of mangrove jungles, small creeks and open water bays, giving you an up-close view of alligators, manatees, birds and more. Tours are available through the Miccosukee Indian Village and Coopertown Everglades Airboat Tours.

Stand Up Paddleboarding

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 other water sports. In stand-up Paddleboarding, or SUP, it’s just you, the board and the paddle. This sport is perfect for navigating the swampy Everglades and getting up close to the exotic and unique wildlife that you can only find in this subtropical wetland. Be sure to bring waterproof camera gear to get that perfect wildlife shot.

When to Visit

Keep in mind that the best time to visit the Everglades is the winter. Trust us, it makes sense especially if you want to avoid mosquitoes. When the rest of the country is covered in snow and shoveling their driveways, Miamians get outdoors for water sports, camping and hitting the beach. The summers are lovely as well, but be sure to pack sunscreen with a high SPF and lots of very strong bug spray.

Stay in Touch: Sign up for the Miami Insider enews to receive news, events and special offers. 

Share the Love: We'd love to see your photos! Share them with us on FacebookTwitter or Instagram and don’t forget to use the hashtag: #FoundInMiami.

Featured In This Article