Hell's Bay Trails and Camping

Hell's Bay Camping in a Chickee

Hell's Bay Camping in a Chickee

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By: Mercedes Diaz

Hell’s Bay: Canoe Trail and Chickee Camping

With its 1.5 million acre expanse of watery wilderness, Everglades National Park is a paddler's paradise and by far the best way to explore the park is by canoe or kayak. Its vast network of backcountry waterways cross through dense mangrove islets, primeval forest hammocks, marshes, bird rookeries, lakes, and ponds. For an unforgettable wilderness experience, pair that with camping overnight on your backcountry canoe adventure.

Whether you’re new to canoe camping in the Everglades or don’t want to commit to a multi-day excursion, Hell’s Bay Trail is a popular overnight beginner-level canoe trail that features two chickee campsites. It’s also one of the park’s only two marked canoe trails with the other one being Nine Mile Pond, a day trip trail known for prime wildlife viewing. On the 13.5-mile roundtrip Hell’s Bay Trail, you’ll paddle through the brackish creeks of a mangrove-gnarled estuary dotted with ponds and lakes. Wondering about the wildlife you’ll encounter along the way? With the trail’s near lack of banks, alligator sightings are infrequent but dolphins, black tip sharks or crocodiles may be spotted. Bird lovers should keep an eye out for pelicans and egrets roosting on the mangroves.

Although considered beginner-friendly, navigating through Hell’s Bay can be a bewildering experience with its dense tangle of mangrove islands and maze of branching creeks. To stay on the trail, keep your eyes peeled for numbered PVC markers sticking out of the water. The marked trail ends at the Hell’s Bay chickee and unless you’re an experienced paddler equipped with a GPS or familiar with the rest of the Hell’s Bay paddle route, its advisable to turn back. Otherwise, a wrong turn can lead into a backwater maze.

When To Go

November through April is best for canoeing through Hell’s Bay, when temperatures are mild, daily rains have subsided and mosquitoes are at a minimum. The dry season is also the peak time of year for visitors so it’s advisable to book campsites ahead of time. May through October is high season for mosquitoes and biting flies especially in mangrove habitat. Also with the onset of the wet season, park staff hours scale back to intermittent availability.

Plan Your Trip

When you arrive at the Homestead entrance, drive along the main park road aka State Road 9336. The main park road is approximately 38 miles long and ends at the Flamingo Visitor Center. If you’re all set with your own canoes, take the main park road to the Hell’s Bay Trail canoe launch, located approximately 30 miles from the park’s Homestead entrance. There’s a large sign so you can’t miss it. Parking is available anywhere along the side of the road near the launch.

Not bringing your own canoe? You’ll have to drive a bit further to the Flamingo Marina Store where canoe rentals are available from the park’s outfitter, Flamingo Adventures. For a fee of $35, the outfitter will also transport your canoe to the Hell’s Bay Trail canoe launch.

Before you pack your camping gear and grab a paddle, check out the park map and peruse the in-depth Wilderness Trip Planner for everything you need to know from pre-trip considerations to permits, essential gear to backcountry camping details and safety.

Where to Camp

Backcountry camping on Hell’s Bay Trail is a unique wilderness experience, not as barebones as pitching your tent in the backcountry but rustic enough to get the full effect of sleeping in the midst of a mangrove estuary. Since dry land camping isn’t an option along the mangrove forested waterways, overnighters camp on the water, atop roofed wooden platforms referred to as chickees. Somewhat different from the traditional Native American Seminole thatch roof chickees on stilts, the park’s version is elevated a foot or so above the water, depending on the tide, and is covered with a wooden roof. Its open design allows for waking up to fresh coastal breezes or the sound of dolphins surfacing for air nearby.

There are a total of 17 chickee campsites throughout the entire park and two of those - Pearl Bay and Hell’s Bay - are accessible to canoeists and kayakers on Hell’s Bay Trail. Both campsites feature two chickees connected by a walkway with a shared porta potty. Each chickee can hold up to 6 people or 1 camping party each.

Chickee camping has its own set of rules that you should be aware of before embarking on your canoe trip. First of all, fires are prohibited on the chickees. Keep track of forecasted weather conditions and pack warm layers if necessary. And most importantly, standard tent stakes and nails are not permitted. The preferred camping shelter is a standalone tent or you can also rough it in the open air with your sleeping bag.

Everglades National Park Visitor Info

Park entrance fees are $30 per car and all overnight stays require a $15 backcountry permit that can be picked up at the Flamingo Visitors Center. Chickees can be booked no more than 24 hours in advance and a fee of $2 per person per night applies.

Read More:

Miami's Great Kayaking & Canoeing
Explore Everglades National Park
The Mysteries And Ingenuity Behind Miami's Coral Castle
What to See and Do in the Florida Everglades

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