As we settle in to the beach house in South Carolina, I thought I’d share a throwback post to our last trip down south. In April 2017, Antoine was sent to Miami for work training. We decided to take advantage of his flights and accommodation and made a vacation of it, extending the trip for an extra week to soak up the sun. We were looking to be thrifty with our spending as it was a last minute trip, so inexpensive accommodations and excursions were a must. I was dismayed to find that most camping accommodations in the Florida Keys were booked solid in late April, so we expanded our search towards the Gulf. I found campgrounds in the Everglades were far more available at this time of year (likely due to the mosquitos?!), but I was intrigued when I happened upon the Everglades Wilderness Waterway route through Everglades National Park. This 99 mile route connects Flamingo and Everglades City, and takes 8 days to complete by paddle. We did not have the luxury of 8 days to complete the full route, nor did I feel that we were experienced enough paddlers to tackle the whole thing. We decided to start with two nights in the park by kayak, with a launch point from Everglades City.
When preparing for our trip, we relied heavily on an article from the Everglades Diary titled Northern Wilderness Waterway Campsites. Unfortunately it looks like that article is now defunct, but I store all of my research for trips in Evernote (more on this in a later blog post 😉), so I have a copy of it should you be interested! Just leave us a comment below. The article was filled with photos and generous details regarding each of the campsites on the northern section of the Everglades Wilderness Waterway route, and this enabled us to be more informed when planning our route and booking campsites at the Ranger Station at Everglades City. Wilderness permits are required for backcountry campsites along the waterway, but we luckily arrived on the first day of the ‘summer season’ (May to mid-November) when there is no charge for permits. This is because “insects are so severe during summer months that wilderness use is minimal.” After reading that tidbit in the handbook, I’ll admit I started to question our plans, but the tandem kayak was already booked and there was no turning back…
The 7.13 mile paddle to Picnic Key
This was our first kayak camping trip, so we relied on advice from the rangers at Everglades City when deciding upon our campsites and route. We chose Picnic Key for our first night, which was a 7 mile paddle from the Ranger Station. On our first day, we found that we easily managed 7 miles per day by kayak in good conditions. In hindsight, if we had extended our journey beyond 7 miles, we might have made it to more secluded campsites farther away from Everglades City. Oh well – lesson learned for next time! We planned our departure with the outgoing tide based on research recommendations, so the paddle to Picnic Key went by fairly quickly. We were protected from winds off the Gulf by the mangroves, and navigated well with our waterproof nautical map. We were lucky enough to encounter a dolphin in one secluded mangrove bay en route to our campsite, and this remained a highlight of our paddle.
Dolphin sighting in the mangroves
Overall, we loved our stay at Picnic Key. We had the beach to ourselves during the day, but were joined later in the evening by a couple on paddle boards. They kept to themselves at the opposite end of the long beach, and the breeze helped to keep us cool during the night. The evening took a turn for the worse as we were prepping dinner though, as the no-see-ums came out to play. My bug net jacket and face protector were a life saver, but Antoine was not so fortunate. We were forced to eat dinner in our tent, only emerging late in the evening when the wind picked up and provided us with a short reprieve. Mosquitos, on the other hand, were not as bad as expected! Many reviews of Everglades kayaking at this time of year said the bugs were unbearable, but with the exception of no-see-ums for an hour or two on our first night, we were not incredibly bothered by them.
Picnic Key campsite
Racoons are another, albeit cuter, nuisance on the Everglade keys. The rangers were quick to warn us that these critters would be after not only our food but our water, as they do not have ready sources of fresh water on the islands and must subsist off rainwater to survive. We stored our food and water in the deck hatches of the kayak, and the raccoons were not able to open the latches. We heard them visiting in the night to try valiantly, but alas the kayak won! I must say, it is far less startling to wake in the night and know the sounds are attributed to a little key racoon rather than a bear.
5.17 mile route from Picnic Key to Jewel Key
The next morning, we slept late and enjoyed breakfast on the beach. Weather was spectacular for our entire excursion, with temperatures in the mid-20s and light winds. We departed for Jewel Key mid-morning, and only experienced swell on a few open sections on the Gulf en route. One of the sections we crossed between Picnic and Jewel Keys is known for dolphin and manatee sightings; there were a number of tour boats out during our crossing. We did not encounter either on this leg of the paddle though; I’m still waiting to see my first manatee! We landed on the Gulf side of Jewel Key and carried our kayak across the small peninsula to allow us to easily depart in the morning. We were the first campers to arrive that day, so we were able to choose an ideal spot for our tent with a cross breeze off the ocean.
Jewel Key campsite
We built a bench out of drift wood and created a fire pit, settling in for the evening. There were two other couples who set up on the beach some ways away, and a family of four arrived late in the evening. It is wonderful to see families getting out and enjoying the wilderness, but it is important to be prepared when you are far from regular amenities. We watched the family struggle to set up their 8 person tent in the strong winds off the Gulf coast, and later contributed our fire and food to the kids. The evening was a good reminder of the importance of packing appropriate gear and sufficient supplies when embarking on a trip. We’ve included a short pack list that we put together for our trip, in case it should help you prepare for similar adventures 😃
4.93 mile return to Everglade City
We enjoyed our kayak trip in the Everglades so much that we returned to Ottawa and quickly began scheming our next paddle adventure. Within 2 weeks of arriving back home, we had purchased a canoe and planned our first canoe camping trip for May long weekend. But that is a story for another time.. 😃
Our first canoe in May 2017 – a far cry from Florida
Until next time!!
Liz & Antoine
Ps. half of this blog was written in the car en route to South Carolina!! Photos and stories coming your way soon…
Kayak Pack List:
- Waterproof nautical map – purchased in Everglade City
- 50 L dry backpacks from MEC (similar to https://www.mec.ca/en/product/5051-304/Slogg-70-Dry-Pack – ours seem to no longer be available)
- Sunscreen (high SPF)
- Tent with no-see-um netting
- DEET Bug spray
- Bug nets
- Rain jackets
- Wide brimmed hats
- Cooking gear, fuel and non-perishable foods
- Fire starting material and lighter
- Water – 1 gallon per person per day
- Wine 😉
What we wish we had:
- Avon Skin So Soft – a local later informed us that it keeps the no-see-ums at bay!