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Where to Go Canoeing in the Everglades

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Father and son having fun canoeing through the everglades.
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The Florida Everglades region expands almost 300 miles from north to south and about 150 miles from east to west at its longest and widest points. Included in the area are the cities of Cape Coral, Fort Lauderdale, Homestead, Kissimmee, Miami, Naples, West Palm Beach, the Florida Keys, and areas just outside of Orlando. Over the past century and a half, government projects drained the Everglades and installed canals and levees, creating beautiful pathways to explore the Everglades in a canoe.

Today the ecosystem demonstrates a great degree of biodiversity, making it a prime canoeing and kayaking destination. From the ever changing scenery - Sawgrass marshes, wet prairies, fresh-water swamps, hardwood hammocks, and ponds and sloughs (or swamps) – to the shallow waters & seamless transitions between vegetations, the Everglades offers visitors a unique and varied experience. The variance across the region, in addition to the vastness of the region itself, means there are many places to experience canoeing in the Everglades, three of which we'll check out here.

Everglades National Park

Certainly the most obvious place to start, Everglades National Park is the third largest national park in the contiguous United States with almost 1.5 million acres of federal lands. The park boasts nine total canoe trails, with seven on the Flamingo Canoe trails section and two on the Gulf Coast Area section.

The Gulf Coast Area canoe trails connect with Big Cypress National Preserve. In the Flamingo section, distances range from the 1.9 mile loop of Noble Hammock canoe trail to the 11.5 mile one way voyage of Bear Lake Canoe trail, which is impassible from Bear Lake to Cape Sable. Noble Hammock should take around two hours, while the Bear Lake trail is an all-day paddle.

Our favorite canoe trail is Nine Mile Pond, a 5 mile loop or 3.5 mile canoe trail using the shortcut, which runs through shallow, grassy marshlands and scattered-about mangrove islands. On this canoe trail, look for indigenous alligators and wading birds as well as the occasional endangered snail kite. The 5 mile loop should take between 5 and 6 hours, while the trail itself should take around four.

Canoes are available for rent at the Flamingo and Gulf Coast canoe trails. There is a $3.00 launch fee for non-motorized boats that is good for 7 days. The Gulf Coast Visitor Center entrance is south of the intersection of Tamiami Trail/US 41 and Route 29 and open 24 hours. The Flamingo Visitor Center is not accessible from an outside entrance, but is 38 miles into the park from the Ernest Coe Visitor Center and is open 9am - 4:30pm.

Campgrounds: Find campgrounds and RV parks near Everglades National Park.

Maps: Flamingo Canoe Trails, Gulf Coast Area Canoe Trips, and Nine Mile Pond Canoe Trail.

Contact: For Flamingo, call 239-695-2945 for general information and 239-695-3101 for marina rental information. For Gulf Coast, call 239-695-3311 for all inquiries.

Big Cypress National Preserve

Connected to the northern portion of Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve houses over 720,000 acres of diverse temperate and tropical flora and fauna, including the Florida panther. Big Cypress has a total of five canoe trails, including two canoe trails it shares with Everglades National Park.

The shortest canoe trail in Big Cypress National Preserve is the Lefthand Turner River Paddling Canoe trail, which spans 3.65 miles. The trail contains an intertidal mangrove forest, and should take between three and four hours.

The longest canoe trail in Big Cypress is the Halfway Creek Loop Canoe trail, which is nearly 11 miles long. If you plan on conquering this marathon paddle be sure to start early as it will take you six to seven hours to complete. Views of sawgrass prairies and coastal mangrove forests abound.

Our pick is the Turner River Paddling Canoe trail, a 9.93 mile, moderately difficult canoe trail that should take between 4.5 and seven hours. Along the way, you'll see cypress strands, sawgrass prairies, and intertidal mangrove trees as the beautiful freshwater marsh moves into the brackish-watered mangrove habitat. You may even see a manatee.

Of note, both the Turner River and Halfway Creek canoe trails have access to the Ten Thousand Islands, a maze of mangrove islands and waterways that extends to Flamingo and Florida Bay, and Chokoloskee Island. Canoes are available for rent, and there is a $3.00 launch fee for non-motorized boats that is good for 7 days.

Campgrounds: Find campgrounds and RV parks near Big Cypress National Preserve.

Maps: Big Cypress National Preserve canoe trails

Rental: Nearby permitted commercial operators

Contact: Call 239-695-1201 for general inquiries and visit the Big Cypress website for additional canoeing information.

Biscayne National Park

Biscayne National Park expands over almost 175,000 acres of South Florida, due south of Miami and east of Homestead. Everglades National park is located around 20 miles west of Biscayne. The shallow bay waters and mangrove-fringed shorelines make the park ideal for exploration in a canoe.

For more advanced canoeists and kayakers, a great challenge is the seven mile paddle across Biscayne Bay to camp at Boca Chita Key or Elliot Key, which takes between 1.5 and three hours via kayak. The water is most calm during the summer, and the wide-open expanse means there is nowhere to stop in the Bay, making this a particularly trying endeavour. Camping here will allow for exploration of the various channels, creeks, and lagoons south of Caesar Creek, most of which are shallow enough to prohibit motorized boats. In particular, Shallow Jones Lagoon is a great place to spot Cassiopea (upside-down) jellyfish, rays, sharks, huge schools of fish, and large wading birds. Hurricane Creek offers fantastic snorkeling beneath mangrove roots to observe crabs, sea anemones, tunicates (sea squirts), and other marine life. The spiny lobster also lives here, but harvest is prohibited all year long.

Visitors with canoes or kayaks of their own can launch them for free at the Dante Fascell Visitor Center. The park's concessioner rents canoes and kayaks to those who do not have their own - call 305-230-1100 or visit their website for details. Typically, guided canoe and kayak trips are offered during the winter months (January through April).

Canoes are available for rent at the Flamingo and Gulf Coast canoe trails. There is a $3.00 launch fee for non-motorized boats that is good for 7 days. The Gulf Coast Visitor Center entrance is south of the intersection of Tamiami Trail/US 41 and Route 29 and open 24 hours. The Flamingo Visitor Center is not accessible from an outside entrance, but is 38 miles into the park from the Ernest Coe Visitor Center and is open 9am - 4:30pm.

Campgrounds: Find campgrounds and RV parks near Everglades National Park.

Contact: Call 305-230-7275 (ext. 000) or visit the official Biscayne National Park website for additional information.

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