The last time we visited Florida we skipped over the Everglades and this time we were determined to remedy that situation. However, there was one tiny problem… actually, make that millions of tiny problems. Problems in the form of tiny flying nuisances that swarm your head, buzz in your ears, and leave behind itchy red welts. Oh yes, I’m talking about mosquitos. Those blood-sucking pests might just be the most prolific wildlife in this national park and everyone we talked to about visiting the Everglades warned us about them. So we decided a single day there would probably be enough.
We left Big Pine on Friday afternoon around 5. It would have been nice to leave a bit earlier, but Tim had to work and I had to finish trucking all our belonging from the house to the Airstream. For two people who don’t have much stuff it sure did take a long time to move it all back in.
Our destination for the night was the Home Depot in Florida City. We heard through the Internet grapevine that the local Walmart no longer allowed overnight parking and that the security guards were sending people to the Home Depot across the street. Works for us. Not much to report as it was a typical parking lot overnight (plus palm trees).
In the morning we headed south into the Everglades. First stop — the Anhinga Trail. This short boardwalk trail travels through a marsh filled with alligators and birds. As a precaution, we sprayed ourselves liberally with bug spray as soon as we got out the truck. Surprisingly, we didn’t encounter many bugs on the trail, but we did notice that it was HOT. Like 90 degrees with 75% humidity hot. Why did we leave that cool ocean breeze behind???? Right away we started seeing alligators. Big ones, little one, sleeping ones, swimming ones, and even one that opened his big eye and started slowly moving toward us.
After we had our fill of gators we retreated back to the sweet, sweet air conditioning in the truck and continued south the Flamingo campground located at the very southern end of the Everglades. It’s a pretty good sized campground with an area near the water for tents, another loop with dry sites for tents or RVs and one loop with electric hookups. With the heat and humidity expected to last throughout the day and night we happily shelled out thirty bucks for a site with power so we could run the A.C. The campground is not much to look at — basically just an open field with some brown grass — but we weren’t there to spend time in the campground anyway.
For more detailed info and photos of the Flamingo Campground check out this review from Nina of the Wheeling It blog.
After setting up we headed over to the visitor center to learn a little about the park. We’ve been to a lot of national park visitor centers but none that have looked this. Not only was the building elevated to keep it safe from hurricanes and storms, but it was painted the most delightful shade of flamingo pink! I approve.
We visited the museum, looked at maps, purchased our required postcard and lapel pin (that we turn into a magnet), and then set off to do some kayaking. I had originally picked out a nice sounding 12-mile loop for us to bike, but with the crazy heat and humidity kayaking seemed like a better idea. Oh yeah, and it was a good way to avoid the mosquitos. Despite the warning from the ranger when we checked in we still hadn’t seen many, but that changed quickly when we reached the kayak launch. As soon as we stepped out of the truck they swarmed us and we had to fight back with copious amounts of Deet (I know it’s nasty but so is millions of bites from potential disease carrying mosquitos).
There are a number of kayak and canoe trails in the Flamingo area of the park. We chose an interesting sounding route that would take us around three lakes/ponds and allow us to paddle through two mangrove canals. The recommended route was a 7.5-mile loop through the lakes and a man-made canal. But to get from the third lake to the canal there was a 250-yard portage. With the heat, humidity, and mosquitos the thought of dragging our kayaks across 250 yards of land wasn’t very appealing so we shortened the loop and made it an out and back instead.
The first mangrove canal took us from where we launched at Coot Bay Pond into the much larger Coot Bay. It was a short canal with a nearly obstructed entrance that opened up quite a bit once we entered.
Soon we were in Coot Bay. This large body of water is popular with motorboats who speed up the Buttonwood Canal and cross Coot Bay on the way to the even larger Whitewater Bay. This is also the route taken by one of the boat tours operated by the park. Several people recommend the boat tour as an interesting way to see the park (while avoiding the bugs), but we sometimes have a hard time paying for a boat tour when we can take our own tour for free. Of course, we would have learned a lot more and gone much farther on the tour boat, but we also would have missed out on the mangrove canals.
After paddling into the wind for about 30 minutes we eventually found the entrance to the second mangrove canal that would take us over to Mud Lake. This one was a little bit longer with a few more obstacles to paddle around.
It was breezy over on Mud Lake so we found a stick to tie ourselves to while we had a small snack. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve wished we had kayak anchors over the last few months. But we already have so much gear relating to kayaking and it’s hard to justify more stuff when a tree branch does the job just as well.
The north side of Mud Lakes contains a dotting of small mangrove islands that we paddled around before heading back through the canal and across the bay.
By the time we got back to the truck, loaded everything up and made it back to the campground it was late afternoon and it seemed like hanging out inside with the A.C. blasting was the thing do. I wish I had a great sunset photo to share but our attempt to walk over to the bay to watch the sun go down only took us about 15 feet from the Airstream before we were attacked by a zillion mosquitos and had to make a hasty retreat back inside to safety. Oh well, there will be other sunsets.
While we only saw a tiny fraction of the 1.5 million acre park, what we did see was beautiful and inspiring. I’m glad we made the effort to visit and maybe someday we’ll come back for a longer stay.