Lunch with the sharks: paddling the Everglades

The canoe slid slowly to a stop.

The sandy bottom of the ocean grasped the boat with the tenderness of a lover, but the strength of a hurricane. We were about 1.5 km from the shore in the Everglades and far away we could see the mangroves, and palm trees waving languidly in the breeze on shore; we were about to have lunch with the sharks.

Everglades shark lunch
Before we saw the sharks, I got out to stretch my legs

 

We had just paddled into the Gulf of Mexico in the Everglades at exactly the lowest tide of the day. After setting up an awning to avoid the worst of the fierce sun, we contemplated the world around us as we waited for the water to return. The small crabs were scurrying around, and the sand sharks were ‘shopping’ in the pools for errant fish that had not followed the ebb of the tide. The dorsal fins of the sharks were fully above the water just like that scene from Jaws. Overall, this lunch break was another highlight of an awesome winter vacation.

The 100 Mile Wilderness Trail

Everglades Chickee
Camping on the Chickee

The Everglades are a world of contrasts from sandy beaches, rivers of grass, and endless mangroves merging into the ocean. The 100 Mile Wilderness Trail is the route from the north end of the park to the south end with camping spots along the way. The area does have aligators and as a result the park service has installed ‘Chickees’ to camp on so you don’t get eaten.  These mostly gator proof platforms are built and elevated above the swamps, with an outhouse between them.You are also not allowed to bring small dogs, children and other gator food.(?)

Everglades Sunrise
Watching the sun rise

The tides dictate when you paddle as going against the tide flow is very hard work. The morning we had our close encounter with Jaws was the result of using the current from the tides in our favour. We were told our route was impossible if we didn’t run with the tide, which meant a 5am start. That morning we navigated by flashlight and compass with our fingers crossed that we were on the right route. Each time a navigation post appeared (they are littered throughout the waterway to help folks like us out) we did a little celebration. The sun started to rise as the Gulf of Mexico appeared on the horizon and it was an easy paddle until our canoe stopped dead in the mud!

Everglades Sign Post
Trusting your GPS to find this little post in the water is somewhat unnerving!

The Nightmare

Another of the spectacular features of the Wilderness Trail is the ‘Nightmare’. This aptly named canal winds its way through overgrown swamps with hanging mosses, and trees that seemed to be right out of Deliverance. The Nightmare is only navigable at medium to high tides, because at low tide there isn’t enough water to navigate safely under the branches. Our calculations were a bit off, which meant we had to paddle the Nightmare during ‘low’ to ‘medium’ tide! I lost a croc to the swamp and Heather worked on her limbo skills as we pushed, pulled and dodged the obstacles in our path. There’s no snakes in mangrove swamps is there?!

Everglades Nightmare
After the Nightmare: note the sticks and mud on Heather and the top of the canoe!

The Everglades are home to many rare and endemic creatures. While we had lovely views of the various bird species, and got up close and personal with some bugs we were not so fortunate with the other things that live here. We were unable to find alligators, manatees, or panthers, but we are sure they are close from the cacophony of sounds that emanate from the swamp during the night!

Everglades fauna
We shared the Chickee with this friend one night

As a result of not seeing these animals we know that they will be waiting for us on our return in the future, as this is definitely a ‘do-over’ trip!

Want to roam on your own adventure in the Everglades?

 

We recommend connecting with Everglades Hostel and Tours based in Florida City. These folks were friendly, and supportive. We rented the canoe from them and they provided transportation to the start and end of the trip. The Hostel is also within walking distance to a Walmart so you can purchase all your essentials there like peanut butter, water containers that the racoons can’t get into (there is no potable water on the route), and bug dope.

We also recommend you check out the National Park Service as they are always a good source of information.

Another great Resource for tips on gear and travel planning advice is our Resource Page!

Everglades View
Calm on the water
Post Author
Matt
Matt is 0.5 of the brains and energy behind this site. Matt has a serious travel problem that is only matched by his running problem. Fortunately, he has found a solution for both: destination marathons!

Comments

2 Comments
  1. posted by
    Juliann
    May 19, 2017 Reply

    I just saw a segment on Today about the growing number of Pythons in the Everglades. They’ve sent in hunters. I think I could deal with sharks, but definitely not pythons!

    • posted by
      Heather
      May 19, 2017 Reply

      Pythons?! Good thing Matt didn’t know about that when he was pushing the canoe through the Nightmare! That would also be the reason I didn’t get out of the boat unless we were on a Chickee or some other safe place that clearly didn’t have snakes! Thanks for reading.

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