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.
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
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.(?)
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!
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?!
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!
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!