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Paddle The Everglades' Wilderness Waterway

Ochopee, Florida


Added by Mike Quine

The single greatest endurance odyssey within the Everglades National Park. A 99+ mile canoe/kayak route that runs the full north-south length of the park boundaries. The beginning and ending terminus are certain but your route through the web of mangrove mazes can be uniquely your own. 

The Wilderness Waterway in the Everglades National Park can be navigated either by kayak or canoe. This is an endurance voyage that typically takes upwards of 10 days if you are solo-canoeing. The voyage can take significantly less time if using a kayak or a multi-person powered canoe. This route is not recommended for novice canoes given both the length of the journey but also the absolute need to be able to read nautical charts (GPS may not be reliable).

*A word of caution, though there are many alligators along this route, getting lost is a far more likely scenario to ensure immediate danger. If you do get lost, follow the sun to the west and make your way to the Gulf of Mexico to re-calibrate your position.*

The Wilderness Waterway can be started in either the north or south terminus of the park. If starting in the north, the Waterway begins from the Chokoloskee Island just sound of Everglades City. There are many inlets and marina's on the island that are suitable launch points into the water though one recommended start point is the Chokoloskee Island Park and Marina boat launch. Once underway, within the first mile, you will enter into the contained water system of the Everglades.

If starting in the north, you will reach the end at the Flamingo Visitor Center. However, along the way, your daily end points can be based on your expertise and pace level. There are many backcountry sites and chickees (water platforms) along the way at spaced out intervals that can accommodate any type of pace. It is important and required to fill out a wilderness permit at one of the Park's visitor centers. This will ensure you are guaranteed a spot over the course of several nights - you do not want to be stuck in the Everglades sitting idly by. As a rule of thumb, averaging 10 miles a day allows time to be flexible with the ever-changing tides and still avoid paddling at night fall - the mosquitoes' prime feeding time.

There ARE gators along the Wilderness Waterway. Lots of them. It is possible that you will be within arms reach of a gator when navigating through some of the narrow water passages (i.e. Alligator Creek - aptly named). You may even run over them with your canoe - unavoidably so. Be thankful that Alligators are NOT crocodiles. Though gators are less aggressive then their dinosaur-ish cousin, caution should be exercised NOT to provoke them.

If done successfully, this has the potential to be one of the single most rewarding challenges in your life. So good luck and be safe!

*Pro Tip: Understand tides, tide charts, currents, and plan your daily start/end times methodically.  Also, the Everglades Hostel in Homestead, FL offers canoe rentals and a great place to sleep prior to launch or after your hopeful return.

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