Mother-son canoeing in the Everglades

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
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Mother-son canoeing in the Everglades

Mother-son canoeing in the Everglades
Question: My 8-year-old son and I are planning a three-day canoe trip into the Everglades the week of December 21. We are veteran desert backpackers, but haven't been in a canoe for years. How difficult will it be for us to canoe the Wilderness Waterway for three days? We are in reasonable shape but I am 44 and my shoulders are a bit older than that. Also, where can I get more specific information on the specific habitat areas for various wildlife? My son is keen to see it all, of course, but we will need to make choices.

Beth Haas
Tucson, AZ

Adventure Adviser: The Wilderness Waterway is a 99-mile route stretching from Flamingo in the south and the Gulf Coast in the north. The entire trip takes approximately nine days by canoe, but it may be possible to make camp the first night, do a day trip the second day, and go back to the same camp on the second night.

There are a number of campsites along the route as well as numbered markers guiding you through the mangrove forests, which will make it easier for you to navigate your own way.

You should, however, check in with the Everglades National Park Office (40001 State Road 9336, Homestead, FL 33034-6733; 305-242-7700) and ask them how difficult this stretch of water can be. It might be scary to have little experience and get caught in big weather.

You'll also need to pick up a backcountry permit at the Flamingo or Gulf Coast visitor center and buy a set of nautical charts. To rent a canoe and get some unofficial park advice, stop at Everglades Canoe Outfitters (305-246-1530) at 39801 Ingraham Highway (the road between Homestead and Flamingo).

Because you haven't been in a canoe for awhile, I'd also suggest refamiliarizing yourself with the tippy craft and be sure to bring life jackets, paddles, a bailer, bow and stern lines, waterproof bags for gear, a tide chart, water, a long shirt, sunglasses, long pants to protect you from the sun, and insect repellent.

December is the busiest time of the year for the park, so you may run into many other paddlers but, luckily, you won't run into many mosquitoes.

As far as wildlife viewing goes, the best areas are Shark Valley, the Anhinga Trail (at Royal Palm), and Eco Pond (1 mile past the Flamingo visitor center, where you'll likely start out on your canoe journey).

You'll probably see alligators (relatively benign to humans if you keep a safe distance), wading birds, and other freshwater wildlife such as bald eagles.

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