When picturing Florida, the endless miles of pristine beaches may be what first springs to mind. However, move away from the tourist trap beaches and a hidden world awaits. The waterways of the Everglades are filled with wildlife, from the lush vegetation of the mangrove swamps to animals such as manatees, dolphins, alligators, and birds that call it home. Kayaking is one of the best ways to discover the 1.5 million acres of natural beauty within Florida’s waterways.
Kayaking in the Everglades: 10 Tips for Beginners
1. When to Go
Plan to go during the dry season, which runs from November to March. This is local wintertime and means cooler temperatures and fewer bugs. The Floridian winters are pleasantly warm. You will spot a larger variety of wildlife, and it is prime tourism season, making it a lot more fun than visiting in the wet season. The wet season runs from April to November.
2. Visitor Centers
Stop by the Flamingo Visitor Centers, or the Gulf Coast Visitor Center if you’re near Everglade City. Here, you can find all the information you need to plan your kayak trip. They can help with all the planning involved with a kayak trip: renting equipment, purchasing permits, recommending guided tours, weather information, route planning, providing charts and maps, and much more.
3. Join a Group or Go It Alone
For beginners, it may be a good idea to join a guided tour. Quality guided tours are run by trained Florida Master Naturalists who spend their lives exploring the wilderness. They can provide a wealth of knowledge as they safely guide you through the awe-inspiring environment. Guided tours can also make things easier by providing equipment and any necessary passes, booking camp spots, and take route planning and navigation off your hands.
The National Park Service and many of these private tour providers will also rent equipment and provide knowledge for those who want to go it alone and do a self-guided paddle. Check in with these establishments or local visitor centers for more information on beginner-friendly routes, weather, tides, and conditions.
4. What to Pack
This obviously depends on if you’re planning a day trip or an overnighter, self-guided or guided tour. You want to pack light. Packing for paddling can be very similar to lightweight backpacking. Drinking water and plenty of it is essential; it is recommended to pack one gallon of water per day, per person. Bug repellent and sunscreen are other essential items, even in the dry season.
Be prepared for possible damp or wet conditions; waterproofs are a good idea. Dry bags will ensure your gear is kept dry no matter what happens. Avoid taking any valuables and pack any that you do bring safely inside the drybag. A waterproof case and strap for your cell phone may prove beneficial, as you’ll no doubt want to use its camera to capture the area’s breathtaking beauty.
Depending on the length of your paddle, you’ll need to pack a decent supply of food, overnight camping gear, torches, and a first aid kit. If you’re unsure about what to pack, speak to the staff at the visitor center who can advise on all the necessities, depending on your trip.
5. Safety Equipment
Make sure your boat has paddles, life jackets, a throwable float device, lines for tying up, and a whistle. For longer trips, it may be a good idea to back a radio.
The area is home to thousands of different species, many of which you can spot from the safety of your kayak. Seeing crocodiles and alligators can be an exciting and nerve-racking experience. The majority of the time, these animals will keep their distance. Just remember to stay calm, keep an eye on its location and behavior, and do not feed them.
If an alligator hisses, they are letting you know you are too close, continue to slowly move away. If an alligator swims towards your boat, stay calm, keep limbs in towards the center of the boat, and paddle away slowly. If it continues to follow, use a noisemaker such as your whistle. Above all, always respect the wildlife, this is their home, and you are a visitor.
Be sure to check the local weather forecast before departing on any paddling trip and plan accordingly. Avoid paddling in severe weather or lightning storms.
There are many routes that offer opportunities to explore the natural beauty of the area. Float through the mangrove forests, freshwater marshes, and Florida Bay’s open waters. Trips can take anywhere between a few hours to several days, depending on the trail. In the Flamingo region, The Nine Mile Pond offers five miles of beautiful kayak trails and is rated one of the best beginner trails.
In the Gulf Coast, Everglade City area, Turner River Canoe Trail is a visitor favorite. It can take a full day to paddle and offers outstanding scenery and ample wildlife spotting. Paddle boats can be launched from the Gulf Coast Visitor Center, Chokoloskee, or the Canoe Launch at Turner River.
9. Pack In, Pack Out
Make sure you do not leave any little during your travels. Any packaging, empty bottles, tissues, or litter of any kind must be carried back out with you. Take only photographs and leave only footprints.
10. Where to Stay
For beginner kayakers doing day paddles, there are many accommodation options. At Chokoloskee Island Park and Marina, we offer rental units that can comfortably accommodate up to ten people with full kitchens. We also offer RV sites with full hookups that can accommodate vehicles up to 30 feet. Situated just three miles from Everglade City, it’s the perfect spot to experience 10,000 Islands National Wildlife Refuge, Shark Valley, and all the local charm and wildlife.
Paddling through the magical Florida waterways will prove to be an unforgettable experience. Complement your paddle trip by staying at Chokoloskee Island Park and Marina. After a hard day’s paddle, it is the perfect spot to sit back, relax and enjoy the easy living and natural beauty of Chokoloskee Island and the National Parks.