10 days at Flamingo in Everglades National Park…
Why we came…
To kayak and fish the Flamingo area of Everglades National Park!
Flamingo Campground was great!
As we pulled into the campground, we stopped to fill our fresh water tank. I hopped out and was immediately swarmed by aggressive mosquitos. The 85 degree heat and 85% humidity also slapped me in the face. It seemed to take forever to fill our 65 gallon water tank as I dripped sweat and swatted continuously at the flying blood suckers! We also noticed numerous vultures circling low overhead and perched nearby. We had been warned and saw Park Service signs that said the large birds can do damage to vehicles, RVs, and boats. The birds were always nearby and we were always conscious of them, but thankfully, they left our stuff alone.
The camp sites were huge, mostly level, and paved. All sites had electric, but not water or wastewater dump. However, there were two centralized dump stations that also had potable water. Half way through our ten day stay, we dragged our trailer to the dump station to empty and fill our fresh water tank. There were two bath and shower buildings in our loop and they were well maintained. Because we didn’t have full hook-ups, we used the showers a couple of times. Surprisingly, the water was chilly, but it was refreshing after spending all day in the kayaks. There was nothing to block satellite in most sites. There was no Verizon cell phone service and no nearby wi-fi. There was also no laundry facility. Midway through our stay, we drove 40 miles to Homestead to wash dirty clothes, check phone and email, and to buy groceries.
The campground was just over a mile from the Visitor Center and Marina. We walked there often. Unless it was windy, the mosquitos pestered us incessantly. There was always something new along the route. We really enjoyed seeing pelicans and ospreys make splashy dives to catch a fish dinner. We went to the Visitor Center nearly every day to check weather and tides. Then we’d walk along the marina to spot manatees and watch big crocodiles sunning themselves on the boat ramp. It was such a cool place!
After spending 10 chaotic days camped at Disney World, Flamingo Campground and Everglades National Park were gloriously peaceful.
We were treated to wonderful sunrises and sunsets nearly every day!
On 11 December we kayaked the Buttonwood Canal to Coot Bay…
Gusty winds and rough water limited our options the first time out. We headed to the marina, gave the big crocodile on the boat ramp a wide berth, and paddled up the calm Buttonwood Canal. The man-made canal is the southern end of the 99 mile long “Wilderness Waterway”. The waterway provides small boats, canoes, and kayaks, a spectacular north south route from Everglades City to Flamingo.
Our goal was Coot Bay, a little more than three miles up the canal. The canal averages 25-30 feet wide and is lined on both sides with thick mangroves. This section gets lots of boat traffic which can be uncomfortable for canoers and kayakers. Thankfully, the boaters were courteous and slowed to a crawl each time they passed us. Otherwise, the water was smooth and it was an enjoyable adventure. Other than the crocodiles near the boat ramp and the impenetrable mangroves, we didn’t see much. However, we hooked a bunch of small ladyfish! They were in a feeding frenzy where the canal entered Coot Bay…it was pretty exciting!
Unfortunately, we were not in “paddling shape”…6.4 miles and a few hours of paddling kicked our butts!
Kayak route through Buttonwood Canal / Night Heron hanging out on the dock
Pointing to a manatee swimming by the marina / We launched near this 12 foot long crocodile!
Mangroves in Buttonwood Canal
On 12 December we wandered around the Flamingo area…
It was still a bit windy and we were sore from paddling so we did a couple of walks around the Flamingo area. The first part of our route led us along a small stretch of Florida Bay. We saw more ospreys than we have seen anywhere else! We watched a couple of them dive for fish, and saw a couple more perched on old trees, eating fish. Then the trail went through a narrow path in the mangroves. The wind was blocked, and the mosquitos swarmed. We kept an out eye for snakes and other reptiles, but didn’t see any. Thankfully, the trailed popped out on the Bay by the Visitor Center. We sat in the shade at a picnic table and watched an amazing number of various birds feeding on the expansive tidal flats. Then we watched manatees slowly cruise around the marina and a couple of crocodiles hanging out near the boat ramp. All of this was just a mile and half from our home…incredible!
An osprey eating a fish / A red shouldered hawk
Manatee by the marina / A turtle slowly crossing the road
Brown pelicans and a kayaker in Florida Bay
On 13 December we did a Ranger led tour of the Nine Mile Pond Canoe Trail…
The wind persisted so we looked for a sheltered inland kayak route. We were in luck! While at the Visitor Center, we signed up for a Ranger-led trip along the Nine Mile Pond Canoe Trail.
We met at 7:45am and gathered around our Ranger Brian for guidance. There were 12 of us with a wide range of canoe/kayak experience, from multiple countries. We were the only ones with our own gear. The Park Service provided the necessary equipment for everyone else.
We hopped in our vessels and headed across the first lake. Just like the Ranger said, those that had little experience were nearly experts by the time they paddled to the far end. That was good because we next headed into the mangroves.
We squeezed through the narrow passage, twisting, turning, and ducking as we went. It wasn’t easy, but it was fun! Ranger Brian gathered us together in a few of the open spots and talked to us about the ecosystem, geology, and history of the area. It was quite interesting!
Then our route really opened up. We paddled across extensive grasslands in about 18 inches of water. There were tree islands dotted here and there, but it looked like we were on land, not water!
After paddling through grasslands, we entered the mangroves again. We snaked through the narrow tunnel and popped out onto the first of two, deep man-made ponds. A couple of big crocodiles and alligators resided in the ponds and we hoped to spot them. Sadly, they eluded us. Shortly after, our adventure ended and we all thanked Ranger Brian…it was great!
Kayak route through the Nine Mile Pond Canoe Trail / Getting briefed by Ranger Brian
Our Ranger guide / Following Ranger Brian into the mangrove maze
A mangrove slalom course
Kayaking through the grass
On 14 December we kayaked to Frank Key in Florida Bay…
Finally, the winds calmed and the seas smoothed. It was time to explore Florida Bay!
We launched at the Flamingo marina and paddled over three miles to Frank Key. Storm clouds brewed in the distance, but thankfully, they stayed away. We were amazed at all of the birds. And when we paddled over the extensive shallow grass flats, little fish bolted in every direction.
It took us awhile to make it to Frank Key. A 5-10mph headwind and incoming tide made it tough. We lost ground each time we rested. (It actually shows up in our route below.) As we neared the key, the water flowed even stronger, but when we got on the leeside, the mangrove covered island blocked both the tide and light breeze.
We were eager to fish and set up near the eddy swirling around the point…a great spot to fish! Immediately we got hits, but had trouble hooking them. We ended up catching a few snapper, and some small jacks. We saw sting rays “fly” through the clear water. I had an opportunity to hook a four foot long shark, but got excited and yanked the lure out of its face. It would have been cool to be towed around by the prehistoric predator, but then what? It would have been very difficult to release from kayak!
The paddle back was easier, but the tide was going out and the water was slowly dropping below us. The extensive grass flats that were covered by 20 inches of water on the way out, now were covered by only 12 inches of water. Our paddles scooped through the barely submerged grass and occasionally hit the muddy bottom. If it got much shallower, we would have to detour to the boat channel. Thankfully, we made it with no problem, but nearly seven miles of paddling wore us out!
Kayak route to Frank Key / An ibis and a roseate spoonbill
Thankfully that storm didn’t hit us!
Cormorants keeping their eyes peeled for a fish snack
American white pelicans near Frank Key
An eagle being harassed by a crow
Arleen fighting a mangrove snapper / Me fighting a small jack
On 16 December we kayaked to Bradley Key in Florida Bay…
After the previous tough paddle, we wanted something shorter and easier so we followed the shore to Bradley Key. The tide and winds were with us on the way out. We fished, paddles in our laps, as we were pushed along in the right direction. We just hooked a couple of small fish and enjoyed watching ospreys and pelicans dive bomb the water nearby.
Bradley Key is one of the few islands near Flamingo that you can actually step foot on (per the National Park rules). We paddled to the point, got out of our kayaks and stretched…it felt so good! It also looked like a great place to fish. It was turbulent as small waves swirled with inbound and outbound currents. I paddled a little ways into the wind and waves and let them push me across the point. Sure enough…fish on! It fought better than the others we had hooked and I got excited. It was a small (18-20 inches long) barracuda…my first one! I grabbed the line and spotted a mouth full of intimidating teeth. I used pliers to carefully remove the hook, posed for a couple of pictures, and sent it on its way. We both caught a couple more small barracuda and I caught a nice ladyfish and then we headed back.
The paddle back was tough! The wind and waves were in our faces and we crawled along at about a mile per hour. We detoured to watch a few bright colored roseate spoonbills feed in the shallows. They are such pretty birds.
We were glad to turn into the protected waters of the marina. I put my paddle in my lap and snacked as I drifted very slowly to the ramp. Then a manatee surfaced right next to me! It was a great way to end the adventure.
Kayak route to Bradley Key / A jellyfish
Near Bradley Key
A mangrove snapper / A small barracuda…look at those teeth! / A nice ladyfish
Carefully releasing a small, but toothy barracuda
Roseate spoonbills enjoying a feast
On 17 December we kayaked into Snake Bight…
Snake Bite is a large protected area within Florida Bay. No motors are allowed so the marine critters can thrive in a more natural environment. The area is notorious for large numbers of a wide variety of birds, and all kinds of sea life. It’s also known for great fishing! Huge numbers of fish congregate in the fertile waters and they are more cooperative when motorboats aren’t buzzing over their heads.
We had a stiff headwind again and were glad to get on the leeside of Joe Kemp Key. We fished along the calm side and caught a few snappers. We were rested as we got to the corner of the island and headed back into the wind.
It got a little rougher as we passed the “Pole/Troll Zone” sign indicating the protected waters of Snake Bite. Unfortunately, the wind and waves were more than we wanted to deal with so we didn’t explore too much. We paddled to the nearest channel marker where I tied up and Arleen tied to me.
We spotted a big turtle while we were fishing. Its head popped up a few times a hundred feet away. We hooked a bunch of fish! They were nearly all sea trout 10-14 inches long.
We untied and planned to fish as we drifted back towards Joe Kemp Key with the wind and waves. After a few minutes, I noticed that we were going backwards! The tide was going out and it was surprisingly stronger than the wind and waves. We grabbed our paddles and easily made it to the calm side of the key.
The water continued to drop as the tide flushed. We were in a foot of water again and paddling through the sea grass. We stopped to drift a couple of times and both of us spotted 3-4 foot long sharks cruising through the grass. One unseen shark spooked in the shallow water just a couple of feet from my kayak and nearly gave me a heart attack as it kicked up a big swirl and splashed!
We only experienced a sliver of Snake Bite and it was great!
Kayak route to Snake Bight
Entering Snake Bight…"Use of combustion motors prohibited”
A mangrove snapper / A sea trout
On 18 December we kayaked to Mud Lake…
Winds and rain showers were expected to increase so we left early. We read the Park Service signs at the Coot Bay Ponds while we gathered our gear. Arleen donned her head net because the mosquitos were relentless. We took the warning about alligators seriously but really hoped to spot one.
We paddled to the other side of the small pond and it looked completely enclosed by mangroves. Really…there’s a passage some place?!? Then we spotted the trail marker and headed into the mangrove tunnel.
It was spooky. In our imaginations there were alligators and snakes everywhere, but we didn’t see any. We did see a whole bunch of mosquitos and fed a few of them. We paddled faster to leave the skeeters behind, but it didn’t work until we popped out in Coot Bay.
We paddled a mile and a half across the south end of Coot Bay. Like the first trail maker, we had to look pretty hard to spot the Mud Lake Canoe trail marker. Fish jumped along the mangroves lining the cove so we grabbed our rods. We hooked a few fish but never saw or landed any. Something big kept attacking bait fish at the trail entrance into the mangroves. It was spooky and exciting. I made a bunch of casts, but the mystery critter never hit my lure.
We put our rods away and nosed slowly into the mangroves. Again, our imaginations ran wild, especially after seeing large swirls and bait fish jumping for their lives! Now in a tight space, we didn’t want to see an alligator so we banged our paddles against our kayaks. There were either no gators or our ruckus worked…we didn’t see any. However, the mosquitos swarmed again so we were glad to pop out in the open of Mud Lake.
We fished a bit as we got blown around the small mangrove islands. Other than a whole bunch of noisy ibises, we didn’t see much and didn’t get any bites. As forecast, the winds increased and showers threatened so we headed back.
We retraced our route with minimal stops and didn’t see anything new. The rain showers stayed away, but the mosquitos didn’t!
Kayak route to Mud Lake / Watch out for alligators!
“No motors allowed”…just the way we like it!
Paddling through the mangroves is fun and spooky
On 19 December we took a break!
After kayaking 7 out of the last 9 days and paddling 31.5 miles, our bodies were tired. We relaxed through the morning, and then after lunch, walked to the Visitor Center. We watched two Ranger talks and lingered awhile at the “Flamingo Mobile Museum”.
First, we learned a lot about differences and behaivior of crocodiles and alligators. Shortly into Ranger Tim’s talk, as if on cue, a crocodile swam within 50 feet of our group! We were surprised that alligators are more dangerous than the crocs. In fact, American alligators are rated the third most dangerous reptile! Ranger Tim lingered to answer questions for a good 45 minutes after his talk. We had an in-depth discussion about specific incidents with gators and crocs and discussed the python problem. Rangers are a wealth of information and we were very grateful to spend so much time with him!
Then we walked over to the “Flamingo Mobile Museum”. An exhibit was set up on two folding tables. Items like bird beaks, skeletons, bones, and snake hide replicas were numbered in a nice display. We guessed at the items and the Ranger shared all kinds of additional details and answered our questions.
Our final stop was a Ranger talk about the raptors that live in Everglades National Park. The two main ones are bald eagles and ospreys, though there are others. It was another informative talk.
We learned a bunch in three hours. And our appreciation for the Rangers and Everglades National Park grew immensely!
Learning about crocodiles and alligators from Ranger Tim / The crocodile swallowed Arleen!
A Ranger talk about raptors in the Everglades / Learning about birds, snakes, manatees, and other critters
We are settled near Marathon in the middle Florida Keys. We’ll be here another 10 days, and then we head to Key Largo for nearly three weeks.
The mosquito meter declared it “Horrible”…we agreed! / Just a few of the many mosquito bites we had