12 Things You Should Know Before Setting into the Everglades

Guess what, guys? We just sent our wilderness guides into the Florida Everglades, to recon it in preparation for adding it to our list of 2016 destinations. How cool is that?!

Our guides fell absolutely in love with the glades! Want a sneak peak at Kara’s take on their adventures? Follow this link https://ablurredreflection.wordpress.com/2015/02/22/but-he-always-offers....

Are you hooked? You can join us in the next adventure, or plan one yourself! Here is a list of 12 things you need to know for planning your own Everglades excursion!

The most pleasant time to explore the park is December through March. The nights are cool, which helps to keep the armies of blood-sucking bugs at bay. This is also the dry season.

The busiest season in the park is the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and the week before and after President’s Day. If you plan to visit during this time, reserve your front country campsites or hotel rooms several months in advance. Backcountry permits need to be reserved when you arrive.

The summer season stretches from April to November, and is not an ideal time to explore the park, because of mosquitoes and rain. Not all campsites remain open, and no reservations are necessary for the frontcountry campsites at Long Pine Key and Flamingo. If you plan to enter the backcountry, permits are free, but you still need to reserve your sites when you arrive.

Experienced paddlers know better than to enter the back country without good maps, a compass, binoculars, and a solid understanding of how to use them all. The only fully marked trail through the Everglades is the Wilderness Waterway, which runs from Gulf Coast to Flamingo, mainly through the backcountry interior. However, even if you do follow this trail, you cannot count solely on channel markers to guide you because of fog and other weather factors.

Practice navigation ahead of time by taking an orienteering class, or by navigating open water with the use of a nautical chart. Know how to orient a map, how to use a compass with a map to shoot a bearing, and how to navigate open water when there is no landmark in sight. The only way to truly learn how to navigate is to actually do it… so go on, get a’going!

Paddlers may obtain permits 24 hours before setting out on the water, no earlier. This means that you will not be able to finalize your itinerary until you arrive at the park and talk to a ranger. The rangers are very helpful at both Flamingo and Gulf Coast, and will give you information on good routes to take if you ask.
Research the park beforehand, and the distances between campsites. Come up with an itinerary or two beforehand, so that all you need to do at the ranger station is tweak it. A favorite resource of mine for campsite reviews is http://www.evergladesdiary.com/. You can print a poster-size map of the area from http://www.nps.gov/ever/planyourvisit/upload/Ever_park-Map-FY10.pdf. A printable version of the Everglades trip planner is available at http://www.nps.gov/ever/planyourvisit/upload/Wilderness-Trip-Planner-201..., and includes a map of campsite distances.

The closer you are to the coast, the greater influence the tides will have on your travel. You can find tide forecasts at http://saltwatertides.com/dynamic.dir/floridagulfsites.html. The tides will affect the way you plan your route more than any other factor, and the winds come at a close tie for second. The third factor in planning your route will be the campsite availability. For this reason, look up tide and weather forecasts for the regions you plan to pass through, and use them to plan your itinerary.

Winds pick up in the Gulf at 2:00 p.m.. Unless you have a craft suited for 3+ foot swells, be off the big water before then!

If the forecast states “North winds” or “Winds from the north” that means the wind will be blowing you south. Likewise, north-east winds would be blowing you towards the south-west, west winds would be blowing you towards the east, and so on. A simple fact, but it’s easy to get confused about the direction the wind will actually be blowing.

Another good tip to know is that 1 knot equals 1.151 mph.

Generally, the prevailing winds in Florida Bay are from the north-east (which means they would be blowing you towards the south-west.) For this reason, most people try not to come towards Flamingo from the west coast.

Each canoe is required to be equipped with:
• Coast guard approved life vests for each person
• A whistle or other sound-producing device
• Light for operating at night

Each canoe will also need:
• an anchor
• a spare paddle,
• a bailer (have it easily accessible!)
• bow and stern lines
• waterproof bags for gear and a rope to tie them in during rough water
• flares
• a nautical chart (The best charts are waterproof. You can write on them with a sharpie marker, and clean them off with an alcohol wipe at the end of the day. The ranger stations are sometimes sold out of their best maps, so you may want to order one ahead of time at http://dev.waterproofcharts.com/everglades-and-10000-islands-chart-detai... or http://www.nauticalcharts.com/everglades-and-10000-islands-chart-details... )
• A compass
• A tide chart
• Waterproof binoculars (a high-power set of waterproof binoculars are a necessary navigation tool for spotting far-off landmarks.)

• Tent with “no-see-um” netting—must be free standing for chickees. Be aware that a single chickee platform is 11’ by 12’, so choose tent size accordingly. Bring lines to tie your tent down! Winds can be strong, and it’s no fun to see your tent blow off the platform and sink into the bay… trust me  Similarly, bring strong sand pegs for the beach sites and wind-proof your tent before leaving it! It is also no fun to see your tent blowing out to sea 
• Sleeping bag. I like a bag with a full zipper. Temperatures change dramatically, and mummy bags just aren’t very convertible.
• Sleeping pad for chickees. Insulating winter pads are ideal because they will not only keep you warm during a freak cold snap, but chickees are just plain hard, and you’ll appreciate the extra padding.
• The air in the Glades is humid, and if your tent is fully closed at night, the inside walls will rapidly collect condensation. The best way to sleep on a clear night is to leave your tent well ventilated, and keep warm layers nearby in case you become cold in the night.

Water and Food
• Water. Bring one gallon per person per day. No fresh water is available in the backcountry. Water must be stored in hard-shelled, critter-proof containers. Animals are desperate for fresh water, and will peck through thin plastic without a second thought.
• Food. Bring an extra day’s supply. It’s also handy to pack a breakfast or two that do not need to be cooked. This will give you flexibility if you need to rise before dawn to catch the tide.
• Raccoon-proof storage container for food, water and trash. Raccoons are prevalent at all beach and ground sites, and will come within 4 feet of you without fear. Rascally bandits.

• Portable gas stove or gas grill
• Fuel for stove
• Waterproof matches and lighter
• Cooking gear and utensils
• Biodegradable soap (Not allowed in the water. Grey water needs to be filtered through the soil, so bring a container to tote it to an appropriate site.)
• Strong plastic bags for storing trash

• Rain gear
• Cold and warm weather clothing. Be aware that temps could drop to the 40’s, and even 30’s at night during a cold snap. I like my cold-weather layer to be down, because it packs light and compactly, but still swings a heavy-duty insulation punch if needed!
• Lightweight long-sleeve shirt and pants for sun and bug protection
• Wide-brimmed hat. Be sure it will stay on! My grandfather’s trucker hat is now somewhere in Whitewater Bay, thanks to a storm system that spawned high winds and waves. I was sad that I didn’t have a spare… the Florida sun is intense!

Personal Equipment
• First aid kit. Because of the humidity in the park, lacerations heal very slowly. Be sure you have the right tools on hand to keep them clean and disinfected.
• Flashlight and spare batteries
• Wristwatch for calculating tides
• Sunglasses
• Sunscreen
• Insect repellent
• Weather radio for weather forecasts
• Knife
• Personal items. There is no fresh water to wash up in—wet wipes are a handy little accessory, and the only way to actually feel salt-free 

• Trowel for burying human waste
• All toilet paper must be packed out.
• Outhouses are usually stocked with toilet paper, but don’t count on it!

When you arrive, you will need to obtain:
• Wilderness permit
• Wilderness regulations
• Fishing license and regulations
• Weather forecast

The nemesis of the most beautiful times of day in the park—sunrise and sunset—are mosquitos and no-see-‘ems! Stay ahead of their blood-sucking plans by donning long, baggy pants and a long-sleeve shirt one hour before dusk and dawn. Have a no-see-em-proof head net that covers your entire face and neck. Mosquitos will bite through tent walls or tight-fitting clothing, and no-see-‘ems will actually crawl into your clothing if they get the chance. Don’t let it happen!

Double chickees are an ideal size for a group of 6-8 people, but they actually are meant for twelve! Similarly, the smaller ground and beach sites can become crowded as well. If you’d like solitude, or at least space to breathe, it is well worth your time and money to split your group into two parties to enable you to reserve multiple campsites per night.


Backcountry Camping:
Winter permits are available on-site at the Flamingo and Gulf Coast Visitor Centers, and may be bought up to 24 hours before hitting the water. Cost is $10.00 per permit plus $2.00 per person, per night. If you have a group of 12, you would need 2 permits because most max group sizes are 6 people, so your price per night would be $44.00. If you want extra space, you could divide your group of 12 into three groups of 4, which would up the cost to $54.00 per night.

Frontcountry Camping:
Long Pine Key is located 7 miles outside of the park entrance, and just outside of Homestead, Florida, and is open November thru May. Group sites (up to 15 people) are available after November 20 for $30.00 per night, and need to be reserved in advance at http://www.reserveamerica.com/. Individual sites (up to 8 people) are available on a first come, first serve basis for $16.00 per night. Long Pine Key offers fresh water, bathrooms, picnic area with fire grates, no wood for sale, no showers. Contact the campground for more information at 305-242-7873.
Flamingo Campground is located near the Flamingo Visitor Center, on the shores of Florida Bay. Frontcountry campsite nightly fees are $16.00. You can reserve a group site for up to 15 people, which are $30.00 per night at http://www.reserveamerica.com/ or by calling 1-877-444-6777. Fresh water, bathrooms, showers, store on site. Reviews for this campground are not as favorable as the ones for Long Pine Key.

Well... from us, of course! You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more reasonable offer!  But, if push really does come to shove, here are a few other options. You will need I.D. and a major credit card for most of the below rentals.

Ivey House, Everglades City FL. $35 per canoe, plus $29 per canoe for each additional day. Shuttles start at $420. http://evergladesadventures.com/canoes or call 877-567-0679

Everglades Kayak Company, Everglades City FL. $50 per kayak, plus an additional $10 - $25 charge for each additional day. http://evergladeskayakcompany.com/ or call 239-262-6149

There’s some good fish to be had all through the park, if you take the time to catch ‘em! Look for areas where osprey and pelicans are hanging out. Fishing is best in the morning, or evening.

Near Gulf Coast:
Follow the marina to a narrow trail which will bring you to Copeland Avenue. On the north side of the Oyster House, there is a small general store which has a large variety of fishing tackle. At the marina behind the general store, there is a shrimp shop where you can buy live shrimp for bait.

Near Flamingo:
Rick’s Yellow Bait House, 35412 South Dixie Highway, Florida City, Florida, (305) 245-5550

AT&T has service within the park, and many places within the backcountry. Verizon faded out of service immediately upon entering the park.
Weather radio service was good throughout the park.

Showers are available at the Flamingo Campground, but only if you are already paying the fee to camp there. There are no showers at Long Pine Key.

There is a Pilot truck stop at 6050 Plaza Dr off I-75 Exit 139 Luckett Rd, in Fort Myers, FL that offers hot showers for $12 each. Groups can share a shower, so if you have time and want to take turns, you can save the extra cash.