We´ll begin the day at the Everglades visitor center for a brief orientation and an outline of the day´s itinerary. Today we´ll explore the brackish mangrove estuary where we´ll keep our eyes peeled for the shy manatees who gather in this warm estuary water. After a day of paddling in the peaceful landscape of the Everglades and snapping photos of the incredible wildlife, we´ll head back to Crooked Creek Chickee for a truly unique camping experience. “Chickee” is the native word for home and what Everglades National Park designates its elevated wooden camping platforms. Upon arrival, we will unload the boats and set up our first camp before enjoying a fresh and delicious dinner, including appetizers, local seafood, fresh salads, and desserts. With our extensive backcountry camping experience, we’ve learned that depending on bland dehydrated meals is not necessary. Once you´re ready to retire, you´ll experience a camping experience you´ll never forget – camping on the chickees allows the unique opportunity to sleep directly over the water listening to the manatees breathe and fish jump throughout the night. Your daily life and stresses will seem like a lifetime away as you sleep under the stars, surrounded by nothing but the gentle sound of nature.
Paddling distance: 10 miles. Lunch and dinner included.
This morning we awaken to a sunrise view over the water from inside our sleeping bags. After a hearty breakfast of pancakes, sausage, fresh fruit, juice and hot coffee, we break camp, load the boats and paddle a section of the famous Wilderness Waterway. This waterway is the only marked route through the entire length of the national park from Everglades City in the north to Flamingo in the south. It is routed for easy paddling, following protected inside creeks and shallow bays.
Our destination today is one of historic significance; the infamous Watson Place. The campsite here is located in a man made shell mound, originally built by the Calusa natives.
Paddling distance: 10 miles. All meals included.
There is no need to break camp and load the boats today. A second night at Watson Place allows us to fully explore this fascinating area. You may use this as a rest day and relax in a hammock under the shade of a tropical Gumbo Limbo tree, or if you’re interested in kayaking we´ll head deep into the interior of the Everglades to explore the Sweetwater River. Slowly, jungle will close in on us as we paddle upriver and the mangroves form a canopy overhead. These freshwater rivers are a favorite habitat of the timid American Alligator. We may catch a glimpse of several basking on the river banks before they silently slide into the water. This afternoon we’ll head back to our campsite with plenty of time to explore Watson Place on foot. The 38 acre shell mound has become completely overgrown with jungle and is unrecognizable as the sugarcane plantation it was during Watson’s days in the early 20th century. There are, however, still plenty of relics from those days hidden in the jungle waiting to be discovered.
Paddling distance: optional 8 miles. All meals included.
Prepare to paddle down the Chatham River out to the Gulf of Mexico, where dolphin, sea turtles and white pelicans are often in plain sight! We´ll set up camp on the beautiful sandy beach of Pavillion Key, one of the largest and most open of the islands. The powder soft and sparkling white sand is formed of calcium carbonate produced from the shells of marine animals, very different from the more familiar coarse tan sand found on Florida’s Atlantic beaches. In the evening, we can stretch our legs and shell hunt or simply enjoy a vibrant Florida sunset beside a blazing beach campfire.
Paddling distance: 8 miles. All meals included.
Before we head back to civilization, we´ll weave through the 10,000 Islands on our last paddle! This vast tangle of “islands” is actually a maze of mangrove trees growing in a shallow tidal estuary. At high tide the inaccessible islands are completely flooded and at low tide they are surrounded by boat trapping mud flats. The 10,000 Islands afford a fantastic opportunity to witness our abundant migratory and resident birdlife, including flocks of ibis, diving osprey and vibrant pink spoonbills. Your guide will gently lead you through this vast and remote landscape, weaving through the labyrinth of mangrove islands, before we end our trip back in Everglades City around 4:00PM.
Paddling distance: 12 miles. Breakfast and lunch included.