Everglades City is a fishing town that grew up around the Barron River, and that waterway is still the best way to appreciate this unspoiled historic outpost. A kayak trip on the Barron River also lets you sample a few of the nearest of the 10,000 Islands and get a bite-sized taste of this vast wilderness.
I took a three-hour kayak trip through Calusa Kayak Outfitters, based on the Barron River in Everglades City, on the docks next to City Seafood. These new outfitters specialize in family-oriented guided kayak trips, but they also rent kayaks for unguided explorers.
Someday I’ll paddler farther, explore more and camp overnight. For a daytrip from Fort Lauderdale, though, this kayak outing was perfect. My Florida Rambler partner Bob loves camping on these islands and he called my kayak outing “tame.” Yup. And sometimes that’s exactly what you’re looking for.
We started with fresh Florida grouper sandwiches ($10.95) at City Seafood, one of several Everglades City restaurants known for stone crab and local fish.
Always check the tides first
We started our trip about two hours before low tide, which was perfect. We had a bit of current on our way out into the bay and never had to battle the tide.
The tides are famously strong here, so you definitely want to plan your trip with that in mind. Check the tides here. (If you are confused about best times, discuss your timing with either Captain Jason Sine or Rich Jones, the two guys behind Calusa Kayak.)
Our return paddle was against a strong breeze, and so was not nearly as easy as on the way out. If you’re not an experienced kayaker, it’s best to be conservative in how far you go.
Paddling through historic Everglades City
Everglades City is a tiny town – 400 residents were counted in the 2010 census. Perhaps the lack of population growth has helped save the old cottages and houses that dot the town. As you kayak down the Barron River, you can appreciate the picturesque buildings, tall palms and abundant bird life. My husband is a fan of derelict boats, and there are several specimens that add to the local color.
The most impressive of these historic buildings is the Rod and Gun Club, built by the 1920s developer Barron Collier, who bought up so much land in southwest Florida that a new county was created in 1923 and named after him. The stately club, all dark wood and pecky cypress inside, still operates as a hotel and also serves lunch and dinner.
Be aware: One of the airboat operators takes guests out the Barron River into Chokoloskee Bay. There is also other power boat traffic. Stay near either shore and you’ll be fine.
Exploring the 10,000 Islands
As you leave the Barron River, the 10,000 Islands open up to you with a sweeping view of water, sky and dots of green. The first of the islands begin right in the mouth of the Barron River. These are spoil islands created by the dredging of the channel, but these dots, thick with mangroves, are wild places now, full of bird life. Among these easy-to-access islands is one with a sandy beach that could be a picnic destination.
We paddled on to see additional small islands ringed with oyster bars, where the trees are coated with guano from the abundant pelicans and cormorants. In the distance, we saw a school of dolphins. Mullets jumped and ospreys hovered overhead. Each manatee speed-zone sign was home to an elaborate nest occupied by ospreys.
The 10,000 Island National Wildlife Refuge is a vast maze – 35,000 acres, two-thirds of it mangrove forest. the largest mangrove forest left in the United States. The islands are uninhabited, except for Chokoloskee, an island connected to Everglades City via causeway and home to the must-visit historic Smallwood Store.
On our kayak trip, we didn’t get deep into the 10,000 Islands, but that’s OK. I figure I have 9,989 islands to go – plenty of places calling to me to explore.
About Calusa Kayak Outfitters
Two local residents, Rich Jones, the fishing guide behind kayakfishingtheeverglades.com, and Captain Jason Sine, a naturalist, have opened Calusa Kayak Outfitters on the docks outside City Seafood. Half-day rentals like I did are $45 person person and start at either 9 a.m. or 1 p.m.
Their real specialty, though, is naturalist-guided tours and they make a point of their special rates for families. (Kids under 12 are free and those 12 to 18 are half price.) There are a variety of trips available, starting with two-hour tours for $80 per person. These can be either kayaking through mangrove tunnels, tours starting at Everglades National Park or a history tour on the Barron River in Everglades City. The outfitters also offer three-hour sunset rookery tours ($100 each) and half-day ours ($125 each.)
- Calusa Kayak Outfitters
- 702 Begonia St.
- Everglades City
If you are ready for a bigger adventure than my “tame” kayak tour, consider Bob’s favorite outing: Kayaking and camping on Indian Key. This trip follows the same channel I was exploring to the outer islands.
Everglades City is also home to the Gulf Coast Visitor Center of Everglades National Park, where you can take a narrated group boat tour into the 10,000 Islands that follows the same channel. I’ve taken the boat tour with visiting family and it’s a good no-paddle alternative: I have seen dolphins follow the boat’s wake, many birds and enjoyed the naturalist’s narration.
You also can rent canoes and kayaks at the Gulf Coast Visitor Center or use the docks there to launch your own.
Everglades City is full of eco-tour operators and several offer similar outings.
For a short kayak outing, I liked leaving from Everglades City because I enjoyed the views from the Barron River and the quicker access to a few islands. From the Gulf Coast Visitor Center, you have a long paddle before you reach the first of the islands.
There are no other public ramps in Everglades City, however there may be some places along the river where you could get away with launching a kayak. (And Rich and Jason say you can launch your own kayak from their docks if you like.)
Another good option for short trips into the 10,000 Islands is to launch from Smallwood Store in Chokoloskee. From there, many islands are a short paddle away.
More things to do near Everglades City
- Everglades Seafood Festival
- Historic Smallwood Store in Chokoloskee
- Eating stone crabs in Everglades City
- Guide to Tamiami Trail
- Shark Valley entrance to Everglades National Park
- Clyde Butcher’s Big Cypress Gallery
- Ochopee Post Office
- Joanie’s Blue Crab Cafe
- Big Cypress National Preserve
- Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk
- Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park
Nearby RV and/or tent camping:
- Collier Seminole State Park
- Glades Haven
- Chokoloskee Island Park
- Outdoor Resorts of Chokoluskee Island
- Big Cypress Preserve — 6 campgrounds