Kayak through Everglades for quiet beauty and wildlife

The view along Everglades National Park Nine Mile Pond canoe trail
The view along Everglades National Park Nine Mile Pond canoe trail.

A canoe or kayak trail at Everglades National Park is a perfect way to surround yourself with the sights, sounds and creatures of the Everglades. Even on a busy, sunny Sunday afternoon in January, you can be alone in the wild on these trails and hear nothing but the swish of the reeds against your boat.

Mangrove tunnel along Everglades National Park Nine Mile Pond canoe trail

Crocodile along Everglades National Park Nine Mile Pond canoe trail
Crocodile, estimated to be 15 feet long, on Nine Mile Pond canoe trail

Nine Mile Pond canoe trail is one of a half-dozen paddling trails in Everglades National Park. It’s about eight miles short of Flamingo, the end of the main road in the park. It’s a 5-mile loop that will take four or five hours to paddle.

The scenery is serene and lovely — a vast shallow marsh spiked with mangrove islands, sawgrass and the occasional tree island. Some tight mangrove tunnels provide a fun challenge — long kayak paddles will barely fit.

Thank goodness the trail is well-marked with white PVC-pipe markers. One mangrove island looks a lot like the next and the scenery goes on as far as you can see. I don’t believe you’d find your way back without those markers.

On our paddle, we spotted a few wading birds, but, frankly, we saw more birds up close in 15 minutes on the Anhinga Trail.

The truly exceptional sighting was a huge crocodile lounging on the shoreline five minutes from the end of the trail. Crocodiles, whose range and numbers have been expanding, are still rare in Everglades National park. We gave the croc a wide berth, but were thrilled to observe him. (We’ve heard guides call this guy Croczilla.)

If you go on the Nine Mile Pond trail, keep a few things in mind:

  • It’s very shallow and impassable during the driest part of the year, late February and March. Check at the visitor’s center if in doubt. It’s also likely to be very buggy in summer.
  • There is absolutely no dry land on the trail, so you’ll be picnicking in your boat if you bring food. (We did and loved drifting in the sawgrass, absorbing the stillness.)
  • Use a restroom in the park before going to the trail. While there are picnic tables at the Nine Mile Pond trailhead, there are no other facilities and, obviously, none along the trail itself.
  • Print out a copy of the trail brochure; it offers some interesting observations.
  • If you don’t bring your own, you can rent canoes and kayaks from the Flamingo marina. You must first check in at Flamingo an hour before rental time to get safety equipment, instructions and combination for the lock on the boat. If you’re renting a canoe, you will probably be happy with the short-cut version of the trail, which will take 90 minutes to an hour.

Other canoe and kayak trails in Everglades National Park include:

  • Mud Lake/Coot Bay Trail: an out-and-back paddle  through thick mangroves and through wide Coot Bay.
  • Hell’s Bay Canoe Trail: Famously: “Hell to get into and Hell to get out of.” Through mangrove creeks and ponds.
  • Noble Hammock: a 1.9 mile loop through a maze of mangrove tunnels and small ponds.

Planning your visit to the Everglades:

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Updated Feb. 2019