Kayak through Everglades for quiet beauty and wildlife
An Everglades kayak trail is a perfect way to surround yourself with the sights, sounds and creatures of Everglades National Park. 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.
Nine Mile Pond canoe trail is one of a half-dozen Everglades kayak trails in the 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. Spotting the next marker becomes a bit of a game as you navigate your way along the trail.
We’ve paddled this trail a few times and on the most recent occasion, my husband and I decided to take the designated shortcut and make it a 3.5 mile loop. For many, this will be the best alternative. The first half of the trail is the prettiest, with mangrove tunnels and aquarium-clear water through which you view the profuse plant life on the bottom and the occasional fish.
To take the short-cut, bear left at trail marker 44A. You’ll soon see two markers that say “shortcut” and you will cross an open marsh area to marker 82.
After the shortcut, the trail is a bit of a slog as it follows an old airboat trail that has degraded the vegetation.
But the payoff for us was in the last pond before Nine Mile Pond, where we spotted Croczilla!
Seeing wildlife at Nine Mile Pond trail
We didn’t see many birds or other wildlife, but the truly exceptional experience was a huge crocodile lounging on the shoreline five minutes from the end of the trail. Crocodiles’ range and numbers have been expanding. They are now spotted frequently in the Flamingo area of Everglades National Park. Nevertheless, this guy is remarkable because of its enormous size. We gave the croc a wide berth and recommend you do the same.
When we first saw this crocodile about a decade ago, we learned it has been nicknamed Croczilla. We’ve seen this croc three times paddling Nine Mile Pond, and we’ve never gotten a decent photo! We’ve either stayed too far back, the sun is too intense for good color or the croc is obscured by vegetation.
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 in many years. Check at the visitor’s center if in doubt. It’s 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. The nearest restroom is at West Lake, about three miles south. West Lake is a good place to visit: There are also covered picnic tables and a half-mile boardwalk through the mangroves out to a view of hurricane damaged trees along the West Lake shoreline.
- Print out a copy of the trail brochure; or pick up a copy at the visitor center. It offers a trail map and some interesting observations that will enhance your paddle.
Paddling Nine Mile Pond if you don’t have a kayak or canoe
- If you don’t bring your own, you can rent canoes and kayaks from the Flamingo marina .
- You can arrange a naturalist-guided tour through the Everglades National Park Institute for a $79 fee.
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.
- West Lake Kayak Trail: 7.7 miles one way to Alligator Creek through a series of large open lakes connected by narrow creeks lined with mangroves. West Lake is one of the largest lakes in the area and it can be windy and choppy.
- Park brochure covers trails listed above.
- Flamingo Marina does not rent kayaks at these trails, so they are best for people who bring their own kayak. (There are additional outfitters who serve Everglades National Park but their services tend to be be guided all-day tours.
Planning your visit to the Everglades:
- An 11-minute YouTube video capturing a visit to Nine Mile Pond
- FloridaRambler.com’s Everglades National Park visitor guide
- Canoe rentals from the Flamingo marina
- Staying at the new Flamingo Lodge and the Flamingo eco-tents
- The Everglades National Park website
- Everglades National Park map
- Camping in the Everglades
- The Anhinga Trail: the best place to spot wildlife in Everglades National Park.
- Shark Valley entrance, with its excellent 15 mile hiking/biking trail and tram tours.
- Robert is Here, the funky fruit stand near the Homestead entrance.
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The author, Bonnie Gross, travels with her husband David Blasco, discovering off-the-beaten path places to hike, kayak, bike, swim and explore. Florida Rambler was founded in 2010 by Bonnie and fellow journalist Bob Rountree, two long-time Florida residents who have spent decades exploring the Florida outdoors. Their articles have been published in the Sun Sentinel, the Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel, The Guardian and Visit Florida.