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Kayak Everglades National Park: The best way to experience it

The secret to experiencing Everglades National Park is to get away from roads and to surround yourself with the sights and sounds of this special place.

One of the best ways to do that is to by boat, especially in a quiet, environmentally friendly kayak or canoe.

Kayakers at Collier-Seminole State Park near Naples
Kayaking Everglades National Park is one of the best ways to experience the Everglades, (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

You can kayak Everglades National Park on one of a dozen kayak trails in the park and adjoining wildlife refuges of Big Cypress and Ten Thousand Islands.

These kayak trails range from short and easy “starter” trails to the truly daunting 99-mile Wilderness Waterway, a trail between Flamingo and Everglades City that requires lots of planning and back-country permits.

My recommendations: The best overall trail is Turner River off the Tamiami Trail. If you are going to the Everglades via the Homestead entrance, then Nine Mile Pond is my #1 choice. If you want to experience the Ten Thousand Islands — a maze of mangrove islands off the Gulf Coast — then I like Sandfly Island loop. All these trips are described below and in more detail in Florida Rambler articles that are linked here.

All three of these waterways are served by outfitters, so they are your best choices if you don’t have a kayak.

Here’s a quick look at the most popular kayak trails, including links to comprehensive Florida Rambler stories, which include information on renting kayaks.

Everglades kayak trails between Homestead and Flamingo


My favorite kayak trail along this stretch is Nine Mile Pond because it offers a mangrove tunnel experience, open marsh scenery and wildlife. For most of these, you can arrange kayak rentals with the Flamingo Marina.

Nine Mile Pond: Serene and lovely, a wide shallow marsh spiked with mangrove islands, sawgrass and the occasional tree island. A notable crocodile has taken up residence here. At 5.2 miles, this kayak trail is a good trip for beginners and it has the advantage of being one of the few trails where you can rent kayaks or canoes from the Flamingo marina.

Kayak Everglades National Park: The view along Nine Mile Pond kayak and canoe trail (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Kayak Everglades National Park: The view along Nine Mile Pond kayak and canoe trail (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Coot Bay and Mud Lake Kayak Trail: Some pretty mangrove tunnels but the open lakes can be windy and be a little monotonous.

Hell’s Bay Canoe Trail: Famously: “Hell to get into and Hell to get out of.” Through mangrove creeks and ponds. An out-and-back trail that can be as long as 10 miles round-trip, or you can turn around earlier. The trail through twisting mangroves is marked by polls. There are camping options (on platforms) along this route; permits are required for camping. 

Noble Hammock Kayak Trail: a 1.9 mile loop through a maze of mangrove tunnels and small ponds, Noble Hammock is a shorter version of Hell’s Bay. It’s a good choice for windy days when you can’t go out in the bay. You’d never be able to follow this trail without the more than 120 numbered PVC pipes that mark the trail. Spotting the next PVC pipe is part of the fun. Some report seeing wildlife on this trail; our only sighting was spiders in the mangrove tunnels. The plus side of this trail: Once away from the highway, it is serene, quiet and the mangrove trees are beautiful, each one a little different. The minus side: The scenery doesn’t vary; wildlife scarce for us.

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. In January 2022, the West Lake launch area is closed for hurricane repairs.

Park brochure covers trails
 listed above.

Kayak, canoe and boat rentals at Flamingo.

Map of  Everglades kayak trails off Tamiami Trail and Gulf Coast
Map of Everglades kayak trails off Tamiami Trail and Gulf Coast

Everglades kayak trails off Tamiami Trail and Gulf Coast

There’s no question: Turner River is the best of these trails, but you have to start early to avoid crowds and check water levels.

The kayak trails in Big Cypress off the Tamiami Trail are served by several oufitters.

Turner River: One of the most popular kayak trails in the Everglades because it’s everything the Everglades can offer in one trip. Outstanding scenery; can get crowded. In spring, it may be too shallow, but if water levels are high, you won’t get through the mangrove tunnels.

Turner River Kayak Trail, Big Cypress National Wildlife Refuge.
Turner River Kayak Trail, Big Cypress National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Halfway Creek: A  kayak trail quite close to the Turner River; not quite as scenic as Turner River, but less crowded and no problem with low water in spring.

Sandfly Loop gives you a taste of the Ten Thousand Island. It’s a saltwater kayak trail with some open water to cross. A good first trip into the Ten Thousand Islands, with a specific and historic destination.

Indian Key Pass: A more ambitious Ten Thousand Islands kayak trip, which can include wilderness camping.

Kayak, canoe and boat rentals on Gulf Coast.

Backcountry trips and the Wilderness Waterway

For a more adventurous kayak-camping trip that doesn’t require extensive arrangments, I’d recommend an 11-mile paddle from Flamingo to Cape Sable, where you camp on a wilderness beach. You paddle along the coast, so there is no danger of getting lost and the wildlife is impressive. Here’s my report on canoe-camping Flamingo to Cape Sable.

The Wilderness Waterway, on the other hand, is a multi-day camping trail that requires you to arrange livery service to drive you back to your starting place and car. Here’s the park service’s brochure on the trail.

The national park authorizes these guides to provide tours in the park.

More about visiting Everglades National Park

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