Last updated on February 11th, 2021 at 09:40 pm
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.
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.
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.
Nine Mile Pond: Serene and lovely, a wide shallow marsh spiked with mangrove islands, sawgrass and the occasional tree island. At 5.2 miles, this kayak trail is a good trip for beginners and you can rent canoes from the park or an outfitter. Notable crocodile has taken up residence here.
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.
Noble Hammock Kayak Trail: a 1.9 mile loop through a maze of mangrove tunnels and small ponds. Here’s a review by Al Vazquez.
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.
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.
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.
Halfway Creek: A kayak trail quite close to the Turner River; not 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.
Indian Key Pass: A more ambitious Ten Thousand Islands kayak trip, which can include wilderness camping.
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 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
- Admission has been increased at Everglades National Park and is $30 with a pass good for seven days. (As soon as you turn 62, get a senior pass. For $80, it offers lifetime admission. Also: Take advantage of these free days in national parks.) You do not have to pay admission, however, to launch at the Turner River or the Gulf Coast Visitor Center. You do pay admission at Shark Valley and the Homestead entrances.
- FREE admission to the park is available on winter weekends if you take the Homestead national parks trolley system. Here are details. (Unfortunately, the trolley will not take you to a location where you can kayak.)
- Insider tips from Florida Rambler
- Fabulous Flamingo, the last outpost on the Homestead entrance
- Campgrounds in the Everglades
- The Everglades National Park website
- Everglades National Park map
- Shark Valley entrance, with its 15 mile trail and trams ride