All life in the Everglades hangs by a wet thread — the fresh water required to sustain the vast and varied species, threatened by human intervention. The thread is growing weaker all the time.
This lush but fragile landscape is primarily a marsh of scattered tall grasses. Everglades National Park, which covers about 1.4 million acres, contains only part of the watery expanse known as everglades. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Wilderness makes up the majority of the park.
At the heart of the Everglades is a "river of grass," six inches deep and 50 miles wide, a body of water that flows so slowly the movement is imperceptible. From its origin along the shores of Lake Okeechobee, the river drops only 15 feet on the voyage to saltwater Florida Bay.
Don’t be fooled by the river’s placid nature though, for this is a land of indescribable wonder. Scaly alligators share the marshes with flamingos, roseate spoonbills, egrets and herons, pelicans, cranes, hawks, ibis, storks, frigate birds, kites, skimmers, and hundreds of other colorful birds.
The shallow waters of Florida Bay constitute a little less than one-third of the Wilderness. Most of the bay’s tiny keys serve as nesting sites for birds, and the salt water teems with fish, bottle-nosed dolphins, sea turtles, sharks, and manatees. You pretty much need a boat to access Florida Bay and the fascinating Wilderness Waterway, a 99-mile marine trail that takes you from Everglades City and the Ten Thousand Islands on the north to Flamingo on the south. Along the waterway you’ll see virtually every organism that lives in the Caribbean.
A 38-mile road leads from entrance of the National Park to a visitor center at Flamingo on the southern coast of Florida. From this road, several trails head into the Wilderness, most of them day-hike routes of less than one mile. Four longer trails, ranging in length from four to 13 miles, also can be accessed near Flamingo. When embarking on foot or canoe trails, visitors should carry in all the drinking water they’ll need.
Leave No Trace
How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Wilderness.
Make on the park's four visitor centers your first stop here. The best way to see the park is to take time to walk the boardwalks and trails along the main park road to join in ranger-led events. Naturalists give talks and lead hikes, canoe trips, tram tours, and campfire programs. At Everglades City the Gulf Coast Visitor Center is the park's western saltwater getaway. Narrated boat tours explore pristine Ten Thousand Islands and coastal mangrove. At Shark Valley the wildlife-viewing tram tour through sawgrass prairie includes a stop at a 65-foot tower for spectacular views.
The park has four main areas and three entrances located in different cities around South Florida. View the map of the Everglades to get a better idea of different regions of the Everglades.
Shark Valley is in the very heart of the Everglades. From the visitor center, walk bike, or take a narrated tram ride along the 15-mile loop road into Shark River Slough, the main drainage channel through the park. Alligators, wading birds, turtles, deer, river otters, and raccoons are frequently seen along the Shark Valley Road.
Chekika *Currently Closed
This recreation area offers picnic tables and grills beside a pond and a trail through a hardwood hammock.
Royal Palm is the departure point for two interpretive walks: the Anhinga Trail and the Gumbo Limbo Trail. Expect to see plenty of wildlife along the Anhinga Trail, a world famous boardwalk trail bordering Taylor Slough. The Gumbo Limbo Trail is a paved path through a hardwood hammock. On your ride to Flamingo there are many trails to explore in between.
Flamingo features a visitor center, restaurant, campground, picnic area, small store and marina. Services offered at the marina include boat launching ramps, canoe and small boat rentals, charter fishing boats, and regularly scheduled sightseeing boat trips.
From the Gulf Coast Visitor Center the town of Everglades City, take a boat -- your own or a scheduled sightseeing boat tour -- to explore the vast mangrove estuary of the Ten Thousand Islands.
Digital and paper maps are critical tools for wilderness visitors. Online maps can help you plan and prepare for your visit ahead of time. You can also carry digital maps with you on your GPS unit or other handheld GPS device. Having a paper map with you in the backcountry, as well as solid orienteering skills, however, ensures that you can still route-find in the event that your electronic device fails.
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited in all wilderness areas.
This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters.
Safely exploring a wilderness by water
requires careful preparation and
planning. Plan at least two routes before
arriving at the park in case your first
choice is already filled. If you require
assistance planning your trip, call or stop
by the Gulf Coast (Everglades City) or
Flamingo Visitor Centers. You may also
find answers to your questions by
visiting the Everglades National Park
Because of the heat, severe storms, and
intolerable numbers of mosquitoes,
summer (June –October) is not the best
time of year for a wilderness trip. The
winter months (December–April) tend to
be more pleasant.
Nautical charts are necessary for finding
your way in the wilderness and are
useful in planning your trip. Charts may
be purchased at the Coe and Gulf Coast
Visitor Centers, Flamingo Marina, and
Everglades NP Boat Tours, or ordered
from the Everglades Association. Some sites are not indicated with a
tent symbol on nautical charts. Consult
visitor center maps before departure.
Much of the
water is quite shallow, and you can ground
your boat quickly. In addition to damaging
your boat, groundings destroy precious
seagrasses and benthic communities that
provide food and shelter to creatures
inhabiting these waters. Always refer to
nautical charts and tide charts for a safe
The 99-mile Wilderness Waterway
attracts interest because it connects
Flamingo and Everglades City. Most
paddlers allow at least eight days to
complete the trip. This route is
recommended for experienced paddlers
only. Arrange in advance for a vehicle
shuttle. There are many areas of very
shallow water that may be encountered
along the Wilderness Waterway.
Powerboats over 18' long may have to
detour around Alligator and Plate Creeks.
The "Nightmare" and Broad Creek are
passable only to paddlers at high tide. To
prevent prop dredging, which results in
increased turbidity and the destruction of
submerged natural features, boats with
drafts of two feet or more, including the
propeller, should not use the waterway.
Keep Track of Where You Are
A nautical chart and compass are your best
equipment for staying on route, finding your
designated campsite, and returning safely.
GPS (global positioning systems) and cell
phones are also helpful, but do not rely
primarily on this technology to navigate in
the backcountry. Batteries may die,
equipment may get lost or malfunction, and
satellite and cell phone coverage may be
spotty at best.
Tides and winds can make paddling
difficult. Most experienced paddlers
plan to travel between 8 and 12 miles per
day. Adverse conditions may reduce your
speed to one mile an hour or less. Boaters
are expected to know their own abilities,
be able to use charts, understand tides and
weather, and make appropriate decisions in
selecting an itinerary. This is a wilderness.
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Wilderness has different types of camping opportunities.
Chickees are located along rivers and
bays where dry land is inaccessable.
They are elevated 10' x 12' wooden
platforms with roofs. A walkway leads to
a self-contained toilet. You'll need a freestanding
tent, since stakes or nails are not
allowed. No campfires are allowed on
chickees. Some paddlers have difficulty
accessing chickees from their boats. A
loop of heavy rope may be helpful.
Ground sites are mounds of earth a few
feet higher than the surrounding
mangroves, located along interior bays and
rivers. They tend to have more insects than
chickees or beach sites. No campfires are
allowed on ground sites. Use gas grills or
stoves. Wood, charcoal, or coal-fueled
grills or stoves are not permitted.
Beach sites are located on the coast. During
ideal conditions, insects may be scarce, but
always be prepared for mosquitoes and
no-see-ums (tiny biting insects), especially
at sunrise and sunset. Gulf waters at beach
sites can become rough; seas can exceed
3 feet. Low tides often expose large mud
flats, which may make beach access
difficult. Campfires must be below hightide
line. Sand beaches are often stabilized by tall,
grassy plants called sea oats. Take care not
to damage them. Sea turtles and crocodiles
nest on beaches in late spring and summer.
Avoid camping or building a fire where
nesting evidence exists. Many beach sites
have no toilets. Bury human waste at least
six inches below the surface, away from
shorelines and tent sites. Urinate directly in
Beware of swift currents and tides when
securing vessels overnight; tidal ranges can
exceed four feet in some locations. Beach
canoes above high tide line and tie down or
anchor from three points at landings/docks.
Use tides to your advantage in travel. Tide
tables are available at the Flamingo and
Gulf Coast Visitor Centers or online.
Winds and Weather
Numerous canoes, kayaks, and boats have
been swamped by rough seas on windy days.
Thunderstorms occur frequently in summer.
Hurricane season is June through November.
Be prepared for sudden wind and weather
changes at any time.
Safety and Current Conditions
Carry fresh water (1 gallon/person/day),
compass, nautical charts, anchor,
sunscreen, sunglasses, rain gear, mosquito
repellent or bug jacket, and tent (with
File a float plan with a friend or relative
before leaving home, and call that person
when you finish your trip. If you do not
call by the predetermined time, that person
should notify the park's 24-hour dispatch
at (305) 242-7740.
Paddlers will encounter powerboats. If you
are in a narrow river or pass, and a boat
approaches, pull as far to the side as possible,
point the bow of your canoe or kayak into the
boat's wake, and stop paddling until the boat
passes. Powerboaters: reduce speed in
narrow channels; Idle past paddlers and give
them plenty of space; approach last 100 yards
of any backcountry campsite at idle speed to
avoid prop dredging and excessive
If You're In Trouble
Stay with your vessel near a navigational
marker or campsite. Set anchor immediately.
Try to attract the attention of other boaters. If
you have a marine radio, transmit on channel
16. Try calling 1-800-788-0511 on your cell
phone, but do not count on cell phone
Want to Volunteer for Wilderness?
Citizens who volunteer their time to steward our wilderness areas are an essential part of wilderness management. Contact the following groups to inquire about volunteer opportunities.