img_1435I reached the Everglades South Entrance late in the day.   Anyone that has traveled with me on one of my road trips can tell you, I always seem to pull into camp after it’s already dark, rarely before.  So this time I was practically breaking records.  As I pulled past the main gate, the dense foliage gave way to the more traditional Everglades look.  Vast fields of tall grass and marsh with a peppering of trees here and there.  My late arrival came with a perk this time.  I was able to witness an incredible sunset as I drove towards Flamingo.  I began the long drive towards the end of the road with a smile on my face.  I got to zone out into some good music as I watched the sun set over a horizon of grass.  It was an amazing experience and one that was not short-lived as it took about 40 minutes to reach the campsite from the main gate.

img_1431After my first night, I got up early and set out to explore the park.  Much like some of the large parks out west, this one was overwhelming.  This National Park has 1.5 million square miles so there is no way I would be able to see everything I wanted to see.  But I wanted to try to hit some good spots at least.  I checked out the marina and the Flamingo Visitors center before driving north towards 9 Mile Lake.  img_1436Unfortunately I was not able to paddle 9 Mile Lake due to the weather but I did get to take in a few other spots.  I did some hiking and hit a bunch of spots on the way up towards the main gate.  That night I returned to camp and did a big meal prep for the next 4 days.  On the menu:  Shrimp Teriyaki with peppers and onions.  I like having food on demand because it keeps me eating healthy and less prone to dive into snacks all day long.

The next morning I was out hiking and exploring again.  The weather was not as nice as it had been the first couple days but it was still decent.  The wind had died down enough for the bugs to come out in full force.  I didn’t let that stop me from taking in some really cool hikes though.  One of the highlights of the day was my hike towards Clubhouse Beach.  While I didn’t make it all the way out there, (ran out of daylight) I did get to do an extended version of the Bayshore Loop Trail.  I say ‘extended’ because I hiked well past the Bayshore loop turn off at first, thinking I was going to be able to make the 6 mile trek to Clubhouse beach and be back before it got so dark I couldn’t see in front of my face.  But, after getting about halfway down the trail I realized there was just not enough light left in the day to get back so I turned around and then linked up with the Bayshore loop.  The Bayshore loop had some surprises in store for me anyway to keep things interesting.  You will see what I am talking about when you see the video (I will eventually do a Vlog on this.)  

img_1449On my last morning I did a 11.5 mile solo paddle into the back-country of the Everglades.  I got some great video and had an awesome time.  I was alone in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by crocodiles and alligators paddling through long canals of mangroves.  It was surreal and hard to put into words.

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 I had a great time exploring the Everglades and I know I packed it in because I went to bed exhausted every night.  I will be posting some video on my adventure here so look for that soon.  I am heading south to the Florida Keys tomorrow!

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Note:  For a more in-depth idea of what to do and what to skip, you can scroll down past the “Parting Shot.”  I added some tips and things to expect for anyone thinking about visiting this amazing place.

Parting Shot:

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Going to the Everglades in the future?  Here are some things to consider and a few Pro Tips from you’s truly:

There are 3 main entrances to the Everglades NP and they do NOT all intersect.  When you come into the Park from the South Gate (through the city of Homestead), you have two camping options:   Long Pine Key and Flamingo.  Long Pine Key is a campground that is within a couple of miles of the entrance.  It is the more popular of the two, seemingly because it is closer to civilization I am guessing.  Another 34+ miles past Long Pine Key you will arrive at Flamingo.  It is situated at the bottom of the Everglades and is the “last stop” unless you have a boat.  It has a Visitors Center, a Marina with a very small grocery area (think: junk food and milk/beer) and a restaurant that is open until 7pm daily. There are camp sites with power for travel trailers and RVs as well as camping only sites.   Each site has a fire pit, although if you did not bring your own firewood, it won’t do you much good.  For some reason there isn’t a place to purchase firewood within the park so you will want to bring a couple of bundles with you.  Also, if you are the type of camper that has a hard time parting with your wi-fi or cell phone, you may be disappointed.  I have Verizon and it stopped trying to find service almost immediately after the Pine Island turn off (approximately 4 miles into the park.)  I was told that AT&T customers will get spotty reception but only in certain areas, so don’t show up assuming you will be able to make calls and email from within the park.

img_1479The last pro tip I want to leave with you is this:  be prepared for bugs!  If you are in the park and the wind isn’t blowing a steady 18mph, you will be dealing with mosquitos and no-see-ums.  Don’t think you’re going to show up here, armed with some bug spray and a shopping cart full of citronella candles and not have problems.  Two things will help  however, a large smokey fire and clothing that doesn’t leave a lot of skin showing.  I brought one of my favorite new fishing shirts with me that worked extremely good.  It is an “Exofficio” hooded long sleeve shirt with vents and SPF protection.  One of the cool things about this shirt is that when you zip it up all the way it covers your whole face leaving just an opening around your eyes (don’t worry, the mouth area has a huge vent for easy breathing.)  The bugs can’t bite you though the shirt and it still breathes incredibly well.  Either way, you need to know that the mosquitos here in the Everglades are nothing to laugh at.  If you are really bothered by bugs this may not be the park for you.  I did not personally have any problems but I know there are some people out there (yes Mom this includes you) that just don’t like to deal with them.  Those were some of the things I wanted to fill you in on if you are planning a trip here.  

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Must See / Do:

Picture with the National Park Entrance Sign 

Nike Missile Site (from the Cold War)

Cool Picture spot just past Rock Reef Pass ( on the right heading into the park ) 

Mahogany Hammock Trail

West Lake Waterway to Alligator Point (canoe or paddle board required)

Coot Bay /Tarpon Creek (canoe or paddle board required)

Coastal Prairie Trail ( 6 miles- be prepared )

Boat tour ( Departs from the Flamingo Marina )

 

img_1453Things you could Skip:

Long Pine Key & Campground

Pineland

9 Mile Lake

Mrazek Pond

Snake Bight

 

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Next Up:  Vlog # 2

 

 

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