It might be a little too cool to go jumping into the water, but the weather is great for camping and paddling into the backcountry of Florida Bay.
Florida Bay is just off the southern tip of Florida between the Gulf of Mexico and the Florida Keys, and is the territory of the Florida crocodile, manatees, dolphins and migrating birds. It doubles as a playground for bird watchers, naturalists and fishermen.
During certain times of the year, there are blooms of bioluminescent organisms, which can be seen while traveling at night. These microorganisms flicker and light up the water as you paddle.
There are several different trips you can take in Florida Bay, but camping is allowed by permit only in designated areas. There are several types of backcountry campsites available depending on your skill level. There are raised platforms (chickees), ground sites and beach sites. There is a nominal fee of $10 for the permit and a $2 fee per person, per night that you will be staying.
If you are an inexperienced paddler or have never taken a trip through the Everglades, it is important that you do your research and try to go with someone who is familiar with the area.
There is no fresh water out on the islands and there are no places to cook. You will need to bring enough water and food, proper clothing, a first-aid kit and the right tools to navigate, including charts, a GPS and compass.
• Clubhouse Beach: This trip is good for beginners; it is approximately 7.5 miles west of Flamingo on the southern tip of Florida. This beach site one of the few sites you can get to by land via the Coastal Prairie Trail, which runs along the coastline through the prairie lands from Flamingo.
• Shark Point Chickee: Approximately 11 miles, this trip can be more difficult with strong winds as you will have to pass through a series of lakes along the West Lake Canoe Trail, but it gives a true taste of the Everglades.
Once you paddle further along the trail be sure to have your rod baited because there are some great spots to catch snook, redfish and snapper. If you paddle quietly through Alligator Creek, you will get the chance to see the Florida crocodile along the shore, along with some sizable gators, too. From the mouth of the Alligator Creek you will follow the shoreline south for about 2.5 miles to Shark Point where the chickee is located off the shoreline. If you prefer, you can also reach this site by following the grassy shallows of Snake Bight east from Flamingo.
• North Nest Key: This site is about 6 miles west of Key Largo. The best place to launch is at Florida Bay Outfitters. You will travel across Blackwater Sound and through a passage with islands known as the Bogies, which got their name from actor Humphrey Bogart’s role in the classic film The African Queen, which was filmed there.
• Little Rabbit Key: This trip is for advanced paddlers. It is approximately 12.5 miles whether you leave from Flamingo or Upper Matecumbe Key. Remember to have your charts and GPS ready. This route can be difficult to navigate because of the tides as well as the distance. There is a set of deep channels just south of the island where there are opportunities to fish for snapper, snook, and redfish.
• Permits can be purchased up to 24 hours in advance at the Flamingo Vistor Center (open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.). More information: 239-695-2945 and www.nps.gov/ever.