Campervan Guide to the Florida Everglades
By Katy Clarke
If there’s one thing I love, it’s being on the water, and there’s no shortage of water in the Florida Everglades. So, that was the main focus of our trip to Everglades National Park: explore the scenery and find some great paddling spots. And boy, did we ever.
Be forewarned, this place is huge. Not just big. Huge. 1.5 million acres huge. There are three separate entrances into Everglades National Park, and all are a fair distance from each other. So, camping in the Everglades takes at least a little bit of pre-planning. The Homestead entrance is a short 2-hour drive from the Miami Escape depot.
Where to Camp
From there we decided to head to the Flamingo Campground. The Flamingo campground is a solid hour drive from the park’s main gate. Flamingo is literally as far south as you can go. You’re at the southernmost tip of mainland Florida, so of course, that’s where we headed. From the recent hurricanes, amenities are pretty scarce, so gas up and hit a grocery store before heading into the park.
What you’re lacking in fancy amenities, you make up for in wildlife, nature, scenery, and solitude. You feel like you’re at the end of the world because you pretty much are. It’s awesome.
The campground was relatively empty as their off-season is just beginning. We got a spot with a gorgeous water view looking out over the Florida Bay. Campsites had just switched that week to first-come, first-served, but other times of the year reservations are mandatory.
Kayaking & Wildlife
The next morning, we decided to change the scenery for breakfast, so we backtracked (on the one road in and one road out) and found the perfect spot at West Lake. There was no one there but us and the birds. With a space as vast as the Everglades, we wanted to take full advantage of being mobile.
After breakfast, it was off to the Flamingo boat ramp for the main event, kayaking. Renting was super-easy. It’s first-come, first-served. So, we were in our kayaks in less than 10 minutes.
We took off along a channel that led to Coot Bay for approximately two miles then came back. Along the way, we saw what you’d expect to see in the Everglades: alligators! Twelve total that we counted. Twelve! Way to show off for us, Everglades!
These alligators didn’t waste any time showing up on our paddle. We expected to see them, but not 2 minutes into our trip. I cruised right by the first one without even registering him, but my friend Christina (in a shaky voice) just said: “Uh, Katy?” And there he was.
As long as we stayed in the center of the channel, we weren’t terribly concerned. The gators didn’t seem to care about us, so we kept it mutual. At the end of our paddle, we were treated to approximately 6 manatee swimming in the marina. That, for me, was the cherry on top of a pretty spectacular morning of paddling.
Heading down to the Everglades was like discovering a different world, one that I now can’t wait to get back to. In hindsight, I wish we had budgeted more time to spend, but now we’ll just have to start planning round two. Gator paddling 2.0, here we come!