Located at the southern tip of Florida’s peninsula, Everglades National Park is one of the state’s most impressive and important ecosystems that provides essential habitat for a variety of critical and endangered species. While many anglers make the 38-mile drive through the park to reach the marina at Flamingo for single day excursions, the cooler temperatures of winter make this the perfect time to camp in the Everglades. There are ample ways to enjoy the park and whether you prefer targeting trout, snook, tarpon or redfish, one thing we can agree on is that rampant bugs are in control of this lush backcountry. However, during the winter season cool temperatures thwart most aerial attacks and biting insects become much less of an issue.
While there are two campgrounds accessible by automobile, die-hard anglers prefer the seclusion of backcountry campsites for their accessibility to promising and unpressured fisheries. Although the waters within ENP are a paddler’s paradise and there are designated and charted paddle trails that lead the way to several backcountry campsites, strong tides and stiff winds can make paddling to the backcountry difficult at times and many choose to reach campsites via flats skiffs or bay boats. You’ll also find it challenging to store ample supplies within a canoe or kayak, although it is certainly possible.
Chickees are located throughout the backcountry and are found where there’s no dry land, which makes for a unique camping experience.
Whether you choose to paddle or motor to the backcountry you’ll need to acquire the necessary permits beforehand. Permits are issued at both the Flamingo and Gulf Coast Visitor Centers, as well as at the main park entrance at Homestead. Camping permits cost $10, plus a $2 fee per person per night. Since winter camping is popular and there are a specific number of campsites within ENP, there is a limit for the number of nights one can stay during peak season—mid-November through late April—with campsite capacities also applying, so be sure to plan ahead by having a backup in place. You could plan out a perfect route only to find out that your chosen campsite isn’t available. You’ll then be forced to make a drastic change of plans at the last minute.
Fortunately, there are numerous sites and when making a decision you’ll be able to choose from three available options including chickee sites, ground sites and beach sites depending on your preference and proximity to promising shallows.
Chickees are located throughout the backcountry and are found where there’s no dry land, which makes for a unique camping experience. These elevated platforms provide covered roofs and have a porta-potty, however fires are not allowed on chickees so you’ll need an alternative approach to cook a warm meal. If you don’t enjoy unwanted visitors like mosquitoes and raccoons, an above water chickee might be the best option for you. If a campfire is essential, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
Ground sites are isolated patches of dry land interspersed within the interior bays and rivers of ENP. Campfires and charcoal grills are prohibited on ground sites, although gas grills are allowed. Beach sites are positioned along the Gulf and bay side coast and allow campfires below the high tide line, but most designated beach sites don’t offer restroom facilities. While you’ll see ample spoil islands and what would be ideal camping sites, almost all islands within Florida Bay are off limits to landing. Camping is only allowed at designated sites.
No matter your vessel, trips to the backcountry require extreme care and planning. Cell phones don’t work and no one will hear your cries for help. When camping in the backcountry you must also take into consideration tidal movements and carefully calculate the rise and fall to coordinate with your arrival and departure.
You should always file a float plan and carry some sort of emergency contact device like a VHF radio, satellite phone or personal locator beacon. The amount of food and camping supplies you bring depends heavily on your ability to rough it, and length of anticipated stay. Items worthy of noting include toilet paper, insect repellent, lanterns, flashlights, flares, nautical charts, tents, sleeping bags, and plastic bags for storing trash and keeping select items dry. When it comes to food, it will be in your best interest to prepare meals in advance to keep cookware to a minimum and simplify the cooking process. Since ENP is one of the most pristine spots on the planet and designated a World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve, it’s important you leave nothing behind.
Summertime in the Everglades is incredibly hot, buggy and humid, but winter presents the ideal opportunity to really take advantage of all the park has to offer. Visit nps.gov/ever for more information on camping including tips and tricks to keep from damaging the natural resources. It is important users are considerate of others, respect the wildlife and minimize impacts by planning ahead. Oh yeah, don’t forget the s’mores.