Everglades Kayak Trails

A gentle breeze sweeps along the shoreline of a mangrove covered islet and the only sound that can be heard is the kayak paddle slicing the water as we maneuver our vessel closer to the shore. Sitting near the water’s edge is a small reddish-brown colored raccoon rummaging through a pile of oyster shells. He barely seems to notice our presence as he feasts at the oyster bar. Moments later he takes to the water and swims to another tiny islet to search for more oysters. This Everglades kayak adventure is much different than I imagined.

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Related: Check out our article about Kayaking and Snorkeling in Belize.

An image of a raccoon seen on a Florida Everglades kayak tour.
If you stay overnight in one of the Everglades campsites, you’ll need to pack your food and water in your boat hatch to protect it from raccoons. Photo by Greg Olsen

Florida Everglades National Park 

When you think of the Florida Everglades, you might envision a smelly alligator-infested swampy wilderness. Compared to the glitzy theme parks and climate-controlled shopping malls of nearby Orlando, it might be an apt description. But Everglades National Park is much more than just a swampy wasteland. Within its more than 1.5 million acres of protected parkland are nine distinct interdependent ecosystems that support a vast array of wildlife. There are many different ways for humans to experience the flora and fauna of this unique national park, but an Everglades kayak tour is one of the most pleasurable options.

An image of a raccoon in the Ten Thousand Islands Wildlife Refuge eating oysters - seen on an Everglades kayak tour.
Raccoons in the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge eat a lot of oysters. Photo by Greg Olsen.

Everglades Kayak – Ten Thousand Islands

An area known as the Ten Thousand Islands is one of the best places to enjoy an Everglades kayak experience. This chain of islands and mangrove islets is part of one of the largest mangrove forests in North America. Some of the islands lie within Everglades National Park and some are within the borders of the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Though the name would lead you to believe otherwise, there are only a few hundred islands and islets in this chain – most of which are uninhabited by humans.

An image of a pelican in Everglades National Park.
Everglades National Park ia a 1.5 million acre wetlands preserve that teams with wildlife. Photo by Greg Olsen.

Kayak Through the Everglades Mangroves

The mangrove system in Everglades National Park is the largest continuous system of mangroves in the world and provides a home for 220 species of fish, a wide variety of birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals. Mangroves are uniquely adapted to withstand harsh conditions and provide protection from coastal erosion which can be caused by high tides and hurricanes that are common in this part of the world. They also provide a sheltered area for kayaking in the Everglades.  

As we paddle between the islands, Captain Jason, our Everglades kayak guide, points out different species of plants, animals and birds and teaches us more about the unique nature of this particular ecosystem. I lag behind the rest of the group watching a raccoon and completely miss seeing a nurse shark swim in front of the lead kayaks. A few moments later, we pull over to a larger island and step out to get a closer look at shells along the shoreline.

An image of the Smallwoods store in Chokoloskee Island, Florida.
Our Everglades kayak tour left from the docks outside the Smallwoods Store in Chokoloskee Island, Florida. Photo by Greg Olsen.

Captain Jason explains that since the water near the mangroves is a mixture of salt water and fresh water, we don’t have to worry about encountering an alligator in this particular area. This information is particularly comforting as I step into the warm Everglades water to pull my kayak onto the shore.

On the island is a small campsite complete with an outdoor bathroom that is used for overnight camping trips. Captain Jason explains that campers have to be particularly vigilant about locking up their supplies because of the large numbers of raccoons on these islands. The wind, weather and lack of fresh water make this an overnight destination for only the most experienced Everglades kayakers.   

I wander around the island picking up seashells and looking for wildlife. After a few minutes, I hop back into my kayak and paddle around the islands some more. Our Florida Everglades kayak tour is definitely not what I had imagined – it’s even better.

An image of birds near the dock in Chokoloskee Island, Florida.
The birds were hanging out near the dock as we pulled away from Chokoloskee Island, Florida for our Everglades Kayak tour. Photo by Greg Olsen

Useful Equipment: An inexpensive pair of polarizing sunglasses will help you spot fish in the water more easily. My husband was wearing his fishing glasses and he noticed a nurse shark passing under the kayaks. I would have missed it completely. Polarizing sunglasses are also great for fishing.

The Details:

  • Our motor boat assisted kayak tour of 10,000 Islands was arranged with Everglades Area Tours in Chokoloskee, Florida. A motor boat took us out to the 10,000 Islands area of Everglades National Park where we enjoyed a guided tour. The tour takes about 3 1/2 hours.
  • For more information on Everglades National Park, visit the official national parks website.
  • For information on accommodations, restaurants, and tours, visit the official tourism website for Naples, Marco Island and the Everglades.      

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