Paddling Florida's Wilderness Waterway
Canoeing the 98-mile long stretch of Florida Everglades known as the Wilderness Waterway, the two of us know we're sharing the creeks and bays with sharks and alligators, but having a gator crawl between our two tents at night is more than we bargain for.
Our camp site is little more than a tiny muck pile, the only dry land for miles around, and our midnight visitor apparently is using it as a shortcut through the otherwise impenetrable mangrove maze.
What do we do to make the gator move quickly on his way? Not a thing...except hold our breaths.
We don't unzip the tents to note the size of the gator's tracks until shortly after dawn--the mosquitoes keep us prisoner inside from twilight to sunrise.
The next gator we see isn't until our final evening when we scrape the back of one resting just below the water. This causes quite a commotion on the surface--a bit of one inside our canoe, too. One thing about this trip, we can never predict what will happen next.
Our journey begins slightly north of the designated trail that skirts the western edge of the 1.4-million acre Everglades National Park. We start outside the Park at Turner River so we can explore this narrow, eight mile stretch not open to larger boats.
It's our intent to deviate from the Waterway at many points to penetrate into less visited creeks and rivers since the official route was designed for powerboats, which makes it somewhat monotonous for canoeists.
Our outfitter is invaluable in helping plot such off-trail side trips such as the Turner River and a stretch we will encounter several days from now known as the Nightmare.
He also advise us to pay careful attention to fully appreciate the scenery we'll encounter:"Ninety percent of the people who go down the Wilderness Waterway find it repetitive because they don't notice the differences in habitat.
"There are many subtle changes, almost inch by inch. It's not like the Grand Canyon when you know you're suddenly there."
To Part 2
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