***FLAMINGO and Ingraham Highway: Flamingo, on Florida Bay, is the Park outpost on the southern end of Florida's
mainland reached by only one road, Ingraham Highway. Flamingo's Buttonwood Canal allows for entry to the inside waterways
of the Everglades and the Wilderness Watrway. Just short of Flamingo on Ingraham Highway are Hell's Bay Canoe Trail, a narrow
but popular paddler's waterway which leads westward, and West Lake, the first leg of waterways which go east and eventually
come out on Florida Bay.
Ingraham Highway, the Park road from the Visitor's Center near Florida City to Flamingo, is a 45 minute ride
by car. The road itself is important for its fascinating view of the southern end of the Everglades "River of Grass".
Flamingo--picturesque, unique and interesting in itself--resembles a small town, but it is basically a Park
outpost on Florida Bay. It has boat ramps, a Ranger Station, a convenience store, a resturant, a book store, a motel, hiking
areas and camping areas on Florida Bay.
Hell's Bay Canoe Trail: The launch site for Hell's Bay Canoe Trail begins as a shaded opening in the woods
and grass alongside the road. The Trail is identified by a sign, but cars speeding by would hardly notice the obscure dock
from which paddlers enter the Trail. The Trail is a wonderland of nature, full of wildlife. It is fully marked (markers every
few yards). The water at times is replete with sediment and aromatic. Hell's Bay Canoe Trail is mostly fresh water and has
little tidal effect since it is far from the Gulf. Boat motors are not allowed.
***The following four campsites are reached by paddling the Hell's Bay Canoe Trail:
Lard Can Campsite is the first of these four campsites to be found when one emerges from the shaded, jungle
canoe trail onto more open water with different vegetation. The chart shows the campsite but not the canoe trail, which makes
Lard Can hard to find. Lard Can is a ground campsite with a toilet but with just enough cleared area for a few tents.
PEARL BAY CHICKEE:
Perl Bay Chickee, one mile further in from Lard Can, is a double chickee with a toilet. Pearl Bay Chickee
deviates somewhat from the waterway route to Hell's Bay from Lard Can. The Pearl Bay Chickee is on open water and situated
at the far end of Pearl Bay, a medium sized bay.
HELL'S BAY CHICKEE:
Hell's Bay Chickee, another two miles in, is quite difficult to find, because it is behind mangroves and not
on the larger part of the Bay. This double chickee with toilet is on open water. Like most Everglades sites, it is likely
to be visited by a curious gator from time to time. It is geographically near Whitewater Bay, and with considerable effort
one can navigate to Whitewater Bay from Hell's Bay.
LANE BAY CHICKEE:
Lane Bay Chickee, a mile north of Hell's Bay Chickee, Lane Bay Chickee is a single chickee with a toilet,
and it is built up against the mangroves. It is extremely hard to find due to the many twists and turns of the connecting
waterways in the area, which is spotted with mangrove islands. Lane Bay leads west to Lane River which leads down Roberts
River and eventually to Whitewater Bay.
West Lake: Another canoe trail is accessed from the West Lake boat ramp, newly renovated, also alongside Ingraham
Highway. Motors are allowed on West Lake, which is 3.2 miles long, but not allowed in the creeks and bays which lead to campsites.
***The following campsites are reached by entering at West Lake:
ALLIGATOR CREEK CAMPSITE:
8.5 miles of paddling the inside route from Ingraham Highway at West Lake near Flamingo will bring a camper
to the Alligator Creek Campsite, a ground site in view of Garfield Bight and Florida Bay. The paddle is slow in places, which
means that four hours on the water should be anticipated. The route has occasional markers, but navigation (the marine chart)
is necessary. Sometimes water is so shallow that paddlers have to struggle to find the deeper water (deep as in 8 inches).
Mangrove Creek, which begins at the eastern, end of West Lake, is jungle-like, as are other creeks on route which lead ultimately
to Alligator Creek and the Campsite. A panther--or was it a deer--was sited in January 2001 on Mangrove Creek. Alligator Creek
Campsite is a few feet off the water, and it offers a peek through the trees at beautiful, shallow Garfield Bight. The site
has a gigantic, open, green field. One must be careful not to get hit by a leaping fish on Garfield Bight. For bird watchers,
Garfield Bight near this Campsite is as good as it gets. The trip back to Flamingo by way of Florida Bay is longer than the
inside route, and Gardield Bight is extremely shallow.
SHARK POINT CAMPSITE:
This ground campsite is just two miles south of Alligator Creek Campsite, reached one of two ways--by traveling
directly north of Shark Point along the coast of Garfield Bight, or by paddling the inland route. Alligator Creek Campsite
is discussed below under Florida Bay sites east of Flamingo.
***The following beach campsites are reached departing from Flamingo on Florida Bay going west out the channel
toward the Gulf:
EAST CLUBHOUSE BEACH:
The first beach campsite outside of the immediate vicinity of Flamingo going west is East Clubhouse Beach,
4 miles from Flamingo. One passes small islands called Bradley Key and Curry Key on the way. However, water around these keys
at low tide is extremely shallow, so it is best to stay a few hundred yards away from land until arrival. East Clubhouse Beach
has a large green field behind it, but hiking is not comfortable due to the underbrush. The beach itself is narrow and made
of clay rather than sand. Thus, East Clubhouse Beach is not ideal for camping.
Three miles further out the channel, 7 miles from Flamingo, is Clubhouse Beach, which is more sandy but still
small, and the water is shallow.
The last beach campsite going west from Flamingo still on Florida Bay but bordering on the Gulf is East Cape,
three miles from Clubhouse Beach and 10 miles from Flamingo. There is a very shallow area in the middle of the channel before
approaching the entrance to Lake Ingraham, which is not far from East Cape. Boaters can get stuck if they do not go around
this area, so check the chart.
East Cape is large, sandy, and beautiful. Because it is positioned where the shoreline turns north, it has
an excellent view of sunrises and sunsets. The water is deeper and the current can be strong at this campsite. Pilings in
the water are evident.
Leaving Florida Bay behind, four miles from East Cape and 14 miles from Flamingo on the Gulf Coast, is Middle
Cape, another large, sandy campsite. It has an interesting whirlpool type formation on the sand filled with water where the
beach reaches a point.
Boaters should know that unless a boat is properly anchored, the incoming tide will leave a boat high on the
sand. Then, when the tide comes back in, the boat, embedded in the sand, may fill with water, due to the angle of the beach.
The best solution is to arrive by kayak or canoe!
Beyond Middle Cape, and quite near Middle Cape is an outlet to Lake Ingraham. A strong tide
rushes in and out of Lake Ingraham. One could camp in an emergency on the north side of this outlet to the Gulf, although
it is not an approved campsite. It is a good spot for fishing and walking along the sandy Gulf beach and bird-watching.
19 miles from Flamingo on the Gulf Coast, is North West Cape, which is reached from the south (passing Middle
Cape) or from the north through a marked waterway on the "inside" from Flamingo, crossing Whitewater Bay and Oyster Bay, out
to the Gulf, a marked route and a much longer distance.
There are no outhouses on the cape campsites, and Northwest Cape does not seem even to have a sign
identifying it. The continuous, long beach which constitutes Northwest Cape is good for camping, bird
watching and viewing other wildlife. One can walk inland a great distance at Northwest Cape.
GRAVEYARD CREEK CAMPSITE:
On the Gulf Coast, on the north side of Ponce de Leon Bay near where Shark River meets the Gulf, at the mouth
of Graveyard Creek and just around the bend named Shark Point (there is another Shark Point to the east of Flamingo) is a
large, comfortable campsite on sand and hard ground, surrounded by woods and picturesque beach, both of which are excellent
for hiking. The site has a toilet, a table and a grill for cooking. This is an ideal campsite, more ground-like than beach.
Because of the challenge crossing Ponce de Leon Bay along the Gulf, visitors leaving from Flamingo may prefer to take an "inside"
route, but only with a good GPS. There have been reports of some erosion of the Campsite.
***The following campsites are on Florida Bay, reached from Flamingo, only with good navigation:
CARL ROSS KEY:
The prize, the most beautiful island, best for camping, 9 miles from Flamingo on Florida Bay across open water,
is Carl Ross Key. This island has a table, high ground and shade, and it has lots of sand and shallow water which attracts
numerous birds. Although there is deeper water on the Gulf side of the Island, water is very shallow surrounding the entire
Island. The sandy peninsula on the northeastern end of the Island has partly eroded in recent years.
It is important to follow the markers approaching Carl Ross Key to avoid running aground.
LITTLE RABBIT KEY:
About 12 miles southeast of Flamingo on Floirda Bay, Little River Campsite is not easy to find. There is more
than one way to get to this site, but any route calls for good navigation and definitely a GPS. One way to go is to travel
east, then between Frank Key and Palm Key, then pass the Pelican keys around the east side to avoid extreme shallow water,
and on to Little Rabbit Key. The campsite is on the western side of the Island, reached through a marked channel between two
islands entered from the eastern side. There is a dock and a toilet, but much of the campsitesite area was completely under
water in 1999. Little Rabbit Key Channels (deeper water) just south of the island are reputed to be good fishing.
NORTH NEST KEY
This island campsite on Florida Bay is about twenty four miles east of Flamingo but only 8 miles west
of Highway 1 near Key Largo. North Nest Key has several beach camping areas--on the east, on the north
alongside its dock and outhouses, and on the west, with a shallow, soft muddy area leading up to the beach.
On a sunny weekend there will be numerous boaters at North Nest Key and kayakers paddling from locations along Highway
1. Despite the popularity of this location and its proximity to Highway 1, there is pleanty of wildlife
on and around the island, and the water is clear to the bottom.
***The following campsites are east of Flamingo along the mainland of Florida.
SHARK POINT CAMPSITE:
On Florida Bay to the east of Flamingo 8 miles, this interesting site has a large green field behind it, high
ground, pleanty of shade and areas to walk. It does not have a view of the water except by peeking through the trees. The
tiny "beach" is mud. The trip to Shark Point is mostly marked, and most of the route is fairly shallow. Because the tide from
the Atlantic reaches Shark Point, high tide at this campsite is four hours later than high tide in Flamingo. But the tidal
effect is not great since it is far from both the Atlantic and the Gulf.
ALLIGATOR CREEK CAMPSITE:
2.5 miles from Shark Point and ten miles from Flamingo across Garfield Bight is Alligator Creek Campsite.
At times (a combinatsion of time of year, position of the moon and the ebb and flow of the tides) Garfield Bight is so shallow
that the Campsite cannot be reached by way of the Florida Bay route. The alternate route and this interesting Campsite are
discussed above under campsites reached from West Lake on Ingraham Highway.
***The following are campsites on the "inside" usually reached putting in at Flamingo and going up Buttonwood
Canal to Whitewater Bay. The nearer sites are around Whitewater Bay and Joe River, the distant sites are Shark River Chickee,
Canepatch Campsite and the Harney River Chickee:
Joe River is not part of the marked Wilderness Waterway, but it is a better way to travel when paddling because
it is not subject to so much wind and white water. It is the protected way to travel, at least until one reaches Oyster Bay.
Going by way of Joe River, one can deviate a few hundred yards to South Joe River Chickee, a double chickee with toilet on
a small bay only 11.5 miles from Flamingo. This chickee is on open water. It is quite attractive for photography.
JOE RIVER CHICKEE:
18 miles from Flamingo, this double chickee is up against the mangroves and it is located right in front of
a waterway which feeds into Joe River. It is on the Joe River itself, though set back a few yards.
OYSTER BAY CHICKEE:
22 miles from Flamingo in a cove east of Oyster Bay, somewhat hidden, this double chickee is up against the
mangroves. It is a strategically located chickee for fishing in the area. It has a toilet. The morning sun lights it up, but
mangroves block the sunset.
ROBERTS RIVER CHICKEE:
Roberts River Chickee is a double chickee, but first one needs to find the River's mouth from Whitewater Bay.
One crosses Whitewater Bay to Marker 20 and heads northeast. The River mouth is not apparent, and on two occasion the Scribe
got lost, paddling to the south into a more obvious opening in the mangroves, until arriving at a Park Monitoring Station
on an unnamed, shallow bay. After getting lost each time the Scribe returned and then headed north. The openings for Lane
River and Roberts River present. The paddler chooses Roberts River to the left, after which choice the marine chart appears
accurate, and Roberts River Chickee up the River appears on schedule. North River Chickee and Watson River Chickee, single
chickees, are also located on rivers on the east side of Whitwater Bay.
NORTH RIVER CHICKEE:
North River Chickee can be found by way of North River or Roberts River. The Scribe visited North River Chickee
by way of Roberts River and returned on North River. The boater or paddler on Roberts River needs first to arrive at Roberts
River Chickee. Beyond this Chickee, the water becomes shallow until reaching the "The Cutoff". The Cutoff is a singular waterway
with many gators visible along the way. It appears deeper than Roberts River in this area, and it leads directly to North
River. On North River one heads south, but North River Chickee is not on North River itself. It is located near the River
on a bay. The Chickee is single and small (one tent only will fit), and the ladder needed some repair. The area seems unusually
quiet. There were no night visitors and not even any bugs on a warm day in February.
WATSON RIVER CHICKEE:
At the northern end of Whitewater Bay not far from North River is Watson River, not to be confused with The
Watson Place on Chatham River not far from Chokoloskee Island. Watson River Chickee, though not visible from Whitewater Bay,
is very near the Bay itself, and therefore it is a potential refuge in an emergency on Whitewater Bay. Watson Chickee is a
single chickee with a latrine, easily located by departing the Wilderness Waterway at Marker 34, going east one mile and north
two miles. Water depth is more than adequate for boating. The Chickee actually is snuggled just inside an inlet nearby Watson
River but not on the river.
The Wilderness Waterway route across Whitewater Bay to Cormorant Pass is nicely marked, but finding some of
the chickees on the eastern side of Whitewater Bay is a challenge, particularly for the paddler who cannot afford many mistakes,
mistakes which can result in much more time on the water than anticipated.
SHARK RIVER CHICKEE:
A single chickee up against the mangroves, this is a sight for sore eyes if one has paddled across Whitewater
Bay, through Cormorant Pass and Shark Cutoff and up Little Shark River to find it. Shark River Chickee is 20 miles from Flamingo,
on the outer limits of a day's navigation by paddle. It is a few yards off the Little Shark River but visible from the River.
If you have to set up your tent at mosquito hour, you are going to be visited. If there is more than one tent, both need to
be be small (six feet each).
Little Shark River to Shark River, across Tarpon Bay and through Avocado Creek, a narrow creek, will bring
one to Canepatch, 28.5 miles from Flamingo. Canepatch is a sunny campsite with a dock, a toilet, a table, and a bay in front
of it which is not named. Beyond Canepatch are two waterways which lead to fresh water. In fact, Canepatch water is mostly
fresh, and fishing is different. Otters may make an appearance on the water. A gentleman racoon will visit at night, withdrawing
when he is shunned, reappearing in a few minutes from another direction. Hummingbirds and bees feed at Canepatch, and something
growls in the woods at night. Canepatch is off the Wilderness Waterway by at least 4 miles. It has considerable space to camp,
although it is surrounded by forest. A few years ago vandals chopped down trees of historic interest. A turkey vulture circles
HARNEY RIVER CHICKEE:
A single chickee 33 miles from Flamingo on the Wilderness Waterway and on Harney River, this site is attached
to a mangrove island in the middle of the River. Tides rush by the chickee. Harney River Chickee has a toilet. It is the last
stop before making the decision to go into The Nightmare or go down the River to the Gulf, if navigating the Wilderness Waterway.
There are two routes directly to the Gulf from the Chickee. Harney River Chickee is interesting for its position near The
Nightmare and far from the rest of the world.