Everglades Diary


Please note: GPS waypoints are given in Degrees and decimal minutes, and all coordinates should be considered approximate.

Florida Bay Campsites

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Clubhouse Beach

Clubhouse Beach
Current Status:   Open.
Type of Site:   Beach (fires allowed) Toilet Facilities:   No
Number of people:   24 Number of parties:   4
Number of nights:   3 Dock:   No
Nearest to:   East Cape - 3 miles; East Clubhouse - 3 miles
GPS Waypoint:   N25 07.750   W81 02.038 (approximate)
Clubhouse Beach is located on the shores of Florida Bay about 7 miles due west of Flamingo. The spot takes it's name from the sportsman's clubhouse that was built by the Model Land Company to entice visitors to the area during the great Florida Land Boom of the 1920s. When the boom went bust in 1925, the clubhouse fell into disuse and was eventually abandoned, and years of storms have erased all traces of the building. Today, a narrow strip of beach marks the spot, which is backed by an open prairie of low scrub and sea purslane. If you plan on camping at Clubhouse Beach, try to approach the beach on a high tide. A low tide will expose a muddy bottom of soft marl clay that will stick tenaciously to everything it touches. Clubhouse Beach is the only waterside backcountry campsite that can be reached by hikers, via the 9-mile Coastal Prairie Trail that runs west from the campground at Flamingo.

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East Clubhouse

East Clubhouse Beach
Current Status:   Open.
Type of Site:   Beach (fires allowed) Toilet Facilities:   No
Number of people:   24 Number of parties:   4
Number of nights:   3 Dock:   No
Nearest to:   Clubhouse Beach - 3 miles; Flamingo - 4 miles
GPS Waypoint:   N25 07.579   W80 59.664 (approximate)
East Clubhouse is very much like it's neighbor and namesake 3 miles to the west - a skinny stretch of beach that fronts a prairie of mangrove, buttonwood scrub, and sea purslane ground cover. Much of the beach at East Clubhouse was washed away by the storm surge of Hurricane Wilma, and I had a hard time finding any place to set up a tent here on a trip I made in the fall of 2007. Just like Clubhouse Beach, you should try to arrive and leave on a high tide to avoid the mucky marl bottom mud that makes such a mess of things when you have to walk and carry your gear through it. Unlike Clubhouse Beach, East Clubhouse is not as easily accessible to hikers, as it is separated from the Coastal Prairie Trail by a mile of salt marsh.

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Alligator Creek

Alligator Creek
Current Status:   Open.
Type of Site:   Ground (no fires) Toilet Facilities:   No
Number of people:   8 Number of parties:   3
Number of nights:   2 Dock:   No
Nearest to:   Shark Point - 2.5 miles; Flamingo - 10.5 miles
GPS Waypoint:   N25 10.567   W80 47.600
The entrance to Alligator Creek is located in the northeast corner of Garfield Bight, about 8 miles west of Flamingo. The campsite is on the northern bank a short distance from the creek entrance, and is backed by open marl prairie with ample space for camping. The mosquitoes can be crazy bad here in warm weather, and I've aborted attempts to camp when the bugs were simply too unbearable. Alligator Creek is aptly named: I've counted as many as a dozen gators lurking near the creek entrance, and it's common to see them lounging at the the campsite as you approach. Just east of the campsite the trees close in and the creek seems to be blocked, but if you look to your left you'll see a small opening that takes you deep into the twisty passageway of a mangrove tunnel, which is the endpoint of the West Lake Canoe Trail. The gators here are large and numerous, and they have the startling habit of plunging suddenly into the narrow creek just ahead of your boat as you approach. This is also prime crocodile habitat, and big crocs can often be seen lounging on the banks of the creek. If you want a glimpse of the Everglades as it was in the time of the Gladesmen, this is the place to be.

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Shark Point Chickee

Shark Point Chickee
Current Status:   Open.
Type of Site:   Double chickee Toilet Facilities:   Yes
Number of people:   6/6 Number of parties:   1/1
Number of nights:   1 Dock:   No
Nearest to:   Alligator Creek - 2.5 miles; Flamingo - 8 miles
GPS Waypoint:   N25 8.468   W80 28.147
Shark Point Chickee replaces the old Shark Point ground site, and is located roughly 8 miles due east of Flamingo at the southern end of Garfield Bight, near the tip of Shark Point. Shark Point Chickee is reached from Flamingo by crossing the shallow grass flats of Snake Bight, or by following the shoreline south from Alligator Creek if you're coming down from West Lake. The site is a natural first-night choice for a Florida Bay loop, but it does have it's drawbacks, chief of which is the height of the chickee platform, which rises 5 feet above the mean high water line. This puts the platform nearly 10 feet overhead during a low tide. The chickee's height was mandated by the permitting process required of the NPS in order to meet a plethora of state and federal regulations designed to protect seagrasses. To the credit of the powers-that-be in ENP, they have responded to the feedback from Florida Bay paddlers and have installed a lower landing deck that provides a much more stable loading and unloading platform.

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Carl Ross Key

Carl Ross Key
Current Status:   Open for day use only
Type of Site:   Beach (fires allowed) Toilet Facilities:   No
Number of people:   N/A Number of parties:   N/A
Number of nights:   N/A Dock:   No
Nearest to:   Clubhouse Beach - 5.6 miles; East Cape - 6.5 miles
GPS Waypoint:   N25 02.648   W81 01.187
Carl Ross Key suffered heavy damage from hurricanes Katrina and Wilma and has been permanently closed for camping, but it is still open for day use. The island is located far out in Florida Bay, about 8 miles to the southwest of Flamingo, and is the northernmost of a pair of islands. Sandy Key just to the south is the larger of the two, and has been off-limits to landing since it's designation as a bird sanctuary. Sandy Key was where John J. Audubon took many of the specimens that he painted during his trip to Key West. As a campsite, Carl Ross Key stood out in my experience as the crown jewel of the Everglades backcountry sites, and I've had the privilege of spending several days and nights of blissful solitude on it's beautiful white beaches.

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Johnson Key Chickee

Johnson Key Chickee
Current Status:   Open
Type of Site:   Double chickee Toilet Facilities:   Yes
Number of people:   6/6 Number of parties:   1/1
Number of nights:   1 Dock:   No
Nearest to:   Flamingo - 6.25 miles; E. Clubhouse Beach - 7.25 miles
GPS Waypoint:   N25 03.073   W80 54.446
Johnson Key Chickee replaces the campsite at Carl Ross Key, and was built in the same year as Shark Point Chickee. It shares the same "high-rise" elevation as Shark Point, and has also been retrofitted with a lower platform to make it easier for paddlers to use.

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Little Rabbit Key

Little Rabbit Key
Current Status:   Open
Type of Site:   Ground (no fires) Toilet Facilities:   Yes
Number of people:   12 Number of parties:   4
Number of nights:   2 Dock:   Yes
Nearest to:   Carl Ross Key - 13 miles; Flamingo -12.5 miles
GPS Waypoint:   N24 58.888   W80 49.571
Little Rabbit Key is located about 12.5 miles south of Flamingo, as the crow flies. It can be a challenge for paddlers to reach, not just for it's distance across miles of open, windy water, but because of the massive shallow banks that you have to either cross on a rising tide, or go several miles out of your way to avoid if you're crossing on a low tide. Once you reach Little Rabbit Key you'll find a dock that leads to a small area of open marl backed by an area of weedy scrub fringed on all sides by mangroves. The island is completely surrounded by a deep moat of clear water, and a network of channels allow deep draft boats to approach from the south. Because of this, the island tends to fill up with motor boaters on weekends.

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North Nest Key

North Nest Key
Current Status:   Open.
Type of Site:   Beach (fires allowed) Toilet Facilities:   Yes
Number of people:   25 Number of parties:   7
Number of nights:   7 Dock:   Yes
Nearest to:   Key Largo Ranger Station - 5.5 miles; Shark Point - about 20 miles
GPS Waypoint:   N25 08.974   W80 30.875
North Nest Key is located at the eastern end of Florida Bay, about 5 miles northwest of the Key Largo Ranger Station. The campsite is so far off the Wilderness Waterway that it is used mostly by people visiting the Florida Keys, rather than those coming to the Everglades to camp. It's one of the few Everglades campsites that I've never seen, let alone visited or camped at, so I don't have a photo. One of the trips I'd like to make at some time in the future is a crossing of Florida Bay from Flamingo to Key Largo, and North Nest key would be a logical campsite for such a trip. A full report will be made when that trip is finally realized.

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