Everglades Diary


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

Northern Campsites

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Tiger Key

Tiger Key
Current Status:   Open
Type of Site:   Beach (fires allowed) Toilet Facilities:   No
Number of people:   12 Number of parties:   3
Number of nights:   3 Dock:   No
Nearest to:   Picnic Key - 1 mile; Kingston Key chickee - 3 miles
GPS Waypoint:   N25 49.803   W81 29.553
Tiger Key hosts the northernmost campsite in the Everglades National Park. The main camping area is located on the western side of the island and faces the Gulf of Mexico, and is open to the seabreezes that make the beach sites so comfortable and free of bugs even in warmer weather. The half-mile-long beach is subdivided by patches of mangrove that create a more secluded and private camping experience than you might expect from an open beach site. The water on the Gulf side of the island is very shallow with numerous patches of coral and worm rock, which can make it difficult to approach, so be aware of the possibility of a portage across the flats during a low tide. Take special care when rounding the southwestern tip of the island on a low tide - there are extensive outcroppings of submerged coral rock which can make navigation dangerous in rough seas.

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Picnic Key

Picnic Key
Current Status:   Open
Type of Site:   Beach (fires allowed) Toilet Facilities:   Yes
Number of people:   16 Number of parties:   3
Number of nights:   3 Dock:   No
Nearest to:   Tiger Key - 1 mile; Kingston Key Chickee - 2 miles
GPS Waypoint:   N25 49.473   W81 29.173
Picnic Key is located just south of Tiger Key across a deep channel that separates the two islands. The main camping area on Picnic Key lies along the southhwestern shore of the island and consists of about two hundred yards of wide, sandy beach, backed by a thick tangle of trees and brush. The southern end of the camping beach ends in a clump of mangroves, and quickly narrows into a thin strip of sand strewn with water-worn stumps and driftwood. At the northern end of the island near the channel there is a portable toilet where a sign marks the camping area, and there are several broad, sandy areas suitable for camping situated along the channel. The approach to the island is across a shallow flat, which is exposed at low tide, but is much less extensive than the flats west of Tiger Key just to the north. A distinctive feature of Picnic Key is the small islet composed of coral rock that guards the western entrance of the channel. There used to be a gnarled old black mangrove perched on this rock, but it was destroyed by Hurricane Wilma and only a broken stump remains. The one night I spent at Picnic Key was during a March warm spell, with nighttime temperatures in the upper 70s. This should have made for a very buggy situation, but the steady seabreeze made this a pleasant stay, and the mosquitos were all but non-existent.

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Jewell Key

Jewell Key
Current Status:   Open
Type of Site:   Beach Toilet Facilities:   Yes
Number of people:   8 Number of parties:   2
Number of nights:    Dock:   No
Nearest to:   Picnic Key - 5 miles; Rabbit Key - 3.5 miles
GPS Waypoint:   N25 47.320   W81 25.106 approximate
Jewell Key is the newest of the Gulf Coast campsites. Located about a mile southwest of the Gulf entrance to Sandfly Pass, this beach site is the apparent replacement for the destroyed chickee at Kingston Key. As such, it is comparable in the the number of people and parties allowed, but the ranger on duty when I made my inquiry was unable to tell me how many nights you were allowed to stay. The site consists of a small patch of sand on the lee side of the island where the channel between the two halves of the island is located. The small camping area is dominated by the portable toilet, which is clearly visible from a distance (I could see it from the vicinity of Jack Daniels Key, more than a mile away), and the deep water approach at the campsite will make this a popular pit stop for fishing boats. The Gulf side of the island near the campsite is a magnificent ruin of downed mangroves and buttonwoods which I imagine will soon fall victim to firewood hunters, assuming that fires are allowed. Possibilities for camping along the Gulf shoreline appear to be limited by the narrowness of the beach, and the approach is made tricky by the extensive patches and shelves of submerged rock that you always find bordering the Gulf beaches in this area, but it might be worth a try if privacy is greatly desired. Given that Jewell Key is only about 4.5 miles from Everglades City it's unlikely I would choose it for a first night destination, but it might make a good last night stop on a loop trip, when I want an early finish the next morning.

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Rabbit Key

Rabbit Key
Current Status:   Open
Type of Site:   Beach (fires allowed) Toilet Facilities:   Yes
Number of people:   8 Number of parties:   2
Number of nights:   2 Dock:   No
Nearest to:   Kingston Key - 5.3 miles; Pavilion Key - 4 miles
GPS Waypoint:   N25 45.031   W81 22.678 approximate
Because of it's proximity to Everglades City, Rabbit Key is a popular campsite and it can be difficult to reserve a spot here during the winter camping season. The site is ideal for those out for an overnight trip, and also as a first-night stop for longer trips. The main campsite is situated on a narrow strip of sandy beach along the eastern shore of the island, where the portable toilet is also located. Reaching the campsite can be difficult on a falling tide, when the approach can become a quagmire of mud and oysters. Another smaller campsite is located on the northwestern point of Rabbit Key. Access to this spot is strictly governed by the tides due to the presence of a wide shelf of jagged coral rock that is exposed at low tide. Rabbit Key holds a distinctive place in the history of the Ten Thousand Islands as the spot where the frightened citizens of Chokoloskee buried the bullet-ridden remains of Edgar J. Watson, the losing party in the infamous showdown near Smallwood's Store in October of 1910. His body was later exhumed and moved to the cemetery at Ft. Myers.

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Pavilion Key

Pavilion Key
Current Status:   Open
Type of Site:   Beach (fires allowed) Toilet Facilities:   Yes (2)
Number of people:   20 Number of parties:   4
Number of nights:   3 Dock:   No
Nearest to:   Rabbit Key - 4 miles; Mormon Key - 4.5 miles
GPS Waypoint:   N25 42.413   W81 21.134
Pavilion Key is the largest campsite in the Ten Thousand Islands, and is an excellent first night choice for those heading south for a multi-day paddling expedition. The main campgrounds are on the northern point of the island, where it's popularity is attested to by the presence of two portable toilets. The northern point is also the only spot on the island easily accessible on all tides, which makes it a prime landing spot for motorboaters. There are a number of more secluded campsites to be found along the beach to the south, but here the island is fringed by mud flats extending as far out as 200 yards into the Gulf. I've had the dubious pleasure of portaging my canoe and gear across these flats at low tide and have since chosen to join the crowds at the north end at times when the tides won't allow an early exit. On the plus side, some of the finest sunsets I've ever witnessed were seen from the western shores of Pavilion Key. The island has a long history of human habitation reaching back hundreds of years to the Calusa Indians. The evidence of their presence can still be seen along the western shoreline, where the shallows are strewn with thousands of conch and welk shells that exhibit the distinctive holes that were punched into the shell to extract the meat. More recently, at the beginning of the 20th century, the flats to the west of the Pavilion were the focus of a clam dredging operation that supplied the canneries to the north at Marco Island and Caxambas, and the island was the site of a shanty town built to house the clammers and their families.

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Mormon Key

Mormon Key
Current Status:   Open
Type of Site:   Beach (fires allowed) Toilet Facilities:   No
Number of people:   12 Number of parties:   2
Number of nights:   3 Dock:   No
Nearest to:   Watson Place - 4 miles; New Turkey Key - 2 miles
GPS Waypoint:   N25 40.409   W81 17.412
Mormon Key lies just south and west of the hidden entrance to the Chatham River. The main campsite is located on the northwestern shore of the island on the gently curving beach of a shallow cove. The beach here slopes upward from the waterline to a narrow shelf of white sand, which is backed by a scrub-filled depression. Another smaller camping beach is situated on the eastern tip of the island adjacent to the pass leading from Chatham Bend to the grassy flats to the south of the island. The story goes that the island earned it's name from an early white settler by the name of Richard Hamilton, who built his homestead there in 1895 and lived on the key with one of his two living wives. His reputed polygamy caused the locals to think him a Mormon. Hurricane Donna destroyed two houses that still stood on Mormon Key in 1960, and the broken remains of a concrete dock can still be seen on the western tip of the island at low tide.

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New Turkey Key

New Turkey Key
Current Status:   Open
Type of Site:   Beach (fires allowed) Toilet Facilities:   Yes
Number of people:   10 Number of parties:   2
Number of nights:   2 Dock:   No
Nearest to:   Mormon Key - 2 miles; Turkey Key - 1 mile
GPS Waypoint:   N25 38.837   W81 16.866
The cluster of small mangrove islands that make up New Turkey Key lies at the southern end of the Ten Thousand Islands. While cut into several pieces by high water, low tide joins the individual pieces of the island into a massive flat of mud, shells, and worm rock. For camping purposes, only the southern half of the island is suitable. A deep channel that runs along the mainland side offers a comfortable approach on most tides, and is the recommended landing spot for those wanting to avoid a long, low-tide portage across the acres of shallow flats that extend to the north. The beach here is high and sandy, and in addition to the main camping area near the southern end of the island, there are several nice camping spots scattered among the mangroves to the north. New Turkey Key is located in an area that was once a center of activity for commercial fishermen before the Park was created, and the rotted stumps of the pilings where the floating fish houses and run boats were moored can still be seen near the northern tip of the island.

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Turkey Key

Turkey Key
Current Status:   Open
Type of Site:   Beach (fires allowed) Toilet Facilities:   No
Number of people:   12 Number of parties:   3
Number of nights:   3 Dock:   No
Nearest to:   New Turkey Key - 1 mile; Hog key - 5 miles
GPS Waypoint:   N25 38.685   W81 16.329
Turkey Key is located less than a mile to the east of New Turkey Key, and is considerably larger than it's companion. The western side of the island curves very gently in a shallow concave arc and a number of sandy beach camping areas can be spotted along this side of the island. Unlike New Turkey Key, there is no portable toilet. Before the Park was established, commercial fisherman had built shacks on the island, and run boats out of Chokoloskee and Everglades City would pick up their catch and drop off supplies. The shacks were destroyed in 1960 by Hurricane Donna.

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Hog Key

Hog Key
Current Status:   Open
Type of Site:   Beach (fires allowed) Toilet Facilities:   No
Number of people:   8 Number of parties:   2
Number of nights:   2 Dock:   No
Nearest to:   Turkey Key - 5 miles; Highland Beach - 7 miles
GPS Waypoint:   N25 34.262   W81 13.983
My most vivid memory of Hog Key was of being roused early one morning from a sound sleep by the snorting and snuffling of one of the feral hogs that give this campsite it's name. The animal was very large, and was rooting in the sand only a couple of feet from my tent in the pre-dawn morning, and I'm happy to say that it was content to move on down the beach without closer investigation of my camp. The hogs are descended from those raised on old Richard Hamilton's failed hog farm, their meat tainted and made inedible by the taste of the crabs and oysters that they were fed. The camping area on Hog Key is located on the Gulf side of the peninsula, along a narrow strip of beach that rises abruptly to a grassy shelf backed by thick scrub and forest. The beach runs out at the northern tip of the penisula in a stand of tall, storm-ravaged mangrove. Like so many of the Gulf coast beach sites, the approach can be difficult in low water, and careful planning is needed to avoid a long, muddy portage. Despite such difficulties, Hog Key stands out as one of the most beautiful campsites in the upper Waterway area and ranks as one of my favorites.

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Lopez River

Lopez River
Current Status:   Open
Type of Site:   Ground (no fires) Toilet Facilities:   Yes
Number of people:   12 Number of parties:   3
Number of nights:   2 Dock:   No
Nearest to:   Rabbit Key - 6 miles; Sunday Bay - 3.5 miles
GPS Waypoint:   N25 47.269   W81 18.375
The Lopez River groundsite is the first campsite you will encounter when venturing into the backcountry from the northern end of the Wilderness Waterway trail. Located only 8 miles from the Everglades City Visitor's Center, the spot is a popular first night destination. The site is also the location of one of the oldest white settlements in the area, and the old rainwater cistern built by Gregorio Lopez in the 1890's still dominates the spot. Careful investigation will reveal an inscription written in the wet concrete on a the lower part of the cistern: "...child Lopes born April 20 1892...". Like nearly all of the local settlements, it was built on the remains of an even older site, an ancient Calusa shell mound. There are two landing areas, one located directly in front of the cistern, and the other a few yards upriver. In both spots the shell banks slope steeply for several feet before leveling out into a shaded camping area. Storms have eroded the banks over the years and after Hurricane Wilma the portable toilet had to be relocated to the upriver landing to keep it from falling into the river. The cistern is now perched precariously near the water's edge, and it will also eventually succumb to the inexorable forces of storms and tidal currents. There are several tent spots scattered around the site, and picnic tables are provided.

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Still waiting for a photo...

Crooked Creek 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:   Yes
Nearest to:   Lopez River - 1 mile; Sweetwater Chickee - 10.8
GPS Waypoint:    N 25 47.786     W 81 17.927
Built in the fall of 2011, Crooked Creek Chickee is the Park's newest Wilderness Waterway campsite, and it serves as the replacement for the chickee platform that was removed from Sunday Bay. Crooked Creek Chickee is located at the southern end of Crooked Creek, the aptly named meandering connector between Lopez River and Sunday Bay. I will admit to having a sense of forboding when I first heard that they had placed a chickee at Crooked Creek, which is a popular shortcut for boaters. So popular in fact, that I've learned to avoid it on busy weekends. I imagined a campsite that would overlook a parade of exhaust spewing, wake producing motor boats that would pretty much destroy the wilderness experience. When I visited the chickee I was pleasantly surprised to find that the chickee is not located in Crooked Creek proper, but is actually situated in a sheltered channel about 250 yards to the northwest of the southern entrance to Crooked Creek in a spot that is unlikely to be used by boaters. There is even a "No Wake" sign at the entrance to the channel. The location is not obvious, so get detailed directions when you get your permit if you're not familiar with the area. The last time I checked, the new chickee hadn't yet been added to the Wilderness Waterway Trip Planner. Since it's a double-platform chickee, I will assume that the number of people and parties allowed will be the same as the other double chickees in the Park, but you will want to confirm this before you get a permit for this site.

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Still waiting for a photo...

Sunday Bay Chickee
Current Status:   Closed
Type of Site:   Double chickee Toilet Facilities:   Yes
Number of people:   6/6 Number of parties:   1/1
Number of nights:   1 Dock:   Yes
Nearest to:   Lopez River - 3.5 miles; Watson Place - 8 miles
GPS Waypoint:   NN25 48.030   W81 16.601
Sunday Bay Chickee has been permanently closed and the chickee platform has been removed. I, for one, will miss that lovely bench on the "B" platform!
At 11.5 miles from Everglades City, the chickee at Sunday Bay qualifies as the ideal first-night camping spot for those venturing deeper into the backcountry from the north, but it also has it's drawbacks. Sunday Bay is so shallow that the strong winds of a cold front will sometimes blow the water right out of the bay, and the Park service will close the site. Even at normal water levels, the lagoon where the chickee is located can become very shallow on a low tide, making the approach difficult. The bottom mud is very soft and very deep, and covered by thick mats of hydrilla weed. When approaching the chickee on a low tide you should avoid cutting straight across the lagoon. Instead, follow the shoreline of the 2 islands that form the southern rim of the lagoon, where a narrow channel allows access to the right-hand, or "B" platform of the chickee. If you're lucky, the "B" platform will be vacant and you can take advantage of the wide bench that runs along the back of the chickee, which the "A" side lacks. Despite it's difficulties, Sunday Bay is a truly beautiful setting and the view from the chickee can be breathtaking, with spectacular sunrises and sunsets.

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Sweetwater Chickee

Sweetwater 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:   Yes
Nearest to:   Watson Place - 3.5 miles; Darwin's Place - 5 miles
GPS Waypoint:   N25 44.671   W81 12.719
My first encounter with chickee camping happened at Sweetwater Creek, and it was an incredible, if somewhat painful, experience - the first night of sleeping on the hard, wooden platform taught me that chickee camping requires a little extra padding! The campsite is situated in a gorgeous little bay about a mile north of creek's entrance, and the chickee is located far enough from the mangroves to be open to the breeze on all sides, which helps keep the bugs down. A small island dotted with palm trees occupies the center of the bay, and the fresh water spring that gave the creek it's name is rumored to be nearby, although I've never been able to locate it. The original Indian inhabitants and the white settlers that followed would travel by boat to this spring to fill their barrels with the precious fresh water, a scarce commodity along the mangrove coast. Sweetwater Creek continues on for a little way to the east, getting very skinny at points, but worth exploring if you have the time. On the first night I spent at Sweetwater Chickee I was treated to an astounding display of bioluminescence that lit up the lagoon after dark like an underwater fireworks show.

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The Watson Place

The Watson Place
Current Status:   Open
Type of Site:   Ground ( no fires) Toilet Facilities:   Yes
Number of people:   20 Number of parties:   5
Number of nights:   2 Dock:   Yes
Nearest to:   Sweetwater - 3.5 miles; Mormon Key - 4 miles
GPS Waypoint:   N25 42.546   W81 14.741
Located on the Chatham River, the Watson Place is the largest ground site in the Park. Formerly the homestead of Ed "Bloody" Watson, it's also the most notorious campsite in the Ten Thousand Islands. The 40 acre Calusa shell mound was developed by Watson into one of the most productive and successful sugarcane plantations and vegetable farms between the Florida Keys and Marco Island. He built a sturdy two-story house which stood until 1960, when it was damaged beyond repair by Hurricane Donna and demolished by the Park Service. Believed by some to be the man who murdered the outlaw queen Belle Starr, Watson's dark past finally caught up to him in the Ten Thousand Islands. Although the stories were most likely untrue, rumors were spread of "Watson's payday", on which several of his farmhands were believed to have been handed their final reward instead of a paycheck at the end of the harvest. These rumors eventually led to his shooting death by vigilantes on Chokoloskee Island after the hurricane of 1910. Today, the house is gone, and only the concrete piers on which it stood remain, scattered and covered by the thick scrub of Brazilian pepper which has overgrown most of the plantation. The large, open camping area is located on the site of Watson's sugar mill, and a small cistern, a rusted syrup kettle, and the remnants of farm machinery still remain. If you follow a well-worn path into the tangle of pepper trees at the rear of the camping area, you can still find the rusted remains of Watson's Model T Ford. The deep water approach and the large dock invite motorboat campers, and the site can be busy on a weekend. The mosquitos can be fierce here, so take along plenty of bug dope if you plan a trip to the Watson Place in warm weather.

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Darwin's Place

Darwin's Place
Current Status:   Open
Type of Site:   Ground (no fires) Toilet Facilities:   Yes
Number of people:   8 Number of parties:   2
Number of nights:   3 Dock:   No
Nearest to:   Watson Place - 4 miles; Sweetwater - 5 miles
GPS Waypoint:   N25 41.643   W81 12.139
Darwin's Place is named for Arthur Leslie Darwin, the last private resident of the Park, and he was only the last of a steady line of settlers who have occupied the spot known as Possum Key since the 1880s. The most famous of these was the flamboyant naturalist and plume hunter, Jean Chevelier, known to the locals as "the old Frenchman". As a child, Loren "Totch" Brown settled for a while here with his family when they took to the backcountry to live off the land during the Great Depression. The campsite is located on the channel separating Possum Key from a smaller uninhabited island. This island shelters Possum Key from the strong easterlies that blow across Chevelier Bay and Cannon Bay, and made it attractive as a settlement for a steady line of homesteaders that occupied the mound for hundreds of years. The concrete foundations of Arthur Darwin's demolished home still dominate the site, where fig and gumbo limbo trees now spread their twisted roots through the remains of the old fireplace. Darwin's Place is only a mile from the mouth of Gopher Creek and is an excellent spot from which to launch an exploration of the Creek and it's ancient Calusa ceremonial mound. A word of warning: Totch Brown tells of being attacked by "red bugs", also known as chiggers, on the first night he and his family camped here in 1930, and I can vouch for the fact that they're still there. I once fell asleep while lying on the shell bank in the warm sunlight one winter afternoon, and I was scratching chigger bites for days afterward.

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Plate Creek Chickee

Plate Creek Chickee
Current Status:   Open
Type of Site:   Single Chickee Toilet Facilities:   Yes
Number of people:   6 Number of parties:   1
Number of nights:   1 Dock:   Yes
Nearest to:  Darwin's Place - 5.5 miles; Lostman's Five - 1 mile
GPS Waypoint:   N25 38.459   W81 08.940
Plate Creek Chickee is a bit different in size and shape than most other chickees. Formerly a diesel fueling station for one of the big land companies back in the 1920s, the platform has since been converted to one of the largest single-platform chickees in the Park. Instead of the usual 4x4 posts that support the other chickees in the Park, Plate Creek boasts massive pilings the size of telephone poles, remains of the original platform. My first visit to Plate Creek Chickee left me unimpressed by it's state of disrepair, but the site has since benefitted from the ongoing chickee renovation being undertaken by the Park Service, and the old log pilings have been reinforced and new planking covers the platform. A partially enclosed docking space invites motorboat campers and fishermen. The platform is backed up tight against the eastern shore of an island in Plate Creek Bay, and bugs can be a problem here.

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Lostman's Five

Lostman's Five Bay
Current Status:   Open
Type of Site:   Ground (no fires) Toilet Facilities:   Yes
Number of people:   10 Number of parties:   2
Number of nights:   2 Dock:   Yes
Nearest to:   Plate Creek - 1 mile; Willy Willy - 10.5 miles
GPS Waypoint:   N25 38.041   W81 08.548
Lostman's Five Bay is the former site of the boat landing where prospective buyers of the Poinciana Company's land development would set out to view the "The Coming Miami of the Gulf". The hurricane of 1926 brought the Poinciana development on Lostman's River to a crashing halt, ending one of the more outlandish sales promotions of the great south Florida land boom of the 1920s. As a campsite, Lostman's Five has garnered a reputation for being muddy during wet weather, and in response the Park Service has chosen to deck over most of the open camping area. I suppose that this qualifies as an improvement, and I suppose that the impact of frequent camping on the soft ground had it's negative effects, but I have to admit that it still disappoints me. It may have been a little soggy at times, but the natural ambience of the unimproved site, with it's surrounding forest of lush, tropical foliage, made it a beautiful spot to camp. In my mind that ambience has been diminished by the new artificial surface. Even so, this can still be a nice campsite, and the sunsets over Lostman's Five Bay are a sight to behold.

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