Everglades Diary


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

Southern Campsites

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Northwest Cape

Northwest Cape
Current status:   Open
Type of Site:   Beach (fires allowed) Toilet Facilities:   No
Number of people:   36 Number of parties:   9
Number of nights:   7 Dock:   No
Nearest to:   Graveyard Creek - 11 miles; Middle Cape - 5 miles
GPS Waypoint:   N25 13.280   W81 10.256
Northwest Cape begins the long stretch of pristine white sand beach that runs for most of the length of Cape Sable on the southwest Florida peninsula. The beach at Northwest Cape starts just south of the top end of Little Sable Creek, and runs for just over four miles until it stops at the Middle Cape Canal, the entrance to Lake Ingraham. Behind the beach is an open salt prairie that extends inland for about a half-mile at it's widest point before it turns to a forest of black mangroves. Because of the easy approach for motor boats, you can expect to share this site with weekend boaters, but there is more than enough space to give everybody plenty of room. If you're leaving Northwest Cape and heading south, try backtracking a bit and paddle south via Little Sable Creek, which runs inland starting about a mile north of the beach, and takes you to the north end of Lake Ingraham.

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Middle Cape

Middle Cape
Current status:   Open
Type of Site:   Beach (fires allowed) Toilet Facilities:   No
Number of people:   60 Number of parties:   15
Number of nights:   7 Dock:   No
Nearest to:   NW Cape - 5 miles; East Cape - 4.5 miles
GPS Waypoint:   N25 09.395   W81 08.442
As you can see by the photo, the deep water approach to Middle Cape makes it a popular campsite for the weekend motorboat crowd. This isn't always the case, however, and for the one night I spent at Middle Cape I had the entire point to myself. Unlike Northwest Cape, there are areas at the north end of the Middle Cape beach where you can find some shade, and a bit of privacy can be had there during busy weekends. This part of the Florida coast has a long and rich history of settlement. Fort Cross was established there during the Third Seminole War in 1856, and the spot was originally called Palm Point for the stand of tall palms that used to grow there and could be seen by sailors far out at sea. In 1898, there was an abortive attempt by the Langford family of Ft. Myers to raise cattle on the prairie behind Lake Ingraham, and the reasons given for it's failure range from a plague of mosquitos to the poor salt grass that grows there. In the early 1880s, the Waddell family estabished on Middle Cape a 1,200 acre plantation of about 8,000 coconut palms that were cared for by a series of loosely defined "caretakers", many of them little more than squatters, up until the late 1920s. A survey of the area taken in 1933 for the coming National Park reported that there was little left of the grove, and the plantation and all of it's buildings were finally destroyed and washed away in the hurricane of 1935. You can still see a few traces of the settlement scattered around the scrub behind the beach south of the Middle Cape point, and coconut palms can still be seen growing along the beach.

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East Cape

East Cape
Current status:   Open
Type of Site:   Beach (fires allowed) Toilet Facilities:   No
Number of people:   60 Number of parties:   15
Number of nights:   7 Dock:   No
Nearest to:   Middle Cape - 5 miles; Clubhouse Beach - 3 miles
GPS Waypoint:   N25 06.984   W81 05.271
The point at East Cape Sable bears the distinction of being the southernmost spot on the United States mainland. The high, sloping beach here is backed by stands of mangrove and sea grape trees among which there is ample room for camping. Farther north, the trees thin out, leaving a wide stretch of beach backed by open salt prairie. Along the north end of the beach, the pilings of an old cattle dock can still be seen. Like Middle Cape, the area is rich with history. Fort Poinsett was established here by Surgeon General Thomas Lawson in 1838 during the Second Seminole War, and the fort was alternately abandoned and reoccupied as late as 1856 during the Third Seminole War. The foundation lines of the old fort could still be seen up until 1935, when all traces were finally wiped out by the great hurricane that occurred in that year. East Cape was also the burial site of America's first Audubon game warden, Guy Bradley, who was murdered in 1905 by plume hunter Walter Smith. Bradley's grave marker was also washed away by the 1935 hurricane and no trace remains of his final resting place. Bradley was the first real hero and martyr of the growing conservation movement that eventually led to the dedication of Everglades National Park in 1947. A memorial to Guy Bradley can be found in the lower breezeway of the Flamingo Visitor's Center, and an island just offshore from Flamingo bears his name.

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Oyster Bay Chickee

Oyster Bay 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:   Shark River - 5 miles; Joe River - 4 miles
GPS Waypoint:   N25 19.407   W81 03.980
Oyster Bay Chickee is situated behind the shelter of a mangrove key in eastern Oyster Bay. This sheltered location combined with a deep water approach makes it a favorite of fishermen, and the site is often booked full. If you want to camp here it pays to pull your permit a day before your departure and be at the Ranger station when they first open. My one stay at Oyster Bay was during a warm spell with no breeze, and the no-see-ums were very aggravating. After the sun went down and the temperature dropped, the situation improved somewhat and I was able to enjoy the aftermath of a gorgeous sunset while a convoy of dolphins heading east to Whitewater Bay passed by the chickee.

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Joe River Chickee

Joe River 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:   Oyster Bay - 4 miles; South Joe - 6.5 miles
GPS Waypoint:   N25 16.786   W81 03.939
Joe River Chickee is sheltered in a deep cove at the top of the Joe River, just south of the entrance to Oyster Bay. This spot has the distinction of being the oldest chickee campsite in the Park, and was built shortly after the creation of the Waterway in the early 1960s. The current double chickee platform is a rebuild of the original single platform. Joe River Chickee is one of my favorite dolphin-watching spots, and I've never been disappointed in observing these fascinating creatures as they make their way along the Joe River to and from Oyster Bay. On one occasion, we had the pleasure of watching as a group of dolphins, including two juveniles, made their way directly under the center of the chickee, only to disappear into the creek that runs through the mangroves directly behind the platform.

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South Joe River Chickee

South Joe River 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:   Joe River - 6.5 miles; Flamingo - 11 miles
GPS Waypoint:   N25 13.245   W81 01.132
South Joe River Chickee, as the name implies, is located about 3 miles from the southern entrance of the Joe River. The chickee is situated in a small bay west of the river, and is located far enough away from the mangroves to allow breezes to blow from all directions. This makes it a fairly comfortable spot during warm weather trips, as long as there is some breeze to keep the no-see-ums and mosquitos at bay. The bay is also a destination of the the tour boat that runs out of Flamingo, and on both of the occassions that I spent at South Joe River, my camp was the subject of scrutiny by curious tourists as the tour boat made a pass by the chickee. If you have some extra time while camping at South Joe River, take some of that time to explore the little creek at the southeastern end of the bay that leads to a small lake. I've seen otters and flocks of spoonbills back in there, and the tantalizing thought that this spot is only about a mile from the Gator Lakes wakes up the exploration bug in me. I've often wondered if some serious bushwacking could established a route between South Joe River and Lake Ingraham through the Gator Lakes.

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Watson River Chickee

Watson River 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:   Oyster Bay - 8 miles; North River - 3 mile
GPS Waypoint:   N25 19.955   W80 58.839
Watson River Chickee is the northermost of the string of chickee campsites located along the eastern margins of Whitewater Bay. This location makes it the perfect jumping off point for a trip through the Shark River Labyrinth, the tangled complex of streams and ponds that connects the Little Shark River and northern Whitewater Bay. This has become my preferred route between Flamingo and the upper Shark River. Watson River is a single platform chickee that offers a beautiful view of the north end of Whitewater Bay.

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North River Chickee

North River 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:   Watson River - 3 mile; Roberts River - 3 miles
GPS Waypoint:   N25 19.907   W80 56.237
North River Chickee is, hands down, my favorite chickee site in the entire Park. The memories I have of nights spent at North River are ones of relaxation and solititude, and of moonless night skies so filled with stars that familiar constellations are lost in the profusion of light. Sunrises have always been nothing short of spectacular. Despite the name, North River Chickee isn't actually located in the North River. Instead, it is on the river that I call the "River North of North River", since it isn't named on any of the charts I have. The chickee is backed up against a small mangrove island, and the water just off the platform is clear, clean, and inviting on warm days.

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Robert's River Chickee

Roberts River Chickee
Current status:   Open
Type of Site:   Double chickee Toilet Facilities:   6/6
Number of people:   1/1 Number of parties:   2
Number of nights:   1 Dock:   Yes
Nearest to:   North River - 3 miles; Lane Bay - 5.5 miles
GPS Waypoint:   N25 18.969   W80 54.491
Roberts River Chickee is the middle campsite in the string of chickee sites that are spread out between Hell's Bay and Watson River. The chickee sits in a cove on the eastern bank of Roberts River, a little more than a half-mile south of the Cutoff between Roberts River and North River, near one of the hardwood hammocks common in the fresh and brackish water Glades. The double platform faces southwest, and my one night there was distinguished by one of the most spectacular and long-lasting sunset displays that I've seen anywhere. The chickke at Robert River is a replacement for the original ground site that was designated when the Wilderness Waterway was first established in the early 1960s. The original site was located on the eastern shore of the river, just across the intersection of the Cutoff, and can still be seen on the topo maps maintained by the USGS.

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Lane Bay chickee

Lane Bay 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:   Lane Bay - 5.5 miles; Hell's Bay - 2.5 miles
GPS Waypoint:   N25 16.994   W80 53.522
Lane Bay rivals North River as my favorite chickee campsite, and for good reason. Sheltered by a richly diverse hardwood hammock on the north side, and offering a beautiful view of Lane Bay to the south, this single-platform chickee is the epitome of the best that backcountry canoe camping has to offer in the Everglades. The first night I ever spent at Lane Bay was during the passage of a strong cold front that brought high winds and heavy rain out of the northwest. The hammock protected the chickee from the wind and the rain and I was able to sit outside my tent during the storm and watch the rain blow in horizontal sheets past the chickee, while keeping perfectly dry. After the rain passed, the setting sun reflected off the underside of the clouds, and painted the air and the surface of the water with a beautiful golden light.

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Pearl Bay Chickee

Pearl Bay 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:   Hell's Bay - 2 miles; Lard Can - 1 mile
GPS Waypoint:   N25 15.569   W80 51.375
Pearl Bay Chickee is the only chickee in the Park that provides handicapped access by way of a water-level canoe landing and handrails on one of the platforms. What makes this possible is the nearly nil influence of tides this far from the Gulf. The upper platforms are surrounded by guardrails that makes wheelchair access safe and secure. I have stopped several times at Pearl Bay while paddling the Hell's Bay trail on day trips, but I've never spent the night there, mostly because it's out of the way and too close to Flamingo to be considered for a first-night campsite on my usual Waterway trips. Next season I plan on taking a long weekend in the Hell's Bay vicinity by putting in at the Hell's Bay Trail on the Park Road, and then camping alternately between Pearl Bay, Hell's Bay, and Lard Can before returning to the road. This will be the fulfillment of a desire I have long had to go exploring deep into the Bill Ashley Jungles, the long-forgotten area of mangrove forest west of the Park Road between Paurotis Pond and Hell's Bay. The old Whiskey Creek trail used to run through the Jungles, but that trail has long been lost and finding it again is not likely to happen without a concerted effort of determined exploration.

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Hell's Bay Chickee

Hell's Bay 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:   Lane Bay - 2.5 miles; Pearl Bay - 2 miles
GPS Waypoint:   N25 15.203   W80 52.719
Hell's Bay Chickee is the replacement for a ground site that was originally located about a quarter-mile north of its present location. The old site is still marked on USGS topo maps of the area. Hell's Bay has always been a last-night destination on my way south on Wilderness Waterway journeys, and it has come to evoke a sort of melancholy in me that is associated with the coming end of a long trip. Many people spend the night at Hell's Bay after paddling the Hell's Bay Trail from the Park Road, and I intend to join that crowd on my planned deep exploration of the Bill Ashley Jungles between Hell's Bay and Paurotis Pond in the Fall 2009 season.

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Lard Can

Lard Can
Current status:   Open
Type of Site:   Ground ( no fires) Toilet Facilities:   Yes
Number of people:   10 Number of parties:   4
Number of nights:   2 Dock:   No
Nearest to:   Hell's Bay - 2 miles; Pearl Bay - 1 miles
GPS Waypoint:   N25 14.956   W80 50.827
If you've ever wanted to experience the Everglades in the way that pioneer Gladesmen like Glen Simmons and Totch Brown lived it, then Lard Can is the place for you. Nestled on a hardwood hammock, deep in the mangrove jungles at the end of the Hell's Bay Trail, Lard Can gets its name from the 5 gallon tin lard cans with tight fitting lids that the early Glades skiffers, gator hunters, and moonshiners commonly used to store their food and other supplies. They would sometimes stash or bury these cans filled with necessities at their camps, one of which is the spot we now know as Lard Can. I have visited Lard Can a number of times during day trips along the Hell's Bay Trail, but I've never spent the night there. I can say that it can be a muddy spot at most times, and I would choose to make camp farther back in the hammock on higher ground rather than near the shoreline, if that is possible. This may not be as much of a problem at times of low water during the dry season.

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