If you have an urge to get away from it all, you can't get much further away than Flamingo, located at the southern end of Everglades National Park. Right?
Actually, you can. For this adventure, Flamingo is just the starting point for a backcountry chickee camping adventure.
Pick up your backcountry camping permit at the Flamingo ranger station then head next door to the marina for canoe rentals. You can even make arrangements with the friendly staff for canoes to be dropped off and picked up at the Hell's Bay canoe trailhead.
Don't let that name scare you. Even though – according to the national park – it earned this moniker because it was "hell to get into and hell to get out," the mangrove maze is now easily navigable thanks to PVC trail markers.
Paddling quietly and looking closely, wildlife can be found above, below and all around.
Air plants, lizards, crabs, snails and frogs inhabit the red mangrove swamp, and a variety of birds and bugs can be found buzzing by, depending on the time of year.
Fish big and small dart from under canoes and paddle strokes, while the occasional alligator or dolphin is seen on the horizon.
Twist and turn through tight spots in mangroves, separated by the occasional open water passage, that stretch 3.5 miles to the Pearl Bay Chickee.
Chickees are sheltered camping platforms standing in the water. It’s your own man-made miniature island in the open water of a mangrove swamp. Open on all sides to allow the breeze to flow through, it not only cools but keeps insects away, which otherwise can be a deal breaker for Everglades camping.
The Pearl Bay Chickee experience is great for those new to wilderness camping. And, despite its backcountry location, it is handicapped accessible, and an "outhouse" restroom between the two camping platforms makes roughing it not quite so rough.
Just pack the recommended supplies and you’ll be ready to kick back and enjoy the sunset in this watery wonderland, drifting off to sleep while stargazing to the sound of lapping water, croaking frogs and an orchestra of swamp sounds.
If You Go
What: Camping at Pearl Bay chickees on Hell's Bay Canoe Trail
Where: Everglades National Park
Costs: Park entrance fee is $10 per private vehicle, plus $10 for a backcountry permit, plus a camping fee of $2 per person per night April through Nov. 16. Wilderness permits are free of charge, obtainable by self-registration at the Gulf Coast and Flamingo Visitor Centers. A 24-hour canoe rental from Flamingo Marina (for up to three passengers) is $40 and requires a $50 credit card deposit.
Hours: Everglades National Park is open 24 hours, but you must register and receive a backcountry camping permit at either the Gulf Coast or Flamingo area of the park no more than 24 hours in advance. Permits are issued between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Reservations for backcountry chickees are not available, but sites generally are available even during the busy season; rangers will assist campers with availability. Flamingo Marina is open Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 6 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Phone: Everglades National Park, 305-242-7700; Flamingo Marina, 239-695-3101
Everglades National Park Fees and permits: nps.gov/ever/planyourvisit/feesandreservations.htm
Flamingo Marina: evergladesnationalparkboattoursflamingo.com
Hell’s Bay Canoe Trail Guide: bit.ly/QrTcUp