The Everglades chickee huts are sheltered camping platforms standing in the water – your own miniature island in the open water of a mangrove swamp.
By Terry Tomalin
If you have an urge to get away from it all, you can't get much further away than the southern end of Everglades National Park.
Actually, you can. For this adventure, the Flamingo Visitor Center is just the starting point for a unique camping experience.
Pick up your backcountry camping permit at the visitor center then head next door to the Flamingo 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 Chickees.
Everglades chickee huts 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 accessible for all, 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.
When You Go ...
What: Camping at Pearl Bay chickees on Hell's Bay Canoe Trail
Where: Everglades National Park
Phone: Everglades National Park, 305-242-7700; Flamingo Marina, 239-695-310
Flamingo Marina: flamingoeverglades.com/
Approved Tour Guides: nps.gov/ever/planyourvisit/permittedtours.htm