Travel and Leisure — December 9, 2014 at 5:00 am

6 Best Backcountry Campsites in the Everglades

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©istockphoto/DoxaDigital

©istockphoto/DoxaDigital

The backcountry of the Florida Everglades is a landscape unlike any other. Mangrove forests twist above the mud-brown canals, while alligators stealthily wade through the shallow depths beneath the calls of anhingas and herons. Access to Everglades campsites require much more than hiking and pitching a tent. The campsites here require navigation on boat or canoe, wading on foot through waterlogged fields of sawgrass, and setting camp on the beaches overlooking Florida Bay. These are the six best backcountry campsites in the Everglades.

Clubhouse Beach
Clubhouse Beach is one of the few backcountry campsites in the Everglades accessible by hiking. Set on the sands against the lapping waters of Florida Bay, the beach is remote, secluded, and tranquil, available for a limited amount of permit-holders at a time. Pitch camp on the sands, and listen to a symphony of birdcalls from the forest, while bottlenose dolphins play offshore. The trail leading to the campsite is 7.5 miles one-way, following an old trade route used by Florida’s fisherman and plantation owners. The hike traverses open prairies, bushwhacks through dense woods, and finishes on a spectacular ocean-side panorama.

Shark Point
Shark Point is as remote as backcountry gets. This corner of the Everglades offers something that no other National Park in the world can offer; a campsite set miles offshore on a small platform with only the ocean for company. This semi-primitive campsite (it comes with a pre-installed port-a-potty) is only accessible by watercraft, and consists of two raised wooden platforms above the water with space for two tents. From the shallow reefs, watch for alligators, sharks, and a variety of fish swimming around the platform. Gaze at an unforgettable sunset while a fishing pole is lazily cast over the side, awaiting the night’s dinner catch.

Pavilion Key
Set on the Everglades western shores, the impossibly white fine grain sands of Pavilion Key invite kayakers to paddle the emerald open waters along dolphin pods, dive-bombing birds, and golden twilight skies. From the community of Chokoloskee, an ancient Native American and European settlement, kayakers travel ten challenging miles up the western coast to reach the secluded beach. Set behind uninhabited barrier islands and remote beaches, the beach is base camp for miles of territory to explore. Be sure to hang food high to avoid sharing with the numerous raccoon families who call these forests home.

Little Rabbit Key
12-miles off the coast of Flamingo, the campsite at Little Rabbit Key is so secluded, that it takes considerable knowledge of marine navigation to find it. This tiny barrier island has a dock, a small composting toilet, and a shimmering vista of the Bay. On the weekends, campers will find themselves sharing the islands with legions of fisherman, casting in some of Florida’s most marine life-abundant waters. While catching sun on the dock, be on the lookout for dolphins, sharks, and sea turtles while ospreys nest in the twisted mangrove branches.

Hell’s Bay
A winding canoe trail through the dense interior of the Everglades weaves through tunnels of arching branches and secluded lakes, culminating on a campsite placed in the heart of the National Park. Alligators, freshwater dolphin, and snakes inhabit the canals, and the narrow passages are so spread out, that it’s hard to find another party on the trail. Start from the tiny roadside dock near Flamingo, and follow the easily seen markers to one of four campsites. Two beach campsites on the shore and two secluded platform sites ensure tranquil solitude at the center of the River of Grass.

Highland Beach
While the campers are flocking to popular beaches such as Pavilion Key and Clubhouse, Highland Beach is a long stretch of sand that’s home to whitetail deer, dolphins, pods of pilot whales, and a multitude of bird life. Alligators rest comfortably on the pearl-white sands, while the backdrop of palm trees sway in the ocean breeze. A long sandbar extends far into the Gulf of Mexico letting campers wade in shallow waters among coral, horseshoe crabs and stingrays. If the weekend crowds have pitched their tents on the beach, head four miles inland and set up along the shores of Broad River, an alternate, secluded campsite in the twisted groves of the interior Everglades.

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