Overview:

The Paddlers’ Waterway is a ~105-mile water route through Everglades National Park that is described in Johnny Molloy’s definitive guidebook “A Paddlers’ Guide to Everglades National Park”. As it travels from the Flamingo Ranger Station to Everglades City, it explores the best areas that the Everglades have to offer. As the name implies, it is traveled by paddle watercraft such as canoes and sea kayaks.

After leaving the Flamingo Ranger Station, the Paddlers Waterway: follows the white sand beaches of Florida Gulf Coast around Cape Sable, passing many small keys as it goes; heads inland and passes Oyster Bay, Shark River, and Harney River before coming to the Nightmare Route, a shallow series of channels which become a mud flat at low tide; follows Wood River upstream; crosses Rodgers River Bay; takes Lostmans River back to the Gulf, or the “outside” as it is known; follows the Gulf coast north until returning to the “inside” via the Huston River; and continues just a short ways farther before reaching Everglades City.

Challenges:

-Navigation: A number of the Everglades’ characteristics conspire to make navigation difficult. To name a few: there are no elevated features; the landmarks that do exist (mangroves, shorelines, water features) are monotonous; and distance is hard to judge over flat water. Fortunately there are enough certain fixed positions, such as waterway markers and campsites, that a boater can occasionally fix their position before moving on.

-Tides: Tidal variations influence the entire route of the Paddlers’ Waterway, some areas more than others. A low tide can take what looks like a grouping of islands on your map and turn it into an unbroken expanse of land, expose mud flats and oyster beds where your route should be, and even leave you stranded high and dry until the water comes back in. Fortunately humans learned to predict the tides a long time ago and with a tidal chart and some planning you can avoid any difficulties.

-Wind: Wind is not a considerable issue when you’re paddling along a mangrove-lined channel but it can be a serious concern if you’re on open water. A strong enough wind will whip the open ocean or an inland bay into a wave machine. Even if it doesn’t capsize your boat, it’ll sap your strength.