TheBigOutside Blog

Michael Lanza, creator of TheBigOutside.com and Northwest Editor of Backpacker Magazine, writes about hiking, backpacking, climbing, backcountry skiing, paddling and other self-powered outdoor adventures

Like No Other Place in the World: Paddling the Everglades

As we turn off US 41 onto an unmarked dirt road, just a few miles north of the boundary of Everglades National Park, a small, homemade sign nailed to a tree reads: “Welcome to the real Florida.” Although the driving directions I received for this put-in on the East River seemed to invite error—they were of the “turn left past the end of the guardrail” variety—this sign makes me think we’ve landed in the right place.

A little while later, under a hot February sun and cloudless sky, we push off from a tiny spot of sandy beach into the perfectly still, dark-chocolate waters of the East River in the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park. My ten-year-old son, Nate, and I share one two-person, sit-on-top kayak; my wife, Penny, shares another with our daughter, Alex, who’s almost eight. We are setting out for a few hours of paddling this river’s pond-like open stretches and tight mangrove tunnels—and getting can-almost-touch-them close to wildlife that you cannot see on most of the planet.

Tomorrow, we will set out for three days canoeing and camping in the Ten Thousand Islands of Everglades National Park.

Mangrove tunnel, East River, Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park

Minutes after we launch our kayaks, flocks of snowy egrets fly in close formation overhead. White ibises, black anhingas, tri-colored herons, and brown pelicans flap above the wide river and the green walls of forest on both sides. Great blue herons lift off effortlessly and glide on wings whose span equals an average human’s height.

Our companion today, guide Justin Shurr of Shurr Adventures—who will lead us through the East River’s labyrinth of mangrove tunnels—points at a small, easily overlooked shadow on the dark water.

“See that thing that looks like a piece of driftwood?” he says. “It’s not driftwood. It’s an alligator.” As is typical, only the gator’s head breaks the surface; most of its body floats just below, hidden from sight until you get close. But, Justin explains, you can estimate its size using a simple, reliable formula: Every inch of distance from its eyes to the end of its snout translates to a foot of body length. “That’s a twelve-footer,” he tells us.

Read the entire story and see photos and a video from that trip at thebigoutside.com/Paddling_the_Everglades.html. See other stories about outdoor adventures at TheBigOutside.com.

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2 Comments»

  Nathan Menkveld wrote @

Great stuff man, I found the alligator size estimation quite interesting (I find little facts like that very interesting)

  Michael Lanza wrote @

Thanks Nathan. I found that interesting, too.


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