Canoeing offers up-close look at Flamingo

FLAMINGO, Fla. — The soothing sounds of birds chirping and the cool soft breeze made the canoeing all the more relaxing.

In the Flamingo area, there are various canoe trails that visitors can enjoy at Everglades National Park. Trails include Nine Mile Pond Loop, Noble Hammock Trail, Hell’s Bay Trail and Snake Bight Trail.

At right, a couple passes us on the right and head down to Coot Bay. Below, the maze-like roots of the mangroves that surround the canal (Photos by Adriana Martinez).

I had wanted to go on one of the trails that were known for having a lot of animal life, but due to the low tide most of them were closed. Instead I canoed with my friends through Buttonwood Canal, which took about four hours to get through.

My friend, Nadia, walked with me towards the facility where visitors pay for the canoe rental, which is about a block away from the Flamingo Visitors’ Center. Nathan, my other friend, decided to nap in the car until it was absolutely necessary to function.

The prices are based on the number of hours that the visitors anticipate they would need.

I paid $22 for the four hours, which is considered a half day.

A $55 deposit is also required, but that is returned as long as I returned the canoe and paddles at the end of the four hours.

While paying the trip the cashier explained to us that this trail would not be ranger led. It was up to us to avoid getting lost or keep from running into any kind of trouble. “We’ll be ok, this is why we brought a guy with us,” said Nadia with a smirk on her face.

Once the deposit and trip were paid I walked to the dock and the man in charge of assigning the canoes helped me get situated in the unstable device. I had gone kayaking before and since that turned out to be a challenge, I brought along with me two friends that would help with the rowing. One sat in the front and my stronger, larger friend sat in the back and was responsible for steering.

It was indeed hard to get used to rowing and even harder to steer in a straight line. The employee that showed us to our canoe told us to keep right of the canal, but we did zigzags between the left and right of the canal instead.

At one point, there also seemed to be a small version of the canal in the canoe. My friends were painfully uncoordinated and every time one of them switched sides to paddle, a large splash of water landed in my lap.

Visitors spending a quiet Sunday afternoon motor boating in Buttonwood Canal (Photo by Adriana Martinez).

As we slowly tried to row along, I noticed the bright green mangroves that surrounded the canal and saw how deep and dark the water became. Ten minutes into the trail, we saw our first alligator hidden in the foliage.

He was very large and sat in the water with his mouth wide open, revealing all of his very thick, white and, of course, sharp teeth. Fascinated and a bit concerned, we continued to move along as large motor boats and other coordinated families passed us on the right.

The gator was about the only animal that we saw for about an hour and a half except for the intricate spider webs that aligned some of the trees and that sat just above the water. Massive amounts of mosquitoes also decided to hang out in and around our canoe until we reached our destination, Coot Bay.

As a means to pass the time the three of us began to reminisce about past trips to the Everglades that somehow resulted in embarrassing childhood stories. “When I came here as a kid I used to sneak off and try to jump over the alligators,” said Nathan as he burst out laughing.

“If only your mom knew,” said Nadia as she tried to paddle and converse at the same time. The stories eventually stemmed into a movie game in which we try to name as many movies as we can that a particular actor has been in.

The Buttonwood Canal on a clear, partly cloudy Sunday afternoon (Photo by Adriana Martinez).

Once reaching the bay, the mosquitoes disappeared and we began to spot anhingas and other birds sitting on the broken branches in the water waiting for the right time to strike their lunch. The bay is very large and nothing but water and trees surrounded us for miles.

Water marks could be seen on the mangroves of where the water is supposed to be, revealing the low tide at the bay as well. However, this exposed the hundreds of white and pink cocoons that stuck to the rocks and leaves of dead branches.

After canoeing around the bay for about an hour, we decided to head back to the entrance of the canal. This took about another two hours. The ranger at the Visitors’ Center had advised us to only go as far as we could without getting too tired to make the trip back. This made us a little nervous at first, but it turned out to be a possible task.

One of the birds  we saw when entering Coot Bay set itself on the branch (Photo by Adriana Martinez).

At right, a bird puts up its wings to dry. Below, a hidden area in Coot Bay that reveals its pristine beauty (Photos by Adriana Martinez).

Once we stepped out of the canoe and returned the puffy, bright orange life jackets, we spotted a huge nest on top of steel poles surrounding the area. The nest consisted of branches, sticks, leaves and other natural objects. We watched in awe as the brown and white bird built its home for the upcoming winter.

For those looking for an extremely relaxing experience in Everglades National Park with minimal animal contact, Buttonwood Canal is the way to go. It is important, however, to go on a cloudy day when the sun isn’t as overwhelming. This helped us keep our energy and conserve our bottled water throughout the entire trip.


If You Go

The Flamingo Visitor Center is located about 38 miles from the park entrance near Florida City. It is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 1 – April 19 and from April 20 – Oct. 31 the center is open periodically.

Flamingo boat tours and rentals 239-695-3101.

Bring sunscreen and plenty of mosquito repellant.

Check the time for low tide because some trails may be closed off.

Nine Mile Pond Loop— Three to four hours, and about 5.2 miles

Noble Hammock Trail— One to two hours and a two mile loop

Hell’s Bay Trail— Three to four hours and about three and a half miles to Pearl Bay and Hell’s Bay is about five to six hours and five and a half miles.

Snake Bight Trail— About two to three hours and three miles long, and is a good area for spotting birds.

Map of Flamingo Canoe Trails–

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