7 Tips for Exploring Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands

One of the most amazing places that you can go in Florida is the beautiful Ten Thousand Islands. Located off of the southwest coast of Florida, its remote and vast and a veritable maze of mangrove islands. Wildlife Service recommends only seasoned canoeists and sea kayakers attempt unguided trips. Below are some tips for exploring this beautiful area.

1. Sandfly Island – Paddle to it

The kayak trail known as Sandfly is approximately 5 miles, going there and coming back from the central visitor center, which means it takes about 2 to 3 hours to paddle. It will take you about an hour to explore the island, where you’ll be able to dock, make use of its portable toilet, have a picnic and then walk along the trail of a mile past the pioneer homes’ remains. You can go even further in paddling by being adventurous and exploring the nearby bays, islands and passes, but make sure you’re keeping your bearings. The dock’s portable toilet at Sandfly Island’s a great landmark and you can see it when you’re on the trail. There are canoes and kayaks to rent at the concession stands and other places.

2. Indian Key – Take a Ride on the Tides

Indian Key’s a bit further out – its 15 miles round trip and takes you to the gulf through its main channel. This is the same channel used by the tour boat of the park service. You want to begin the journey several hours after Everglades City’s high tide and then ride it to your destination, Indian Key. Swim and picnic until the turning of the tide, and then ride the tide back. If your journey’s not timed right, you’re going to be struggling against really strong currents.

3. Plan Overnight Kayak Trips

Another great way to explore some of the places is to go for overnight. Picnic Key and Tiger Key are two fo the best places to go if you want to do this. The beach sites on Picnic Key are on the island’s windward side and don’t have a lot of protection from the storms that suddenly come up. Tiger Key offers a protected beach in the shape of crescent on its leeward side facing the West Pass. The sites that both islands have are very limited and you have to reserve a site no sooner than a day in advance. The best time to do it is during the weekdays since you will likely have a bigger selection. It’s a paddle of nine miles, which is approximately four hours, going each way. It’s possible to avoid any camping restrictions by just going a bit further to the north and going to another island, Panther Key.

4. Get Challenged by Wilderness Waterway

This waterway is 99 miles long and it’s the top adventure when it comes to the Ten Thousand Islands. It starts out in Everglades City and takes you a week’s paddle to go to Flamingo and Cape Sable (or the other way around). Nights will be spent on chickees, which are raised platforms, beaches and islands with hard grounds. This adventure isn’t for those who are faint of heart or amateurs, since it’s going to test your skills. It’s permitted to have motorboats in the waters, but all of the watercraft, whether it’s paddle or motor, have to navigate carefully the variable depths, and some of them are too shallow when it’s low tide or even high tide. Gear must be carefully selected, but a pop-up tent or tarp should be brought. You also should know that the chickee platform you’re on may be shared with strangers.

5. Note Landmarks and Channel Markers

These islands can be confusing, so you should bring charts and watch channel markers, along with noting landmarks. All of the islands are going to look the same after a while. Handheld GPS are a great way to track the path you’re on if you’re in need of way to backtrack to the location you know.

6. Use the Tide Tables

These are a great way that you can plan paddling trips in the islands. It can be really hard to navigate when you’re going against a tide. It’s best to paddle on the falling tide and go back on the rising tide. That’s where the tide tables are going to come in handy. The only time when tidal flows may be counterintuitive is when you’re in the backcountry channels.

7. Go on a Tour

The simplest way that you can see these islands is through one of the narrated boat tours. These can be found at the Visitor Center and last for 90 minutes. This tour will tell you about the unique environment of the islands and you’ll often see dolphins playing in the wake of the tour boat. You’ll also likely see a lot of species of birds, such as osprey, hawks, bald eagles and roseate spoonbills.

Final Thoughts

These are some of the tips that you can use for exploring Ten Thousand Islands in Florida. It’s simply an amazing area and it’s a part of your trip that you will never forget. Explore it on your own for a few hours or take a tour boat and find out some history about the area and view the local wildlife. It’s something that visitors to Florida won’t want to miss.

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