We spent a week in the Everglades National Park this time and tried to explore as much as possible. We have stayed here before both in the lodge and in the campground but tried to do some new activities this time along with ones we had previously experinced.
Nike Missile Site HM-69
Yes, the Everglades National Park has a missile site that is not blatantly obvious when you visit. We have been to the Everglades multiple times before and never realized this missile site existed. Now we do. The Nike Missile Site is nestled off a side road somewhat close to the main entrance and it is unsigned BUT you can find information about opening hours at the main visitor center.
The site is off the main park road and is about a 15 minute drive from the visitor center. We visited during an open house but they also offer guided tours.
This missile site was established in 1964 as a result of the Cuban Missile Crisis and had surface-to-air missiles called Nike Hercules. It was turned over to the National Park Service in 1979 and can now be toured. There are a few other buildings (assembly building, shelters, barracks, and dog kennel) on the site.
Hiking and Biking
The park offers a number of boardwalks and trails for both hiking and/or biking. And they also offer lots of mosquitos to travel along with you. Bring you DEET and Use It!!! And a face netting wouldn’t hurt either!!
The Royal Palm area is in the northern part of the park closer to the main entrance. It has a nice boardwalk and a trail (Anhinga Trail) to walk around along with an information station and a bookstore. We did see some ranger led walks and talks being conducted while we we there. Since this is so close to the main entrance it is a bit more crowded than other areas.
Pa-Hay-Okee Overlook and Mahogany Hammock
The Pa-Hay-Okee Overlook, about 15 miles south of the main visitor center, provides a boardwalk which meanders around the area showing the sweeping visits of the river of grass. Pa-Hay-Okee is Seminole for “grassy waters”.
The Mahogany Hammock is about 18 miles south of the main visitor center and is another boardwalk that takes you across a sawgrass river and onto an lush tree island (hammock). The vegetation includes gumbo-limbo trees, air plants, and the largest living mahogany tree in the US. Owls thrive in this area.
Bear Trail is a bike path/road and then a hiking path. We rode our bikes 3.5 miles (one way) from the campground to the Bear Trail hiking path. Bikes are not allowed on the hiking trail part so we locked up on bikes and hiked the remaining 1.6 miles to Bear Lake. This trail parallels the old Homestead Canal and takes you through dense hardwood hammock mixed with mangroves. AND there are lots and lots of mosquitos. We have hiked this trail before and had endured the mosquitos so we knew what we were in for. We tried to cover up as much as possible and spray (that dreaded DEET) as much as possible so we were somewhat prepared. Other hikers we encountered were not so lucky as they were wearing flip-flops, no hat, shorts, and tank tops. We heard a lot of yelling and swatting and a few people running by us to get out there!!! We endured and made it to Bear Lake and watched the fishermen for a bit before returning through mosquito alley!!! Yes, we donated blood at the Everglades.
We decided to rent a pontoon for the day and go out and explore the wilds of the Everglades. We picked up the boat early one morning at the Flamingo Marina. Rentals require an “Everglades Boater Education Program” which you can take online at no cost. You must pass a short test and if you pass you are awarded a certificate of completion which must be shown to rent the boat. The course focuses on environmental safety information for the Everglades as opposed to how to operate watercraft. Norm passed with flying colors!!!
We were told the boat is equipped with a GPS but we decided to bring our own also (12 volt). Cell phone coverage is non-existent in that area so you can’t depend on your phone GPS. When we got on the boat for our check-out they told us they don’t have GPS so we plugged in our own GPS. Good thing we brought one because navigating the Wilderness Waterway can be quite a challenge as there are very few, if any, markers. They DID provide us with a superficial top level map. Note that the scenery basically looks the same everywhere…mangroves, mangroves, mangroves.
We headed out along the Flamingo Canal to Coot Bay. We passed a few kayakers and canoeists along the way and also passed the famous American Crocodiles and a variety of birds. After we entered Coot Bay we needed to find the entrance to Tarpon Creek to allow us to travel to Whitewater Bay. We just aimed the boat in the general direction and soon we found it. It wasn’t long before we noticed that our GPS was not receiving any power from the 12-volt. Oops….after Norm fiddled under the dash for awhile we realized, we don’t have any dash power!! Our GPS will only last so long on battery so in the interest of safety we shut the GPS down and navigated using the paper map which was extremely coarse to put it mildly. The thought process was to power it back on when we needed to return to the marina (if needed).
We decided our destination would be a chickee, which is a Seminole word for “house”. A chickee is a shelter supported by post with a raised floor a thatched roof and open on all sides. Chickees are placed around the Everglades in the Wilderness Waterway to allow for dry camping since the area is comprised of mangroves of wetlands. A chickee usually has a port-a-potty and a place to tie up your boat so it made a perfect destination for us to stop and have lunch. We navigated our way through the many tangled islands searching and searching for our destination. We were watching our time to to make sure we had enough time to get the boat back to the marina in time. We had rented the boat for 8 hours and we had the full day but we had already traveled quite a distance. We were ready to give up and assumed we would not be able to find it when, lo and behold, we rounded a turn and up ahead we saw a wooden structure. A CHICKEE!!
After a nice picnic lunch and a bit of time to experience the solitude and peace of the area we returned back from where we started from. We didn’t need to turn on the GPS again (except once to make sure we were where we thought we were and we were – huh?). We eventually made it back to the marina (after carefully passing manatees) with having a wonderful, lovely day. There is something magical about being out on the water in the Everglades all by yourself. We even had dolphins swimming beside us for a short distance. What a great day!
The wildlife at the Everglades is always terrific from birds to crocodiles to manatees and even a few dragonflies. Oh yeah, and LOTS OF MOSQUITOS!!!
We love The Everglades. Yes, we endured what felt like us being eaten alive and we have battle wounds to prove it but it is a unique, wonderful place in the wilderness which offers peace, solitude, and nature.