The only place you can get permits is at the ranger station in Flamingo Michael. Up to 24 hours in advance or the day of your trip. Alligator Creek doesn't get too much use and has a few tent sites. You should have no problem getting that permit but have a backup plan. The Shark Point Chickee is only about a mile away.
Backcountry permits start on the weekend before Thanksgiving, during the
months no one wants to be in the Everglades no permit is required but you still
must camp at designated sites.
All, except Little Rabbit Key and Nest Key ( I don't know if the 2 new Florida Bay chickees
are included) from Keys phone numbers, must be made in person.
24-hour reservation, 14 night limit. It's $10 for the permit and $2 per person per day.
Permits for Ernest Coe and Old Ingraham can be obtained at Ernest Coe Visitor Center.
Permits for all sites can be obtained at Flamingo or Gulf Coast (Everglades City) ranger station.
All overnight backcountry camping on land or chickees require a permit. No permit is required
if you stay on your boat. This is because the land is the wilderness area as defined
by the Wilderness Act not the water over it, therefore, powerboats are allowed in the
wilderness area because they are over it not on it, much like a plane flying overhead.
The wilderness boundary lines were carefully drawn to leave out the highways and
This has been an excellent system and has worked well giving everyone an equal chance
at obtaining a permit. You do not want this procedure to change.
I have been paddling the Everglades before any regulation, during mandatory float plans,
less restrictive permits and, of course, the current system. This works.
During the early years of regulation, permits were less restrictive, commercial organizations
would grab all the permits way ahead of time and crowd a site with dozens of clients.
Permits were difficult to get for Ed Watsons Place and if you went there it would be so
crowded there would be no room to camp. While on the WW in 1977 I came into
Ed Watsons to a group of 30 eco-tourism paying clients, fortunately their clients never
seemed to be very hardy so you could get away from them in the middle, nearer Lostmans.
This does not mean you never can camp outside a designated camp area.
Misunderstood is the Special Use permit. This permit is available by application to
the chief ranger and costs $100. A Special Use permit is everything other than the
Backcountry Permit and are individually approved by the Wilderness Committee.
Backcountry permits and use is described online at the Everglades National Park website,
look for "Wilderness Trip Planner".
The permit is good for 14 days, so one permit for multiple sites within the 14 day period.
I think you are asking if you have to stick to your permitted sites - Yes, LE can write a
ticket for camping at a site you are not permitted for.
So, to steal a line from diving, plan a paddle and paddle your plan.
Terry has given you the accurate run down. Not sure when you are planning this trip but the busier the season the less chance of getting your first choices. So always have a contingency plan. Single chickees are very difficult to permit during holidays and other campsites fill quickly because they are most popular and/or easily accessed (e.g., Tiger Key, Rabbit Key). Also, as Terry said, you can permit out of Everglades City or out of Flamingo for any of the campsites. But, if for instance, you are at EC attempting to get a permit for a southern campsite such as Alligator Creek, the EC ranger will need to call the Flamingo ranger to find out if it is open. A bit 19th century, but it works.
Terry said the permit is good for 14 days; just to clarify, that means you can permit to be out there for up to 14 days, not that your single campsite permit is useable for 14 days. If you permit for Nov 25th, it is good only for Nov 25th. You can permit at the ground sites for 3 nights (I think), but only 1 night on a chickee.
The number of nights, number of people and number of groups is different for each site,
refer to the Wilderness Trip Planner. Cape Sable has a remarkable 7 night limit but it
does appear all the chickees are one night.
For getting to your planned site? Especially for first timers, plan conservatively. Don't worry
about it this just works, missing sites is usually because planning was too conservative and
you want to skip one. Also, if conditions are so bad that you can't make it to a site then
that would become a safety issue and this would be obvious to a ranger.
As a Northerner who comes to the Everglades but once a year for ten days, I show up at Gulf Coast Ranger Station (Everglades City) or Flamingo one day ahead to get my permit. In advance I write up three or four route alternatives just in case there is a jam at a campsite and I cannot use it. Usually this is most of an issue on the first day or last day. BUT I have never failed to get a comfortable route.
Michael you write about foul conditions. Yes I have gone "off plan" several times. The most remarkable is when I was permitted on Mormon Key one night. I stayed four due to high waves and a big cold front.
Two years ago my paddling mate was taken ill at Willy Willy and we stayed there an extra night and then limped back on the WW instead of taking the planned Gulf route out of Lostmans River. We camped at Lostmans Five and were visited by the NPS rangers who noted of course (they have the records of who should be where) and they were able to repermit us. This was to avoid any jamups closer to Everglades City.
The rangers were very nice and accommodating once we found out we were not simply off permit for the reason that "we don't feel like doing our route". A genuine marine emergency is recognized as such.
It helped that we did NOT bootleg camp on a chickee. That is a big no no. Usually a ground or beach site is more accommodating. If weather befouls you never head to a chickee. Instead use the seasoned paddlers approach to fighting wind..start before daybreak. A weather radio is a HUGE help.
As others have indicated plan conservatively. I start early so 13 miles is realistic per day. If you are a later riser plan on 8 or 10. The Everglades has some very hard paddling. Its not all about sun and margaritas. The wind is always a factor and the tides erratic. I found my GPS that gives tides for various points (like Onion Key) a big help. You can get a tide table at your entry but its tiny print, sometimes hard to follow and preplanning is a big help. While the tide range in ENP is puny the current is noticeable and will affect your travel.
I suggest a Paddlers Guide to Everglades National Park by Johnny Malloy 2nd edition. It gives a wealth of info including night limits for all campsites.
When are you going? My next trip (solo of course as usual) will be out of Flamingo in early March. The campground is awesome for the night before and there now is a restaurant if you are feeling decadent.
I do like EC for its atmosphere though. NPS does not have a campground there. I think there are private camping areas though I have not used any. I camp at Collier Semiole but its a bit of a drive and needs to be reserved early.
Thank you very much for all your answers and comments I greatly appreciate the input, its definitely helping me to figure out some sort of direction for planning some extended trips in 2012.
I have another Question SLIGHTLY off topic but I feel its pertinent to permits and permission. For camping in other parts of the everglades I generally carry a Clark Tropical Jungle Hammock(it is actually the only small lightweight "tent" that I have). Would it be against the permit for me to set up my hammock in the mangroves, or trees at a ground or beach site, or between the chickee posts or in the mangroves near a chickee as long as there would not be any damage to the hanging points?
I have been thinking the same thoughts though as for hammocking "off site" I can't think of a time when I would enjoy standing in water rigging up my Hennessy in mangroves that might(or not) hold it up. Some of them are pretty flimsy.
That also brings up the question of enjoyment of your "campsite". Mangrove knees are far from friendly. I can't see any problem being allowed to set up at a designated site. However some sites are better than others. For example Watson is mostly open field. ( at least it was two years ago..I believe there has been some woods trimming) . At that time to go back in the woods invited a bug attack. If you wanted trees you got bugs. Lopez is OK. Willy Willy also. Mormon is pretty open and the beach does not have trees for hanging. You have to go back aways to find a hang spot.
Anyway you get the idea. Bugs and trees go together. I would definitely consider a hammock on a chickee I would think about the size however and the span of the hang which I have not measured. I need 12 feet or so on mine. This would be good data to have as I don't want to hang off two adjacent corner posts and misread my foot placement and go splash. . You can get an idea of corner posts by chickee dimensions in Malloys book.
I am not aware of any regs about hammocks per se but just question if a hammock will work for you every night. The difficulty I have had with hammocks is that one unhangable site tends to write off the whole idea of bringing a hammock. However when faced with 80 lbs of water for a ten day trip , it ought to be no big deal to bring hammock AND tent.
I believe permits are self registration until just before Thanksgiving. You always need a permit.