Everglades Exploration Network

Shark River Slough

I have done many canoe trips in Everglades National Park
since the early 1970's, a number of routes from Flamingo to
Everglades City, Turner River, and vise-versa as well
as many trips around the Hells Bay/Whitewater Bay/Cape
Sable/Lake Ingraham area. I've canoed the popular trails
and remote ones like Still Creek, Whiskey Creek, Little Sable
Creek and Charley Creek. I like every backcountry site
and even enjoyed nights at sites that are no longer with us like
Onion Key, Wedge Point and Lostmans Key. For an aggressive
adventurer, this latest trip right through the middle of the park
might beat them all, not for the canoeing, frankly canoeing
the Wilderness Waterway is still the best canoeing,
but for the total experience; preliminary reconnaissance,
timing, planning, preparation, execution, navigation
and, of course, some luck.

I thought about canoeing down the Shark River Slough since the
1980's after learning more about Colonel Harney's 1840 trip but
it wasn't until 2002 when my son, Dan, and I probed the slough off
the south side of Tamiami Trail specifically for a future traverse.
I had only briefly discussed the trip over the phone in the 1990's
with someone who was associated with some commercial group (I
think it was Sierra Club) but because of the reticence and lack
of information from the few people who have made this trip I got
only an insignificant amount of information.
For our trip, we probed the only reasonable launch site, L-67
Extension canal at the Francis S. Taylor Wildlife Management Area
parking lot and boat ramp. There is a good launch area on the
south side of Tamiami Trail and the canal runs a good distance
south into the heart of the slough. The canal is good but past a
mile or two south it gets very hard to break out through the
growth on the west side. Up near the highway there are many sites
to push out west and into the sawgrass. The water level was the
problem in 2002, it was in early November and the water was way to
low, the canal was a foot below the sawgrass. It was impossible
to 'float' down the slough, even the airboat trail at the end of
the canal was difficult to canoe. It was the same for a number
of probes between 2002 and 2007. The only useful tid-bid of
wisdom I got from from the other canoer back in the 1990's was:
"It had to be high water to make the trip." This is very true.
It's higher in the summer months but personally I don't canoe
when the bugs and heat are so bad it makes enjoyment impossible.
October is pushing it, since the prime months are November
through March. However, for water levels October is still good
which makes the timing of a slough trip very narrow and that much
harder to execute.

After hearing many reports from hunters and the closing of certain
hunting on the north side of Tamiami Trail due to high water, Dan
and I decided to probe L-67 again on 11 October 2008. Finding
unsuitable conditions so many times before I was not optimistic
that this would be the year but I had some aerial photos that
showed an old airboat trail that I had not checked out in the
past. As soon as we pulled up at the launch site it was clear
this was the highest we had ever seen the water in decades.
It was about 6 inches to a foot above the canal, just for kicks
we canoed on the roadway along side the levee. We went south
looking for breakouts and any kind of canoe-able openness to
the west. We went down to the plug and came back north to the
last clear breakout. Though we had never been able to get
out of the canal before, on this day we paddled right on through
and into open sawgrass with ease and no bugs. At that moment
planning went into high gear, this is the time!

As it turned out University of Miami's fall break was Friday,
17 October 2008, this gave Dan a 3 day weekend. The weather
wasn't cool but at least the summer heat was over. Further
planning showed a low tide at the mouth of Shark River at
11:24 on 18 October, giving the canoer an ebb tide in the
morning while paddling out. As if this wasn't convincing
enough, a 94% full moonrise was before midnight on 17 October
and setting in late morning on 18 October. This meant the
almost full moon would be highest in the early morning hours
before dawn allowing for early morning starts. The weather
forecast: Clear and calm for the same two days.
Again, this was the weekend!

The plan was to breakout of the canal about a mile south of
Tamiami Trail and head south-southwest down the slough to
Rookery Branch on Friday, 17 October. Not wanting to spend
the night in the canoe, we planned to make it to Canepatch,
leaving Saturday and Sunday to make our way down to Flamingo.
A Special Use Permit ($100 and 2 weeks processing) is required
for camping outside of designated camping areas, so it's make it
in one day or spend a miserable night trying to sleep in a canoe.
The water drops fast out there when it's that high and it had
dropped about 4 inches during the week.
We launched our 17-foot aluminum canoe before dawn. The moon was
plenty bright to guide us down the canal but did not provide
enough light for us to find our way in the grass. The grass is
thicker and thinner, shorter and taller and of varying types -
the trick is to navigate through the best pass. We got stuck
a number of times, hitting thick areas in the dark but as soon
as the sun came up we made good progress by constantly
zig-zagging and being able to see ahead. We made it to Vulture
Hammock fairly quick but went wrong by continuing south-southwest
off the east side of the hammock. With a little backtracking we
headed east toward a big unnamed hammock that's south and a
little east of Vulture Hammock. Near this hammock we picked up
deep and open water where the grass had been thinned by airboats.
This was the only hard part of the trip and it would have been
wiser to head more southerly from the break in the canal directly
to this hammock south-southeast of Vulture Hammock. From here we
went to Gumbo Limbo Hammock and then straight south-southwest to
Rookery Branch. We had to make it to Rookery Branch before dark,
once in Rookery Branch we would be in a defined river where it
could be navigated in the dark. We were also familiar with that
area from other trips coming in from the gulf. Once in the 'slot'
down the slough it's just paddling and paddling, the water is
deep and it might be deep enough to extend a trip like this into
drier months. We got to Bottle Creek, which is the first
obvious Rookery Branch tributary, at about 17:30 or about an
hour and a half before lights out. We had a little trouble
with a short distance in Bottle Creek but with just lifting
some branches we could get through. It was dusk when we made
it to the main junction just south of Rookery Mound and we
only had to paddle in the dark from about halfway between
Banana Patch and Canepatch. We arrived at the totally
overgrown Canepatch campsite at 19:30. It was 33 miles in
13 hours!

There were mosquitos at Canepatch but a little bug spray was all
that was needed. We pitched the tent on top of 4-5 foot weeds
right at the end of the dock, ate dinner, washed up and went to
bed. Judging from the growth, I don't think anybody had even
walked around at Canepatch since last winter. We woke up at
about 04:00 and started discussing the day, the moon was
straight up and bright. There was easily enough light to
paddle down Avocado Creek. We broke camp, ate breakfast
and took off at 06:00 with the goal of making it as far as we
could. We elected to take the little bit longer route of Joe
River for three reasons: 1) It took us around Whitewater Bay,
in case the wind picked up. 2) We would pass four chickees,
Shark River, Oyster Bay, Joe River and South Joe River, where we
could stop if our time ran out. 3) Riding the ebb in Shark River
almost negates the additional distance west to the Cutoff,
otherwise, we would have to fight the tide going into the Labyrinth.
We got to Shark River Chickee at 09:00, Oyster Bay Chickee at
10:30 and Joe River Chickee for lunch. With conditions still
near perfect we skipped South Joe River Chickee, went right
through the middle of Coot Bay and were in Flamingo at 18:30.
That was a 34 mile day in 12:30 hours and an experience that
will stay fresh in our minds for a lifetime.

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Except that the park is closed, look at the stats for a slough run next weekend:

Saturday 19 October - Sunset 18:49, Moonrise 19:24, 99.9 percent illumination

Sunday 20 October - Shark River entrance -.11 low at 09:32

Weather forecast - 88/72, 20 percent precip chance, east wind around 9

Water Station 02290862  Currently around +6 ... or plenty of water.

No backcountry permit necessary for Canepatch

(permits usually start on the Friday before Thanksgiving).

Starting at L-67 about an hour before dawn on Saturday would put paddlers

at the Cattail Route breakout at about dawn.  Boats could be closing in on NP202

by sunrise allowing every bit of sunlight for the flat-out, pedal-to-the-metal paddling down

Main Street to get down to Bottle Creek by sunset.   Finding your way down Bottle Creek

in the dusk, the full moon would light the paddlers way down Rookery Branch arriving in

Canepatch an hour or two after dark.

Use the full moon on Sunday morning to paddle down Avocado Creek and enjoy the sunrise while

acrossing Tarpon Bay.   With a 4 hour delay you'll ride the ebb tide out Shark River with

a light breeze on your back.   After passing through Oyster Bay in the later morning you'd

have both Joe River Chickees to stop and stretch before arriving in Flamingo before dark.

Next weekend is the annual best slough run weekend.

As intriguing as it sounds, the reality for me is that paddling 10-20 miles/week does not prepare one adequately for back to back 33+ mile days (in a solo).  Could I make it - probably.  Is there a good likelihood that I would injure myself and maybe trash the rest of season - probably.

Bucket list for sure with at least a month of prep.  Maybe next year.

The 19/20th won't work for me, bummer. Sounds like a good time to go. I would have needed a second paddler in my canoe. Who would ever thought the federal government would keep us from camping.

The idea of doing such a trip in 2 days runs directly contrary to the very reason I go out there in the first place. On my own solo Slough trip I spent 2-1/2 days making my way down the the airboat trails from L67 to Avocado Creek and slept in my skiff for 2 nights, soaking up the experience of just being there for as long as I could. I spent another 3 days noodling around the rivers and creeks of eastern Whitewater Bay before landing at Flamingo. The way I see it, if you're going to just blast through at top speed and not take the time to enjoy the experience, then you've pretty much wasted the 2 days that you're out there. Turning a Glades trip into a race with no big cash prize at the end is just crazy AFAIC.

But that's just me...

Since the Park is effectively "Cerrado" it's more like a thought exercise that this wk-end would in fact be an ideal time for this trip. Thanks to Terry, Charlie and folks from the Marshall Foundation I was able to experience this over a "leisurely" course of 4 days/60 miles last fall (as well documented here: http://kayakfari.wordpress.com/trips-sea-stories-pics/kayaking-the-... ). The area in the middle to lower end of the Shark Slough is where I'd like to spend a few days paddling around - it's all I could think about why paddling through it, has a very appealing feel to it! Also the very end of the slough just before encountering the mangrove "wall" transition is really cool to see and experience!!

Looking forward to the 2013 Invitational !

Hey, okay, nooo problem, go as slow as you want it's still the perfect weekend that we will not be able to use.

The second best weekend is in November but later in the season means that much less water,

it's dropping every day.



Keith W said:

The idea of doing such a trip in 2 days runs directly contrary to the very reason I go out there in the first place. On my own solo Slough trip I spent 2-1/2 days making my way down the the airboat trails from L67 to Avocado Creek and slept in my skiff for 2 nights, soaking up the experience of just being there for as long as I could. I spent another 3 days noodling around the rivers and creeks of eastern Whitewater Bay before landing at Flamingo. The way I see it, if you're going to just blast through at top speed and not take the time to enjoy the experience, then you've pretty much wasted the 2 days that you're out there. Turning a Glades trip into a race with no big cash prize at the end is just crazy AFAIC.

But that's just me...

Once the park reopens, you could motorboat base paddle out of rookery branch, just anchor up as far as you can motor & just poke around in that southernmost stretch where the grass meets the forest. Be cool to explore some of the smaller trails to see how they transition.

Getting there is half the fun, but focusing on the sweet parts ain't bad neither!





Flex 029 Kayakfari said:

Since the Park is effectively "Cerrado" it's more like a thought exercise that this wk-end would in fact be an ideal time for this trip. Thanks to Terry, Charlie and folks from the Marshall Foundation I was able to experience this over a "leisurely" course of 4 days/60 miles last fall (as well documented here: http://kayakfari.wordpress.com/trips-sea-stories-pics/kayaking-the-... ). The area in the middle to lower end of the Shark Slough is where I'd like to spend a few days paddling around - it's all I could think about why paddling through it, has a very appealing feel to it! Also the very end of the slough just before encountering the mangrove "wall" transition is really cool to see and experience!!

Looking forward to the 2013 Invitational !

And getting to RB from Pa Hay Okee should be on the to-do list - I've seen it mentioned before.  Think of the trip:

Pa Hay Okee - Cane Patch - via RB

Cane Patch  - Camp Lonesome - via lost portage

Etc.

Terry, Nov 16+17 looks similar for tides and moon. How about that weekend?

Slough trips depend on freshwater levels. We're transitioning to the fall/winter drought period and levels will start to drop fast going forward. It's possible that there will still be enough water to let you push through grass by the middle of November, but I'd keep a close eye on the gages between now and then.

Amazon Bill said:

Terry, Nov 16+17 looks similar for tides and moon. How about that weekend?
I too would love to do the slough trip and make it a 4 day to fully enjoy the experience. Unfortunately, I will have to wait until I retire as this is my busy season at work and can't take any days off during the week.

What is the minimal water depth to run the slough? In the gage link it shows water levels 1988 for comparison, is this record year levels or when they started recording?

Stream water level elevation above NAVD 1988, in feet

Yes, Bill, the 16, 17 November weekend is the second best, however, water is dropping daily.

Vivian, there isn't a minimal water depth it just gets harder and harder, especially in the only spot that

you're on your own - going from L-67 to NP202.  I wouldn't call Shark Slough a widow-maker trip but

it's not easy either so reduced water levels just adds to the level of difficulty.   The bottom line: October

is the prime month, November is if-fy and December would be only if we get some unusual heavy duty rain.

Picking prime weekends is just a matter of trying to lineup every possible predictable condition to

benefit the paddler.   Or, as Keith notes, take plenty of time and meander your way down the slough

where it doesn't matter if you could only push 6 miles in a day, then conditions aren't as important.

Looking back at my records

waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis/inventory/?site_no=02290862&agency_cd=USNP&

has always been around +6.5, I have never paddled out of L-67 in less than +6.0.   Not that it couldn't be

pushed in less than +6.0, I'm just always in a frenzy to paddle the many other high elevation places that

can only be paddled in high water before getting pushed out to the tourist saturated brochure saltwater routes.

There has been a lot of mapping done since the 2008 trip and since the hard part is getting from L-67 to NP202

this mapping could be done with day trips.  NP202 to Bottle Creek is a marked airboat trail, a zig-zag trail to

Main Street that is clearly visible on the aerials.   Bottle Creek to Canepatch isn't marked but it's intuitive, water

flow pushes you in the right direction and once you pass Rookery Mound there's only one way to go.

There are three mapped routes from L-67 to NP202:  High Route, Cattail Route and Outlaw Route.

High Route gets you out of the canal and into the unspoiled open grass quickest but it's the longest

pushing.  In unspoiled grass the navigator perfects the art of finding spike rush channels through sawgrass.

Sparse spike rush is prime paddling, a good example is the Craigheads Pond Canoe Trail, this is

what the grass paddler seeks.   Sawgrass requires pushing, sometimes serious pushing and cattails

are to be avoided requiring the most pushing and pulling.

I like Cattail Route the best.  It shortens the pushing distance and has very well defined spike rush

channels through sawgrass.  There's a short tight twisty creek through cattails right at the edge of L-67

but turns into open grass only a few hundred feet off the canal.   A loaded canoe or kayak can make it to

NP202 in about an hour.

Outlaw Route is thickest, it's pushing to the limit without slogging, headway measured in inches,

the only reason it's mapped is because it's at the first opening in the levee to the east.   This route

would be considered for paddlers starting Shark Slough from east of L-67 and spending a night at the

soon-to-be Tyre backcountry campsite.

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