Everglades Exploration Network

Taylor Slough

The first time I heard of canoeing down Taylor Slough was in the
early 1980's while re-locating Still Creek. Helping us in
Still Creek was Chuck who mentioned his son canoed down
Taylor Slough in the 1970's. At the time, I had been canoeing
the Cape Sable area and Wilderness Waterway trips and just started
inland explorations so I did not have enough freshwater canoeing
experience to ask intelligent questions. He said they entered up
at the levee but I don't recall any talk about their route.
This just became another item filed away in memory.
Many canoe expeditions later, in November 2008, I was exploring
around Paurotis Pond looking for passage out with the possiblity
of working my way down to Pearl Bay. Sonny was fishing and
I wasn't succeeding at breaking out of the pond so we engaged
in an old-coot conversation about deep canoeing in the
Everglades. I just completed a trip down Shark River Slough
in October so somewhere in the who-has-done-what conversation
Taylor Slough was mentioned. He said slough king Tony
started at the levee, stayed in the slough, fought his way
through mangroves into the headwaters of Taylor River and
came out in Florida Bay. I contacted Tony and he added that
he came out the Taylor River into Madeira Bay and crossed
Florida Bay to end at Key Largo - heroics befitting of a
slough king title. With water levels still high this year, I
planned my own Taylor Slough trip.

I have done my share of out-of-the-canoe-more-than-in-the-canoe
type canoeing so I now prefer to look for routes instead of
making routes. I am very comfortable spending nights in the
rough, but day trips, when it can be a day trip, are very
easy and enjoyable. One more thing; Madeira Bay is now closed
to the public. Studying the aerial photos (oh, for modern
tools - Terraserver and GPS isn't just an aid it's a
revolution to backcountry canoeing) an airboat trail can be seen
going all the way down the slough and arcing west. It doesn't show
well as it goes west, but Sonny assured me it connected to
Nine Mile Pond. The plan was to start at the airboat ramp at
Pine Island, canoe down Taylor Slough and exit at Nine Mile Pond.
The only area I previously had been in was Nine Mile Pond so my
concern was the canoeable condition of the airboat trail and the
unknown portion going southwest then northwest into Nine Mile Pond.

Circumstances delayed our entry on 16 November 2008. Dan
and I started paddling my 15-foot aluminum canoe at 08:15, it
had been light since 06:30. This wasn't good since we wanted to
have every bit of sunlight when starting a 21 mile canoe trip,
did not know how much we would be pushing instead of paddling and
might lose a guiding route during the late part of the day. Since
it was a day trip we carried no overnight supplies; past halfway and
we would be committed. Navigation at night would be impossible.
As Dan said, "This is what makes it an adventure."

At the north end of the slough the water was plentiful but not deep,
halfway through our stroke the paddle would hit bottom and we would
push. We paddled through a cypress hammock which was very pleasant
with the cool north breeze and made it to the first water station
(21'10"N & 36'24"W) on the route at 09:03. We got to
The Intersection (19'19"N & 38'33"W) at 10:10, there's a really
big science project just to the east of this intersection. There
are a couple of intersections on the route but this is
The Intersection because it's easy to go the wrong way. Two-thirds
of this trip is on a southwest heading so it's not intuitive to
make a hard turn to the northwest especially when it's very clear
paddling ahead to the south and southwest. The route through thick
tall grass and a long line of large growth bordering an old
north-south canal is to head northwest for about a quarter mile then
another hard turn back to southwest. This little jog is not easily
discernible, although it shows well on the aerial photos - trust your
mapping. We didn't realize our mistake until we were forced east by
the growth, wasting about 40 minutes after backtracking. Once
finding the slot we were back on route but a little more nervous
about our time.
A variation worth considering is making this a two day trip by
spending the night at the Ernest Coe backcountry campsite. The
campsite is only about a half mile northwest of The Intersection
and requires only a regular backcountry permit available at the
Ernest Coe Visitor Center. Who's going to be the first to do this?
After crossing the old canal (19'22.5"N & 38'46.5"W) we ran into
shallower water and many thick grass areas requiring serious pushing.
We stopped for lunch at 12:50 next to a small mangrove hammock
at 17'19"N & 39'59"W. This difficult portion of the trip continued
down to an old overgrown easterly trail at about 16'12"N & 40'57"W
but hard as it was to push through this stretch we did it by staying
in the canoe.

This is the slough for seeking the real Everglades experience,
it may be the most secluded area in the park. There is a giant
antenna tower southwest of Miami that violates the vista for
almost the entire way down Shark River Slough. At night it must
radiate an endless reminder of human intrusion. Within a day's
travel the sound scape will be shattered by a half dozen or so
airplanes. This is not the case in Taylor Slough. The only human
structures are the occasional science projects and we only heard
the muted roar of the wind rustling the grass.

By the time we got to the next intersection (14'52"N & 41'19"W)
the grass was much thinner and shorter, the water was deeper and
even though the mangroves formed a formidable wall blocking travel
toward Florida Bay they were less dense on the inside. Much more
open than the previous part of the trip. This is the area
where an exploration could be launched to go due west straight
over to Nine Mile Pond effectively cutting the south corner.
Since this was our first time, we stayed on the obvious route
which continued southwest. The trail dips to it's southerly
point at Craigheads Pond (13'45"N & 42'14"W) where there is
another water station and big science project. This area
was still very open and with plenty of water,
we could canoe freely almost anywhere, however,
the location of the sun in the sky was still a concern. It was
15:12, we were 7 miles from Nine Mile Pond and the airboat trail
disappeared. Fortunately the openness allowed us stay on a heading
with just minor dodging of small pods of mangroves. The sun was
getting low on the horizon when we spotted marker 65A
(15'22"N & 45'58"W) of the Nine Mile Pond canoe trail. It was
17:00 and we had about an hour of daylight to paddle the south side
of the loop. Hastily picking our way through the twisting but well
marked trail, the sky darkened just as we canoed across the pond
landing at the parking lot at 18:00. Tired but proud of our
accomplishment we discussed a future trip to find a route cutting
that lower corner off during the ride home.

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I was with Tony on that trip. I thought it was Little Madeira, same diff. You see the white stuff just north of Madeira, little or not, on the aerials...that's knee deep marl. It felt like Al Pacino, "just when you thought you were getting out...they drag you back in".

Toughest parts of the whole trip were above the Anhinga Trail and the marl above Madeira...& (trying to) sleep in the boat with the incessant whine of the skeeters outside your bug suit.

I thought about Tony alot this year. As high as the water has been, thre were some excellent opportunities to go where no one has been...at least not recently. You could go just about anywhere, sorry I didn't do more!
I hope ya'll are paying attention to the water stations south of Ingraham Highway, Taylor Slough and southwest.
For what ever reason the water down that way is up more than the northern areas, Shark River Slough.
In fact, right now the water along Taylor Slough and down to Nine Mile Pond is higher than when I did
the trip last November. Last November it was wide open canoeing east of Nine Mile Pond and over to
Taylor Slough, if that doesn't get you thinking....if anybody takes this on please report back I want to
hear all about it.
I guess the diversion spreader is working! I did a bunch of "freestyle" paddling east of 9 mile last year & it was sweet!

Here we go again!
Sorry for the long post, but it was an EXCELLENT day of paddling. Special thanks to Keith & Terry...and Tony (you missed a great one. Good to see JT, Billy & Jorge for the 7th anniversary reunion. This trip is what long distance daytrips dream of being:

In other parts of the world, rain runs to rivers and rivers run to the sea. Paddlers have been running these rivers as long as there have been paddlers. Before trains and cars, rivers were the highways of travel & trade. In Florida things are different, we have rivers of grass (also known as "sloughs"), but some things are the same, for centuries these rivers of grass were paddled and used as the highways of transportation and trade. But by the 1940's as more white folks were living in Florida the unpredictability of the rivers of grass became an issue. Rivers of grass tended to end up in peoples fields and living rooms and this was not acceptable. So the rivers of grass became canals that flowed to the sea and while paddlers have enjoyed those canals and the creeks that were left, we long for the old grass voyages.

With time, white man has learned the errors and excesses of their flood control projects and this has led to the revitalization of these famed rivers of grass, at the cost of gazillions of taxpayer dollars. Whenever somebody spends gazillions of dollars to fix something, someone else is going to try & have a good time on it. So it is with the Taylor Slough. The Taylor is the little, lesser known, brother of the Shark Slough. While the Shark flows all the way from Lake Okeechobee to the Western Florida Bay, the Taylor is Dade's slough. It used to get all the flows from south Dade & funnel them to the eastern Florida Bay. With the construction of the Ingram Highway and the digging of the C-111 canal, most of the Taylor's watershed was being diverted to Manatee Bay. In the 80's Ingram was cut and removed to restore the water flow, but the water still wasn't there so as the new millennium started, the C-111 was plugged and diverted (an effort that is still ongoing) restoring some flow to the Taylor.

With this newfound water came a newfound interest in paddling the Taylor once again. Tony Pernas & his grass sailors had done several trips down the Shark since back in the days when folks said there wasn't enough water down there to get through. Now that the Taylor was being rehydrated they decided to give it a shot and in 2003 set out from the "headwaters" at the C-111 diversion and paddled and sailed all the way to Florida Bay and on to Tavernier. This was a 3 day trip which included a night sleeping in the canoes in the slough. There was lots of boat dragging thorough deep mud & marl and all in all, while it was a great challenge triumphed, it was not something anyone was going to do again any time soon…

In 2008, after hearing of Tony's (mis)adventure, Terry Helmers and his son Danny tried to find a better exit in the southern slough. After much research & investigation, they figured out that you might could exit through Nine Mile Pond. In 2008 they proved their theory, making the run that would serve as the base for future expeditions. The stage was set.

In paddling, like in fruit, everything is seasonal. You don't paddle the Great Lakes in winter and you don't paddle the Glades in the summer. And one of the shortest sweetest seasons is the grass paddling season. It's a delicate balance, too early and the bugs eat you alive, too late and it becomes a muddy shoe sucking slog and drag fest. You can't look at the calendar; you have to look at the natural indicators of when to go. This makes pre-planning difficult.

But this year was to be the year, the bugs were low, the water was high and the grass was SWEET! But to get all the folks on the same date was a challenge. October 16 was that date. As it approached it looked like we'd blown it. The year that had been so rainy all season dried up completely in October. The water level gauges out in the glades were dropping like rocks; a week out, the National Weather Service was forecasting no better than a 20% chance of rain all week long. Worried emails started to be exchanged and then it happened, out of nowhere a weather system appeared dropping days & days of rain, and then just as it appeared, just in time for the route to be soaked, it just disappeared making for cool dry paddling!

The morning came and all paddlers had to be at the launch at 5:30 AM (long trip, long day). Even though it was a daytrip, floatplans were filed with instructions not to send help before noon Sunday. Never know what could happen deep in the grassland, and we would get out without help. Have you ever noticed how long it is to drive from the gate at Everglades all the way down to nine mile pond… Let me tell you, it's A LOT farther when you're getting ready to paddle it! Boats were dropped at 5:30 cars were shuttled over to nine mile and back and the trip left the ramp at 7:30 just as the sun started to come up. Among the group were 4 veterans of the Pernas' expedition (excluding Tony who was hacking and wacking in the Virgin Islands) and half of the Helmers' expedition (excluding Danny who was working at his new job as a ranger in Florida Bay).

The trip starts outside the gate of the park, back in the administrative area at the Paradise Key airboat launch. First it follows the roadbed of the old Ingram Highway (which makes for a great hiking trail in the dry season) over to the far side of the Taylor Slough within spitting distance of the Anhinga Trail. Make a left turn into the airboat trail and you're committed. At first you are in sawgrass meadows between cypress forests. Sometimes, the trail goes tight trough a cypress head, an airboat has a lot more power than a kayak, and those airboats make the going MUCH easier. The going was pretty easy, but every once in a while, you'd get into thick sawgrass, or even worse pickerel weed which makes for hard pushing. As the slough opened up it was mostly spike rush which is as good as grass paddling gets.

About five and half miles into the party comes a tricky spot that gets quite challenging. About even with where the old Ingram Highway makes its western turn, the trail switches over to the other side of the slough. This zig-zag is easy to miss and if you do, you'll add a couple of hours to the trip! But after you make the turn, you end up in the old farms (Madeira not Mecca) in the hole in the donut. Old farms mean old irrigation and drainage ditches and old ditches mean thick vegetation and HARD paddling. Once you cut the corner of the old farms, the route is a pretty straight line to the Southwest and it gets clearer and deeper and clearer and deeper until you get to Craighead's Pond. The water here is about three foot deep and clearer than tap water, excellent place to cool off with a dip. If you look at a google map of the park, the lower end of the slough looks like the rim of a pool. We followed that rim of vegetation northwest to the end of the airboat trail. It just so happens that the end of the airboat trail is within sight of marker 65 of the 9 mile pond trail, pick your poison go left or right (if you go right, go across to the high number side at around 85) and follow the 9 mile canoe trail back to civilization!

14 entered 14 came out alive & way ahead of schedule! A successful trip, anyway you slice it! This will be done again. The route has been established, it is doable but it is a FULL day of hard paddling. That paddle gets pretty heavy by the end of the day. The 1st Annual Grassland's Invitational is in the history books!
It was a wonderful trip in pristine surroundings. One that I will be ever so thankful for being allowed the privilege of participating.

We set out on what to most would appear to be a dead end. Knowing these areas hide hidden treasure, I was quite excited at what we would find. We crossed different types of vegetation, each playing a different tune on the hull of our boats. The only true signs of civilization were research platforms and few measuring devices placed throughout the slough; and for some odd reason, more airplanes overhead than I ever remember seeing in the area. Some areas offered relatively open passage. Old airboat trails lined by cypress trees created a runway to the next phase of our adventure. Mangrove scattered about the landscape crying to take their place in a surrealist landscape grew larger and thicker as we approached the apparently impassable mangrove wall blocking access to the promise of Florida Bay. The water, so clear, so inviting.

The trail was well marked and relatively easy to follow thanks to Terry, his route and guidance. Of course, this holds true for those with navigation experience. GPS devices abound but I still like the aerials and charts in conjunction with the GPS. to confirm our position There's nothing like a lat/lon to put you on the map. This, however, is not a trip for your average lay person.

Airboat trails leading to other destinations left me with a great urge to drop out of civilization to explore these areas, unencumbered by the restraints of time. Well, perhaps for a few days anyway. Exploring old routes, blazing new trails; how lucky can any one us ever get?

Paddling down this sensitive area made it evident that human incursion into this area must be both allowed and delicately managed. A balance between reasonable use and preservation is vital to this, as well as most other sensitive areas. There must be access, without it understanding and appreciating the value of these areas will be all but forgotten and lost. We are, after all, just people. If we do not understand the value and benefit of an area as it applies to us, we tend to discard it as meaningless. Imagine if Taylor Slough had been filled, developed and looked like Weston. Exposing others to this and other similar areas, especially young people, led by their more experienced elders, would be a fantastic next step. If you all are willing to teach me, I am willing to pass it along, hopefully you are too.

Thank you all for a wonderful day! Flex, thank you for bringing the canoe, the canoe paddling tips (I am a kayaker, first and foremost, canoeist, a distant second :), and the tons of photos I look forward to seeing. I did like the canoe concept though. If someone is selling some thing that moves, handles, doesn't weight a ton and needs some TLC, for cheap, I'd love to hear about it.
Esther, as a kayaker first and now a canoeist I can tell you that there is a place for all. I know of a well used Old Town Pathfinder for cheap over in Chokoloskee that is for sale. However, it is not a solo canoe but a short tandem.

Yakmaster, I would love to see a route of this trip if you have time to post it. Nice writeup!
do you prefer garmin or kmz/kml?
Here it is. Later I will post the two places that I think you should veer right to avoid thick vegetation.
Not sure if anyone is interested but you can open this track in Google Earth to view.
Great story. Did you have a problem getting the permit or was one required?
I've been wanting to do a run down one of the sloughs for a while, so this was really an exceptional trip!!
Everything came together just about perfect .. even had a lil bit of left-over daylight to spare (thanks to the steady pace of the group)! a BIG thanks to Terry & Keith for setting this up! :)

It was a real treat to meet and paddle with all of you, with special mention to Esther for (literally) pulling though the 20 - 22 miles .. with nary a single complaint from ANYBODY!! (that's a good trip)

Folks, BTW, awesome writeups! .. pics coming real soon ..

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