Four of us spent 4 nights camped at North Nest Key (NNK) in Florida Bay in Everglades National Park over Christmas. The Park Service still seemed in disarray from the hurricane aftermath. Im not sure if we were supposed to be there or not; I couldnt get a straight answer from anyone in the Park Service, so we just went. We left from Florida Bay Outfitters (FBO). We rented the kayaks and gear from them. The FBO folks were pretty helpful with ideas for routes, maps, what to look for, etc. Johnny Malloys book, Paddling Everglades National Park, mentions the route through Dusinberry Creek, but someone at FBO gave us a couple scenic shortcuts to take which got us off the Intracostal Waterway earlier and made for a more scenic journey (sorry, I cant remember the name of the shortcut).
The paddle out to NNK is 8 miles. We had a few flocks of flamingos fly overhead during the trip. We camped on the northwest side of the island. We were the only campers, though there were a few power boats out for the day.
We spent the days exploring north and northwest of NNK, finding creeks and bays to check out. That part of Florida Bay, in the vicinity of Alligator Bay, was almost entirely empty of other humans. We saw 2 boats in three days. At one point I startled something big in the water. I never got to see what it was; there was just a huge splash right in front of my kayak and that was it.
The creeks are spectacular. Some of them are closed in really tight with overhanging vines and branches and are a lot of fun to navigate. There's one on the west bank of the entrance to Alligator Bay that I would recommend.
Several people we talked to, including one park ranger, talked about the keys in the bay as just another pile of mangrove trees, but I thought they were fascinating. Some of them have ponds in the middle that are bird magnets. If you can find a peephole through the mangroves, it can be quite a sight. We found a few trees that looked as if they had been decorated with pelicans. The needlefish were constantly jumping all though the bay. In some of the protected bays we saw some rays gliding around.
A few bugs, not too bad. Pack your food well on NNK; something chewed through our knapsack one night to get at a Clif Bar that had not been unwrapped.
NPS backcountry camping permit.
Florida Bay Outfitters: (305) 451-3018