My favorite day trip in the Everglades is a kayak adventure down the Turner River. It exposes you to a diversity of landscape and offers a real view of what the everglades is today and a glimpse of what it once was. Because it is one-way trip (about 7 miles and 5 1/2 hours), we park at the Chokoloski bridge, and pay for portage with the Ivy House, located in Everglades City.
The trip lets you off right at a put in on the Tamiami trail. The early going is easy paddling through a pretty wide river. About a mile into the trip is the first of three mangrove tunnels, where you mush break your battles and literally pull yourself through using overhanging limbs and branches. Pay attention, I have grabbed a resting everglades racer on a perfectly innocent looking branch.
The first tunnel spills out into a small pristine bay. Take a few minutes to stop paddling and hear absolute silence. At this point you are about four miles from any ambient noise. You are, by the way on your own, so plan provisions carefully, especially fresh water. The South Florida sun can dehydrate you before you even know that you are thirsty.
With modicum cautions, I have never felt threatened in the wilds of the Everglades. We are visitors, to be sure, but the wildlife employs the same techniques of self-preservation that have existed for millions of years.
About one-third down the river, there is a welcome spot of dry land. Watch for the lone palm tree on the left bank. There is even an old picnic table that seems completely out of place, but is a welcome spot for lunch and a brief rest. From here, there is really no place to stand. So plan another 4 1/2 miles of straight paddling. Another mangrove tunnel is straight ahead. Again, stop paddling and enjoy the silence, expect for an occasional kingfisher, and a great blues shrieking in the lost midst of dense mangrove "forest".
There are rarely alligators in the tunnels, but you will likely see some large boys in the occasionally ponds, just tailing around. Wild gators are no threat to humans, unless you spook a female with freshly laid eggs on a bank... a wide berth (15 feet) is recommended of all wild alligators.
One more small mangrove tunnel, presents a peaceful chance to empty the brain of work, mortgage, bills, and petty plans for Monday. After the last tunnel, the river opens up and you will find you are in pretty much open water.
Here, the river becomes several hundred yards across. There are two intersections, but with a map and compass, navigation is infallible. About a mile of open water, and if you hug the left shore, you can spy a shell mound, left by the Tequestas a thousand years ago. If weary, or you have a sore back from paddling, this spot overs a brief refuge to stand and rest.
From here, there are two more wide turns, and a final stint is a crossing of the Chockoloski Bay (approximately) 3/4 miles across. Depending on tide, it's only about a 20 minute crossing. Once our gear is packed, and our kayak is Thuled up, we stop for a bite at City Sea Food, and the day is winding down. It's a real taste of the Everglades, which is a unique ecosystem, unlike anything else in the world.
Word of caution: interior trips in the Everglades should only be planned from Thanksgiving through March. In the summer, I have tried 100% deet (not recommended) and the horse flies still could lift me out of the boat. Just kidding, but it is a miserable experience in the hot weather from May until late November. If you enjoy wilderness environments, the entire Turner River trek is not to be missed.
Note for birders: taking you time and being vigilant, there are numerous common birds to see: green back herons, little blues, great blues, of course, night herons, many eqrets, maybe a word stork, opreys, and maybe even an eagle nest. Never had the luxury, but there are mangrove cuckoos for the really lucky and observant.
The Ivy House is the place to stay. It is the quaint and popular place to stay. But, if you don't mind simple accomodations, there are two motels in town, which kitchenettes, for a significant savings. There are also nice condominium units to be reserved in advance fronting the Barron River at an affordable price. If you do stay at the Ivy House, you may be able to negotiate a better rate for you shuttle. There is definitely a discount if you are planning to rent canoes or kayaks from that facility. Do not let anyone tell you that the Turner river is for more advanced back water kayakers. The trail is well-marked and always passable.
No, except for kayak rentals and shuttle fees. Check out the Ivyhouse.com for rental information.
Drive west on US41 from Miami. Everglades City is about 65 miles (about 1 1/2 hour because of traffic getting out of Miami. Watch for the flashing intersection of US 29 (where there is a gas station and huge American flag). Turn left, and Everglades City is one mile. The Ivy House is easily seen on your right.
There are several excellent kayak adventure books for South Florida, and especially the Everglades. Try Amazon and pick the right one for you.