Paddling the Turner River in the Florida Everglades!

  • Updated: January 01, 2019
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

January 1st, 2019
[Pics] [Map]

After yesterday's amazing experience on the Vandenberg our ear related complications had forced us to cancel our last day of diving in Florida.

We'd driven through the Everglades but not done anything *in* the Everglades and so we started looking at paddling options since the boat tours all struck us as a bit too touristy for our tastes. We found a writeup of the Turner River complete with spectacular pictures like the one above which led us to talking to the Ivy House in Everglade City about the possibility of renting boats and doing some sort of longer point A to point B paddle. (After all, I wanted something I could write up on my website...)

By the time we talked to them the guy who handled their rentals was gone for the day but they assured us that if we showed up first thing the next morning they'd take care of us and get us paddling. So we took a leap of faith and set out hours before dawn from Key Largo where we'd camped the night before.

It was a good 112 mile drive from that took a little over two and a half hours with a stop along the way to make breakfast.

Everglade City didn't have AT&T cell coverage when we were there but we managed to find Ivy House which is a combination bed and breakfast and watercraft outfitter.

True to their word they took care of us and Dylan went through a variety of options he thought we could manage after we explained our experience level.

We settled on doing the length of the Turner River which would let us experience the freshwater to saltwater transition in addition to the mangrove tunnels that had attracted our attention to begin with.

They really went above and beyond including scrounging up a light to go lunch for us so we could get on our way faster.

Dylan got us our boats and trailed us down to the takeout location so we could drop off our rental car before ferrying us up to the put in. We had a great time chatting with him and hearing his stories about the various guests and weather events he'd witnessed.

The put in was a park off the 41 labeled Turner River Kayak / Canoe Launch on Google. The park had signs up that it was closed due to the government shutdown but they'd left the bathrooms open and there were a few other groups out that day.

We launched into a calm channel that parallels the highway for a short distance until you pass under a bridge. Jen was a little slower getting situated so I went ahead to the main part of the river to wait.

And no sooner was I there that I saw our first alligator/crocodile! He was just hanging out in a position that Jen would pass rather close to so I decided to set up where I could catch a video of the moment when I pointed it out to her.

Unfortunately he wasn't having any of that and slowly meandered off and submerged. When Jen arrived she couldn't believe I'd actually seen one but we'd be seeing them all over the place for the next few hours.

We would eventually be heading south but we decided to make a side trip to visit the osprey nests about a half mile north.

The water was glass smooth and it felt good to be paddling again even if it I missed my own boat the paddle.

We saw a few nests...

...and a whole lot of alligators and/or crocodiles! They were all over the shore and also just resting out in the water.

We did our best to give them space but they pretty much ignored us expending as little energy they could to move away if they felt we were too close.

We turned back to the south and started the 11.5 -ish mile journey back to where we'd left the car. The river started out with dense vegetation on either side which was very pretty but then we hit the mangroves.

And at this point we basically started taking pictures every 20 seconds exclaiming how instagrammy this all was. The way the light filtered down through the canopy combined with the glassy water was just amazing.

At times the canopy was so low we had to duck to make it under. We soon figured out the trick with the paddles was to break apart the two pieces and use one of them like a canoe paddle combined with pulling ourselves along using branches.

We passed two other groups that were doing an out and back to something called Turnaround Pond on the map above. I will say if you only have limited time that will let you experience the best part of this paddle without the longer time and fitness commitment of our plan.

Once we emerged from the first mangrove forest it also didn't suck!

We pulled over for lunch at some park benches located under some palm trees. I was perfectly content to just drift around in my boat while reclining but Jen eventually prodded me onto shore for a bit.

Not long after that we had our closest encounter with a gator when our route took down a rather narrow channel with this fellow relaxing by the side.

We had no other choice but to passby and he never visibly reacted it did cause our pulses to go up just a bit!

After that it was back into the mangroves. This section was a little less developed meaning there wasn't as much clearance. It was still beautiful but if you did the top part you've had the main experience.

We were always pretty sure of where to go but we were warned that at other times of year it can be a bit harder to figure out. Dylan had stories of pulling tourists out of remote spots at all hours because they'd ignored his recommendations and needless to say you don't want to be out here in the summer heat.

Once we left the southern mangrove area the river opened up a bit. It was still pretty but when you're in a small boat in big spaces it tends to feel like you're not moving very fast. Also we were getting out into the salt water so the ecosystem changed a bit and we stopped noticing as many animals.

We reached the bay around 2:30 pm and made a hard right to follow a channel paralleling a road. We'd seen a lot of waterways like this while driving through the Everglades and at this point we were pretty much ready to be done.

We didn't see any manatees but the signs suggested that they can be around.

We reached our takeout point at 3:20 pm after launching at 9:10 am. We took our time and could have easily cut quite a bit of time off the paddle but it was pleasant to take our time.

We left the boats where we had been told and dropped by the Ivy House to settle up on our way out of town. We had been sleeping in campgrounds for the last 6 days or so which in Florida even December involves a certain amount of dampness. We decided we were going to splurge for our last night and stay at an AirBnB since the cost seemed well worth the chance at dry sheets.

We looked around and found a place called Harmony Acres outside Naples which was a bit more than we wanted to pay but just looked too nice to pass up. And despite that and being a little bit out of our way it was so damn worth it!

It's a large house with several different individual rooms for rent and even a small apartment they rent out to longer term guests. The couple are really nice people and for a small fee provide a home cooked czech dinner. They were also more than happy to let us dry out our scuba gear on their back deck while we sat in the hot tub and sipped champagne. (It was almost too perfect but fortunately my weather powers kicked in and it started raining on us.)

They also had animals everywhere including chickens, a duck pond, cats, and at least one parrot. (The ducks had to be herded in to a pen at night because they said they'd had issues with bears attacking them)

The worst part was that we had to leave the following morning by 10 am after a pleasant breakfast and another dip in the pool.

We did a little bit of anticlimactic sightseeing in Naples since we were there, grabbed something to eat, then meandered back to Ft Lauderdale to catch our 5:40 pm flight back to Orange County via Phoenix.

And just so we didn't get bored on the way back the first flight was so bumpy they couldn't even offer drink service on the 4 ish hour flight and we had some sort of medical emergency 2/3 of the way through.

The second flight went a bit smoother and we landed back in Orange County a little before 11 pm slightly exhausted and ready to spend a few days working while we recovered from a massive amount of bug bites and planned for the next adventure!

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