Florida is a long way down my list of places to go hiking… but I’m attending a conference in Miami, so I figure there must be a trail worth visiting in the vicinity. The Everglades is less than two hours from Miami, and it’s got some compelling credentials: a World Heritage Site, an International Biosphere Reserve, a Wetland of International Importance, and a specially protected area under the Cartagena Treaty…
…on the other hand, every person I spoke to who lives in Florida looked at me as if I’d lost my mind when I mentioned hiking in the Everglades. *Which, as I soon realised, was for good reason.)
My plan was to tackle the Coastal Prairie Trail, the most southerly trail on the United States mainland, which finishes at Clubhouse Beach on Florida Bay. At 15 miles (24km) return it’s a decent distance, but it has a total elevation gain of only 22 feet (7m) making it a relatively easy day-hike. At least, on paper. The highest point in the Everglades is 26 feet / 8m – and Florida is the flattest state in the United States – so there’s not going to be a gruelling ascent on any Floridian hiking trail.
I reach the start of the trail, which is nicely shaded. And I’m immediately attacked by more angry mosquitoes than I’ve ever encountered in my life. It’s been estimated (by no less an authority than the Yale School of Public Health) that more than 7 billion mosquitoes exist in the Everglades, and at least half of them have found me. Based on the research, the Everglades mosquito density equates to 4,667 mosquitoes per acre.
I have been advised by the ranger that the mosquitoes are only in the buttonwood forest area, so flapping my arms in a futile attempt to ward off the Mosquito Cloud, I hike as briskly as I can along the trail. Salvation is soon in sight, as I leave the buttonwood and enter a coastal prairie.
However, my happiness at evading the mosquitoes is short-lived. It’s humid, hot (there’s no shade) and the trail is part-mud, and part-water. The prairies are formed by mud Florida Bay being deposited inland during hurricanes. I continue, but am starting to think that a 15 mile hike through a combination of unrelenting mud and deep puddles is not really my idea of a fun afternoon. The Coastal Prairie Trail largely follows the route of old road that was commissioned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to remove wild cotton from South Florida. I’m not sure what kind of cars they drove back then, but it must have been a serious undertaking to get vehicles through this terrain.
After about a mile, I’ve had enough. The scenery doesn’t change much – and I’ve already almost lost a shoe to the sucky mud. I downgrade my plans to the much shorter Bayshore Loop, which provides an alternate trail back to the start.
The Bayshore Loop brings some shade, as it follows the Florida Bay coastline… and a resumption of the incessant mosquitoe attacks that soon makes me miss walking in the mud…
I’m glad when I’m back at the car. During the end of the dry season, the trail would probably be a little more tolerable – but in early November the description I read – after undertaking the hike – pretty much sums it up!
The environment the trail traverses is some of the most hostile in the state: the marl prairie is a breeding ground for mosquitoes, the footing can become impassably muddy, and the sun can beat unconditioned hikers into exhaustion.Florida Hikes
Getting to the Bayshore Loop (and Coastal Prairie Trail)
The trailhead for both the Bayshore Loop Trail and Coastal Prairie Trail is at the far end of the Flamingo Campground, at the rear of Loop “C”. Flamingo is about 37 miles (45min) from the entrance to the Everglades National Park, and just under two hours drive from Miami.
- NPS (National Park Service) – Coastal Prairie Trail
- YaleNews – Rare mosquito-borne viruses found to be widespread in Florida Everglades
Hiking in the Everglades has a summary of all the trails.