Everglades National Park | BEAR LAKE TRAIL

Bear Lake Trail map (click to enlarge)

Bear Lake Trail map (click to enlarge)


See the Hiking web page for an interactive location map.

NOTE: The National Park Service no longer maintains the Bear Lake Trail due to the presence of Cape Sable Thoroughwort, an endangered plant species. The trail may still be passable, but obstacles may be in the way. Ask a Ranger about trail conditions before departing. Travel at your own risk.


Length: 7.8 miles, round trip
Time: 2 hours bike and hike, 4 hours on foot
Difficulty: Easy

The Bear Lake Trail at Everglades National Park, which runs between the Buttonwood Canal and Bear Lake while following the Homestead Canal, is 2-miles long, one way. In the past it was possible to drive your car to the start of the trail on Bear Lake Road, but fishermen using the Buttonwood Canal trashed the place and the National Park Service has gated the road, adding 1.9 miles, one-way to the hike. That’s nearly four miles, round trip, down a dirt road. The only reason I was agreeable to hike eight miles while seeing the same thing twice is because I could ride my bike on the road, which shaves off a considerable amount of time and energy. I could get to the trailhead by bike in less than 15 minutes, compared to at least an hour on foot.

Bear Lake Road

Bear Lake Road

There is no designated parking area on the main road for the Bear Lake Trail, so just pull off on the shoulder. Bikes are not allowed on the actual trail, so if riding be sure to bring a lock so you can chain your bike to a tree.

At the end of the road is a dirt parking lot. A CANOE sign points to the left, which is the way you want to go to hike the Bear Lake Trail. The sign is pointing out the start of the Homestead Canal where paddlers can put in for a trip to Bear Lake. However, since you can no longer drive down here, I doubt anyone in their right mind will lug a canoe or kayak two miles down the road. The canal is still used, but as part of the Mud Lake Canoe Trail. Paddlers enter the canal from Mud Lake and travel east to the Buttonwood Canal.

Homestead Canal canoe launch

Homestead Canal canoe launch

If you were to take a right instead of a left, you would come to the Buttonwood Canal just a short ways down the trail. Those paddling the Mud Lake Canoe Trail must continue the trip north to Coot Bay on the Buttonwood Canal. Unfortunately, the two canals do not connect, so paddlers must carry their equipment .2 mile between the docks.

Buttonwood Canal canoe launch

Buttonwood Canal canoe launch

The Bear Lake Trail is pretty much an uneventful, straight shot to Bear Lake. It is flat, smooth, and wide in most places, though there are a few sections that get a little tight. The entire trail traverses a hardwood and mangrove forest, so you don’t have to worry about the sun (though the road is exposed). Why bikes are not allowed on such a wide trail, I don’t know. In truth, you could ride your bike to the end and I doubt anyone would see you, or care if they did. I was the only one on the trail, and I doubt it ever gets much use.

Wide portion of the Bear Lake Trail

Wide portion of the Bear Lake Trail

Example of one of the more narrower sections of the Bear Lake Trail

Example of one of the more narrower sections of the Bear Lake Trail

While there are usually plenty of mosquitoes on the Flamingo area trails, I have to rate the Bear Lake Trail as the least buggy. However, I still recommend wearing long pants, a long sleeve jacket if it’s not too hot (jean jacket will do), a hat with mosquito net, and thin gloves. Insect repellent of some sort should work here, for the mosquitoes aren’t nearly as thick as on the other trails. It was too hot for a jacket during my hike, so I applied DEET to my arms and got about two hours out of it before sweat broke down the chemical and the mosquitoes began landing.

You first catch a glimpse of Bear Lake about 1.8 miles from the start of the hiking trail, though it continues for another .2 mile before coming to an obvious end. When I visited, the shore was covered in foam. What sort of pollution could be in this inland lake? It’s actually not pollution, but a naturally occurring phenomenon caused by the surface tension of the water being disturbed at the same time that air is introduced. Molecules called surfactants, which in this case are produced by algae and other plants when they die, interact with the water and weaken the surface tension (surfactants can also be caused by manmade cleaning products). There are no boats allowed on Bear Lake, so this froth was stirred up by high winds.

Bear Lake

Bear Lake

Bear Lake

Bear Lake

Bear Lake

Bear Lake

There is no way to walk around Bear Lake any further than where the trail ends due to the mangrove-lined shore. Once done at the lake, it’s time to return back to the parking lot and then make the long trip back to the main road. Without a bike to shave off four miles of walking and close to an hour-and-a-half of time, regardless of how pleasant the hike may be, I wouldn’t even consider the Bear Lake Trail.

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Last updated on December 31, 2019
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