Everglades National Park | NINE MILE POND CANOE TRAIL

Nine Mile Pond Canoe Trail (click to enlarge)

Nine Mile Pond Canoe Trail (click to enlarge)


See the Paddling web page for an interactive location map.


Length: 6-mile loop
Time: 4 hours

The Nine Mile Pond Canoe Trail at Everglades National Park is a loop that crosses Nine Mile Pond and exits into the backcountry via a small creek. The creek winds between mangrove islands before eventually emptying into a sawgrass wetland. The backcountry portion of the canoe trail makes up about five of the trail’s six miles. On the way back it crosses through two smaller ponds just north of Nine Mile Pond.

You can proceed around the loop in either direction, but the counterclockwise route is the way the trail is meant to be paddled. If you want to paddle the trail in reverse, starting with the two smaller ponds, the entrance to the ponds is at the 10 o’clock position from the parking area. To paddle the trail as designed, head straight across Nine Mile Pond to the far end and you will see the mouth of the small creek. There is no designated boat launch, but I found the best spot to be a small area at the right of the parking lot.

Exits out of Nine Mile Pond

Exits out of Nine Mile Pond

Good place to launch your boat on Nine Mile Pond

Good place to launch your boat on Nine Mile Pond

Before heading out on the trail, be sure to inquire at either the Ernest Coe or Flamingo Visitor Center about whether there is enough water in the backcountry areas to make the trail navigable. As the dry season wears on (October-April) the creek and the sawgrass wetlands get shallower and shallower; the depth of Nine Mile Pond is no indicator of the water depth in the backcountry.

The best time for this trip is November through January. I paddled the trail in late February and made it through despite being told there was not enough water, but there was so much paddling through muck and sawgrass while scraping the bottom that the fun quickly wore thin. If the water is this low in February, I doubt the route is navigable in March and certainly not in April. Unfortunately, with the return of the water in the summer comes the heat and mosquitoes.

There is a shortcut located half-way around the trail, and I recommend taking this if advised by a park Ranger about low water. The water is usually deep enough up to this point, which is why the shortcut was created in the first place. By the halfway point you will have seen all of the different varieties of environments the trail has to offer, so you will not be missing out on much by taking the shorter route.

The water can get very shallow from late February through May

The water can get very shallow from late February through May

Once off the pond and into the backcountry, figuring out the route would be tough if not for a series of numbered PVC pipes that mark the trail. Some of the numbered pipes correspond to informative descriptions on the Nine Mile Pond Canoe Trail brochure that you can pick up at one of the Visitor Centers. These short paragraphs tell about the nature of the area that you are in.

PVC piper marker

PVC piper marker

NAVIGATING TIPS

For those who have not paddled a marked canoe trail, here are some tips on how to read the PVC markers.

Tip #1: There are some points where you pass though a narrow stretch of mangroves and emerge onto a wide, pond-like grassland area where there may be more than a half dozen channels branching off of it in different directions. In some cases the PVC markers are hard to spot, having been hidden in the rapidly growing mangroves. You do not need to travel a short distance down each channel looking for the next marker. It is there somewhere on the pond, you just have to look carefully.

PVC markers can be hidden in the mangroves, but they are there

PVC markers can be hidden in the mangroves, but they are there

Tip #2: If you come to an intersection of waterways, but no marker is at the turn, stay straight. There will be a marker at the mouth of any channel you are supposed to turn on.

Tip #3: There are a lot of tricky turns on the trail and you often have to use your intuition. I never made a wrong turn, but I made plenty where I had my doubts about being on the trail. In each instance I eventually came upon a marker. There are 116 markers on the trail, so if you have been paddling longer than five minutes without seeing one, you may have taken a wrong turn. The key word here is “may,” so again, you must use your intuition.

PVC markers are placed frequently along the canoe trail

PVC markers are placed frequently along the canoe trail

Tip #4: Mile points are as follows: 1 mile at marker #21; 2 miles at #52; 3 miles at marker #72; 4 miles at marker #82. (I did not make note of the 5-mile marker.)

Tip #5: The shortcut across the loop comes at marker #44. To take the shortcut, stay straight. The next marker you should see is #82 on the other side. To get to #45 and continue around the longer loop, take a right. It is not advised to go farther during the dry season as I did. I ignored the Ranger’s advice, reasoning that if I got stuck and couldn’t continue that I’d just turn around and head back. What I did was a test of endurance, and the fun wore thin rather quickly.

Shortcut marked by #44

Shortcut marked by #44

TERRAIN

The Nine Mile Pond Canoe Trail provides one of the most diverse paddling experiences in the Everglades. Previously, I had paddled in the Gulf Coast Area of the Everglades and at Big Cypress National Preserve, but these trails were all on small creeks that occasionally passed through ponds of various sizes. The Nine Mile Pond trail has all of this, plus the “river of grass,” the wide open sawgrass wetlands that are synonymous with the Everglades.

Directly upon exiting Nine Mile Pond at the far end, paddlers will find themselves on a very narrow mangrove-lined creek. If you are in a kayak and have a “kayak style” paddle, you must pull it apart and start paddling like in a canoe. Do not attempt this trail if your paddle cannot be broken into two pieces. The waterway is not wide enough to use the longer kayak paddle.

Narrow, mangrove-lined creek begins the backcountry portion of the trail

Narrow, mangrove-lined creek begins the backcountry portion of the trail

Once through the mangroves, the trail emerges onto a wide wetland of grass. Imagine a flooded city where you can still see the tops of the street signs (the PVC markers). You can paddle around in an empty lot or in somebody’s back yard, but ultimately you need to follow the streets. That’s what paddling in the backcounty along the Nine Mile Pond Canoe Trail is like. As long as you keep an eye on the next PVC marker, you can venture off the canoe trail and explore the area, though it’s not like you are going to find buried treasure somewhere off the trail.

Open wetlands are free to explore, but keep an eye on the trail

Open wetlands are free to explore, but keep an eye on the trail

The water is very clear, and you can see the bottom nearly the entire time. Gars and other fish may swim right up to you. I saw a few birds in the backcountry, but no alligators. I did see alligators in the ponds at the end of the trip.

Gar

Gar

From markers #44 to #51 you are in the open grasslands, but by marker #52 you will find yourself back in the mangroves, this time in an actual mangrove tunnel. The creek gets so narrow that you must actually grab the mangroves overhead and pull yourself through. There is no way to use a paddle. I thought this might be the end of the line, but I made it through. When you emerge from the tunnel at marker #60 you will be surrounded by cattails. This is an invasive plant that threatens to take over much of the wetland. They can grow so thick that canoe travel is rendered impossible.

Cattails are taking over parts of the Everglades

Cattails are taking over parts of the Everglades

There are large areas of water covered in dead cattails. Periphyton, a blue-green algae that grows on grass and rocks, also grows on the dead cattails. Periphyton can soak up water and provide small animals a wet place on which to lay eggs in the dry season. Large mats of the algae are floating on the water throughout the wetlands, not just in the cattail areas.

Sea of dead cattails

Sea of dead cattails

Once past the cattails, you will again find yourself in the open sawgrass wetlands. It gets difficult to paddle, but not because of shallow water. There is so much grass and periphyton that it is like paddling through a crowd of outstretched arms that are trying to grab onto you to slow you down. At this point I was barely making a mile per hour.

Grass and other debris make paddling in the shallow water more difficult

Grass and other debris make paddling in the shallow water more difficult

Between markers #67 and #68 are more mangrove thickets, though these are not as dense as the previous one at marker #52. These areas offer an nice respite from the sun and a good place to take a break for water, a snack, or even lunch. Unless you want to get wet and stand in muck, you can never get out of your boat because there is no dry land on the entire trail.

Emerging from a mangrove tunnel

Emerging from a mangrove tunnel

When you reach marker #72 you are at the far end of the loop, the point where you start heading back. This is where the water really starts getting shallow and the grass thick. You must make it to marker #82, which is the other end of the shortcut, before reaching deeper water.

Marker #72

Marker #72

The water becomes the shallowest from markers #80 to #82. There were numerous times when I thought the trip would come to an end. I never hit the actual bottom, but I constantly hit the sludge on the bottom, and that slows down progress. At times I was paddling so hard that I might as well have been on dry ground trying to propel myself forward. However, I made up my mind that I would walk through the ankle-deep muck rather than go back the way I came. If you have two people in your boat, you might not make it because the weight would cause you to hit the bottom. Again, I write this about paddling during the height of the dry season, so I assume these problems will not exist if you paddle when there is plenty of water in the area.

Tough paddling between markers #80 and #82

Tough paddling between markers #80 and #82

Path through the grass, a former airboat trail

Path through the grass, a former airboat trail

The four-mile point on the trail is at marker #82, which also marks the other end of the shortcut. The water gets noticeably deeper at this point, but it gets pretty shallow again between #83 and #84. If you stop paddling you come to an immediate stop. There’s a good 10 inches of water, but it is clogged with debris.

The trail finally emerges from the grass and back onto the well-defined creek at marker #87.

Finally clear of the grass at marker #87

Finally clear of the grass at marker #87

After emerging from a mangrove tunnel at the 5.5-mile mark, the trail spills out into the first of two large ponds. It is on these ponds that you will see the most wildlife, so if that’s what you are after, you may just want to head for the ponds to begin with. Travel straight across Pond #1 to find the short channel that connects to Pond #2. When I made the trip, there was an alligator on either side of the channel, so it was like running a gauntlet of alligators to get from one pond to the next.

The ponds are the best places to spot wildlife like this alligator

The ponds are the best places to spot wildlife like this alligator

Head straight across Pond #2 to find the channel that connects back to Nine Mile Pond. From there you can see the shore and parking area, which are off to the right.

Back to Nine Mile Pond

Back to Nine Mile Pond

I highly recommend the Nine Mile Pond Canoe Trail because of the opportunity to paddle in the grasslands, the same type of terrain that airboats made famous. The mangrove thickets and tunnels are always fun. Paddling is slow going, so expect to only make half of your normal speed, if that. Furthermore, most of the route is exposed to the sun, for even the mangrove tunnels are only a hundred feet long. Be sure to wear a hat and sunscreen if avoiding the sun is important to you.

Paddling between the ponds

Paddling between the ponds

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Last updated on January 1, 2020
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