The 99-mile inland Wilderness Trail between Flamingo and Everglades City is open to motorboats as well as canoes, although, depending on water levels, powerboats may have trouble navigating above Whitewater Bay. Flat-water canoeing and kayaking are best in winter, when temperatures are moderate, rainfall diminishes, and mosquitoes back off—a little, anyway. You don't need a permit for day trips, although there’s a seven-day, $5 launch fee for all motorized boats brought into the park. The Flamingo area has well-marked canoe trails, but be sure to tell someone where you're going and when you expect to return. Getting lost is easy, and spending the night without proper gear can be unpleasant, if not dangerous.
Flamingo Lodge, Marina, and Everglades National Park Tours. Everglades National Park's official concessionaire operates a marina, runs tours, and rents canoes, kayaks, and skiffs, secured by credit cards. A one-hour, 45-minute backcountry cruise aboard the 50-passenger Pelican ($32.50) winds under a heavy canopy of mangroves, revealing abundant wildlife—from alligators, crocodiles, and turtles to herons, hawks, and egrets. Renting a 17-foot, 40-hp skiff from 7 am runs $195 per day (eight hours, if returned by 4 pm), $150 per half day, or $80 for two hours; there is a $100 credit card deposit required. Canoes for up to three paddlers rent for $16 for two hours (minimum), $22 for four hours, $32 for eight hours, and $40 overnight. Family canoes for up to four go for $20 for two hours, $30 for four hours, $40 for eight hours, and $50 for 24 hours. The concessionaire also rents bikes, binoculars, rods, reels, and other equipment for up to a full day. Feeling sticky after a day in the ‘Glades? Hot showers are $3. (Flamingo Lodge, a victim of massive hurricane damage in 2005, remains closed pending a fresh start.) An experimental Eco Tent of canvas and wood, unveiled in winter 2012–13, was booked solid for the season. Built by University of Miami architecture students, Eco Tent sleeps four, has a table and chairs, and wins rave reviews from designers, park officials, and campers. It's a prototype for up to 40 more units, once funding is secured. 1 Flamingo Lodge Hwy., on Buttonwood Canal, Flamingo, FL, 33034. 239/695–3101; 239/695–0124 Eco Tent reservations. www.evergladesnationalparkboattoursflamingo.com.
Everglades National Park Boat Tours. In conjunction with boat tours at Flamingo, this operation runs 1½-hour trips ($32) through the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Adventure-seekers often see dolphins, manatees, bald eagles, and roseate spoonbills. In peak season (November–April), 49-passenger boats run on the hour and half hour daily. Mangrove wilderness tours ($40) on smaller boats are for up to six passengers. These one-hour, 45-minute trips are the best option to see alligators. The outfitter also rents canoes ($24 per day) and kayaks (from $45 per day) plus tax. Ask about group discounts. Gulf Coast Visitor Center, 815 Oyster Bar La., Everglades City, FL, 34139. 239/695–2591 or 866/628–7275. www.evergladesnationalparkboattoursgulfcoast.com/index.php.
Everglades Rentals & Eco Adventures. Ivey House Inn houses this established, year-round source for guided Everglades paddling tours and rentals. Canoes cost $35 the first day, $29 daily thereafter. Daylong kayak rentals are from $45. Shuttles deliver you to major launching areas such as Turner River ($25 for the first person, $5 for each additional person, round-trip). Highlights include bird and gator sightings, mangrove forests, no-man's-land beaches, and spectacular sunsets. Longer adventures include equipment rental, guide, and meals. Ivey House, 107 Camellia St., Everglades City, FL, 34139. 877/567–0679 or 239/695–3299. www.evergladesadventures.com..
Buffalo Tiger's Airboat Tours. A former chief of Florida's Miccosukee tribe—Buffalo Tiger, who died in January 2015 at the age of 94—founded this Shark Valley–area tour operation, and his spirit carries on. Savvy guides narrate the trip to an old Indian camp on the north side of Tamiami Trail from the Native American perspective. Don't worry about airboat noise, since engines are shut down during informative talks. The 45-minute tours go 10–5 Saturday through Thursday at $27.50 per person. Look online for discount coupons. Reservations are not required, and credit cards are now accepted at this once cash-only outpost. 29708 S.W. 8th St., 5 miles east of Shark Valley, 25 miles west of Florida's Tpke., Miami, FL, 33194. 305/559–5250. www.buffalotigersairboattours.com..