Jane Gamble/NPS Photo

Campsite With a View: Chickee Huts, Everglades National Park

Your own private island––for the same price as seeing a movie

The Everglades are an other-worldly paradise: mazes of mangrove tunnels, rivers, bays, and marshes that span 1.5 million acres across southern Florida. The majority of Everglades National Park is only accessible by water, so to explore properly you’ll want to do it by boat. As you paddle, do your best to spot one of the locals: manatees, alligators, crocodiles, plus a seemingly endless array of bird species. There are many worthy backcountry paddling routes through the Everglades, but there’s one thing you should absolutely do: Camp on a chickee hut. Imagine waking up on a wooden platform with open-air walls in the middle of tranquil water with wide-open blue skies above and lush greenery on the horizon. It’s basically your own private island that only costs $33 for a three-night stay.

Location

There are a few departure points, but head for the Flamingo Visitor Center to start at the southern end of the park; it’s about an hour and 45 minutes from Miami.

Best Campsites

The best part about the chickee huts is that they all offer great views. Bigger party? Some chickee huts (like the Pearl Bay Chickee) are doubles and can hold up to 12 people (singles can sleep six) on two platforms connected by a bridge that usually holds a portable toilet. The Shark Point Chickee (a double) in the expansive Florida Bay offers exceptional views and is exposed on all sides (not tucked away in a secluded bay) so campers can expect nothing but horizon and epic sunrises and sunsets. Shark Point is about 8 miles in a more or less direct line from Flamingo, so most folks can get there in a day to spend the night.

When To Go

In the Everglades there’s two seasons: dry and wet. Dry season is from November to March and wet season is from April to November. As you might guess, the dry season is the busy season. Wet season tends to be pretty buggy, and the summer months are pretty intolerable with heat, thick mosquitoes, thunderstorms, and it’s also hurricane season. The sweet spot is during the winter, from December to April.

All chickee hut campers need to pick up a wilderness camping permit the day before their trip  from the Flamingo Visitor Center ($21 for the permit and then $2 per person/per night). You can make reservations three months ahead of time on Recreation.gov to secure your dates, but permits are also available to walk-in campers on a first-come, first-served basis.

Photo: Jane Gamble/NPS Photo

Supplies

If you need to rent a canoe or kayak, or arrange a shuttle to the trailhead, you can do it at the Flamingo Visitor Center or at the marina next door. There are some basic supplies at the marina, but once you’re out on the water, you’re on your own (and will also need to pack out all your waste and trash). It’s recommended that folks carry one gallon of fresh water per person/per day, an anchor, rain gear, sun protection, bug spray or a bug hat, and a tent with mesh netting to protect from bugs. No stakes are permitted on the chickee huts, which means you’ll need to use a freestanding tent, so bring some cord to secure it to the platform in case of wind or inclement weather. 

Things To Do Nearby

Exploring Terra Firma: Everglades N.P. is the third largest national park in the contiguous U.S. and there’s plenty of activities beyond boating, including dozens of shorter interpretive trails around Flamingo that pass through mangroves and tropical hardwood hammock forest. For a bike ride, check out Shark Valley and cruise the 3.2-mile Snake Bight Trail. 

Catch Some Wildlife: About one-third of the park is saltwater and the rest is freshwater. Buy a state fishing license and cast for bass, tarpon, snapper, and snook, and hope for tight lines. Or break out the binos and look up. There’s some 360 bird species in the Everglades; see if you can spot a blue heron, colorful roseate spoonbills, or snowy egret. 

Camp on the Beach: If camping over the water isn’t your thing, there’s also beach and land sites in the backcountry along the paddling routes that also have unreal views. If you’d prefer to stay on dry land, there’s developed camping at the Lone Pine Key and Flamingo campgrounds. Expect drinking water, picnic tables, grills, showers, and electric hookups for RVs.

Details

Located inside a national park, you’ll need to pay the entry fee ($30). There are 17 chickees under the park’s purview, but a number of private huts exist so there’s many options to make your night on the open water happen. You’ll need a nautical chart and a compass in order to navigate the waters, especially if fog rolls in (these are available at Flamingo Adventures next door). You’ll also want to have a basic understanding of tides and weather—navigating thick mangrove channels can get confusing. When planning your paddling route, a good rule of thumb is 8-12 miles per day for experienced folks. To get the best recommendations on the right route for your party, give the visitor center a call.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.