Fakahatchee Hilton in the Florida Everglades

Three Days in the Everglades

Three days in the Everglades: Walking the Foot Trails of Fakahatchee

Cypress Knees behind a rustic building labelled "Fakahatchee Hilton"
Cypress Knees behind a rustic building labelled "Fakahatchee Hilton"​​

“There are no other Everglades in the world. They are, they have always been, one of the unique regions of the earth; remote, never wholly known. Nothing anywhere else is like them.”

Margory Stoneman Douglas

Last year, at the tail-end of a South Florida vacation, my buddy Joella Nicole and I met up with my dad, Bill Little, who provided us with a three-day introduction to the Everglades. 

For Joella and me, it was our first time in the glades and on the drive up from Marathon Key, I was nervous about whether we’d made the right choice to reserve several days in the Everglades with no anchor plans.

We’ll just meet up with my dad and go on his photography walks in Fakahatchee. That was the plan. And as it turned out, that was all we needed to have a spectacular time—that and  mahi tacos.

How do you spend three days in the Everglades?

  1. Take a long hike, or bike ride in Fakahatchee Strand Preserve Park. Listen and watch for wildlife and unusual plant life. Notice nature.
  2. Unwind from city life and cellular service by writing, reading, strumming—whatever you enjoy.
  3. Eat well in Everglades City, or out of your own picnic bag.

My initial worries about spending three whole days in the Everglades were squelched immediately as we entered Trail Lakes Campground, which is kept under the watchful (albeit concrete) eyes of a giant panther and a skunk ape — Florida’s equivalent of a Sasquatch. We got settled at camp and headed out to Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park in the Southwestern corner of the Everglades: where Bill finds plentiful wildlife to photograph.

One thing must be established for you to understand the mood out there in Fakahatchee and I’ll just come out with it: My dad can snap photos of roseate spoonbills with the best of them, but he’s more geared for the carnivorous and often stealth wildlife—so to put it plainly—Joella and I were tagging along while my dad looked for Florida Panthers, deep in the Everglades.

Video: Walks in Fakahatchee Strand Preserve Park

What is special about the Everglades?

I grew up just four hours north of Everglades National Park in Polk County, yet I had minimal education on the area or its history. I had no true understanding of the value of the Everglades, so in recent years, when my dad began exploring with his camera, it piqued my interest and I’ve had a lot of catching up to do. 

There’s inherent value in preserving the natural habitat of the Everglades—for the great blue heron — who took flight just ahead of us as we entered the Fakahatchee Preserve's tree hammock, (and I kid you not, that great blue guided us into the park)—and there's value in preserving the glades for a pop-up book worth of animals native to Florida, such as minks, black bears, American alligators and crocodiles, white-tailed deer, and the elusive Florida panther.

How rare is it to see a Florida Panther?

Extremely rare! There are less than 200 Florida Panthers left in the wild, and until recently all the known females were in South Florida. A fantastic way to get up to speed on the state of Florida's Panthers is to watch the cinematic storytelling of Path of the Panther, an indie film featuring conservation photographer Carlton Ward and his attempts to document panthers and preserve their dwindling habitat.

Walks in the Fakahatchee

So there we were in the Fakahatchee, strolling down endless trails, looking for big cats: my dad with his camera and telescopic lens; me with my satchel purse and athletic sandals; and Joella, armed with an iphone and endless snack packs. 

We walked fern-lined trails for hours, eyes on the dark marsh water. Or on the towering trees with long, thick vines that tricked your eyes. Was that a swaying vine or a slithering python? 

Side note: I’ve read there was an absurd amount of odd pets—non-native snakes and reptiles—that got loose from homes during hurricane Andrew and many of them found their way to the Everglades, which, you know, is not comforting when you’re miles from civilization, on foot, looking for panthers in one of the most untamed corners of the country.

We did not spot the elusive Florida panther that trip, though it wasn't for a lack of trying. We must have walked 20 miles over the three days, carrying Bill's heavy telescopic cameras, but I'm not complaining. Who am I to demand the presence of a panther?

While the Florida Keys had offered Joella and me myriad ways to go wild with our credit cards, supporting sea turtles and overspending on sailboat accommodations, three days in the Everglades offered the opposite: out there we ran wild, and there was little, if anything, to buy. 

Joella impressed my dad and I by literally running through the Fackahatchee’s most dense trails, working on her fitness on the last day, while, I imagine, keeping an eye out for pouncing panthers or those 215-pound Burmese pythons, which I imagine drop from tree tops and coil around prey like a tortilla around rice and beans. Not that I worry about such things, giant invasive snakes on the loose and breeding (the mammoth Burmese had 122 eggs inside), that’s such a long shot, but come on, it could happen, and as Joella mentions in her video snippet below, everything does look like an animal out there.

Everglades Video: Everything Does Look Like an Animal

Highlights of Three Days in the Everglades, January 2022

Playing a round of ping pong while pumping gas at Everglades Fishing Co
Playing ping pong while pumping gas at Everglades Fishing Company​​

Best of the Everglades Trip in January 2022:

  • Nature and photography lessons from my dad. He showed us how to identify panther scat and how to use my iphone to take some extreme wide shots of knobby cypress knees. 
  • Coming face to face with Skunk Ape Headquarters and their merchandisia
  • Spotting a black bear sniffing trash cans outside Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park. Joella caught a minute or two on video. 
  • Walking the trails of Fakahatchee in anticipation of seeing a Florida Panther
  • Writing prompts and readings after full days in the park. Joella and I did one prompt, “Write all the species you saw today,” that was especially fruitful. If I find my list, I’ll add it to this blog post.
  • Pausing for impromptu ping-pong beside the pump at an Everglades City gas station
  • Camellia Street Grill—Good lord, is there a finer mahi taco in this world? I doubt it. A tortilla with a bed of crisp garden greens, a tomato reduction and fresh, grilled mahi served in a red basket on a screened porch. Nirvana.
Camellia Street Grill in Everglades City
Camellia Street Grill in all her glory​​

Three Days in the Everglades 2023

We return to the Everglades in less than a month! I am so excited I’m cobbling together footage from last year into videos for my youtube channel and basically on a self-pep campaign. I think Joella is into it. Bill mostly dodges hype and stays ready. He’s always one twitch away from his camera shutter. 

He did catch a shot of a Florida panther a couple years ago. It was in March as well, so our chances of seeing one this year are solid (IMO). My feelings around a panther encounter are two-fold, “OMG, yes!” and “Ugh, maybe from a safe distance, while the panther has no appetite.” It would be a privilege to see one and also, they’re legit wild.

Bill Little Photography in the Everglades
Bill Little Photography in Fakahatchee, Florida ​​ Everglades

Plans and Wishlist for Everglades Trip 2023

Plans and Ideas for the Everglades Trip in 2023:

  1.  Photography walks. My buddy Frank recommended Anhinga Trail, and I’d love to get back to Fakahatchee.
  2. People of the Everglades education: I’m feeling my ignorance on the people of the Everglades.  I want to have a fuller understanding of the Seminole and Miccosukee tribes—plus, their bright, high-necked women's clothing is gorgeous and I want to learn more about their crafts.  My friend and Central Florida Oil-Painter-Mayor-Extraordinaire, Blair Updike, told me in a recent interview to look out for Miss Florida Seminole, a stunning woman named Durante Blaise-Billie, who is associate director at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. Stoked at the possibility of meeting Durante and going to the museum.
  3. Airboat tour! It’s a rite of passage in the glades, right? And perhaps more touristy than my dad prefers, but I think it will expose us to all the waterways that make that environment so magical. 
  4. Clean shower house at the campsite. Just saying. 
  5. Traditional Housing of the Glades, Chickee Huts. I hear you can rent these out from the park service and some are right next to the water. Our accommodations—a refined campsite—are set, but I am curious about this experience for next time around, and more generally to gain perspective.
  6. Marsh Walk! I have to exclaim this activity because it freaks me out, and also I’m stoked, and also gators, crocodiles, moccasins and Lord-know-what-else will be in the marsh too. They told us to wear lace up, closed toed shoes, long sleeve shirt and quick dry pants. They did not say steel toe boots or chain mail. But I am willing to make last minute gear swaps, just in case.

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