Here are some notes on planning a trip to this area. This is not meant to be comprehensive. In general, kayakers without a professional guide should be experienced, strong paddlers with good navigation and trip planning skills. The 10,000 Islands is a wilderness area; Help can be a long way off. Besides the harsh environment, the biggest challenges in my opinion are navigation and wind.

Permits: You must get these from the Park Service. They issue them up to 24 hours in advance, in person. You may not get the trip you want, so you it's a good idea to study the campsite maps and pick some options. We made sure to go there first thing on the morning prior to our trip. That way we had a day to be tourists, get ready and do last minute navigation research.

Navigation: Though the Wilderness Waterway is marked, you need a chart and some skills to navigate from marker to marker. Your route will not always be on the Wilderness Waterway, especially if you plan to go to the outer keys. Once off the waterway, the mangrove islands create mazes, and it's easy to get lost. The low, flat terrain makes it hard to distinguish one island from another on the horizon. You NEED the real charts! Don't try to navigate with anything else! Chart number 11430 is the one you need for this trip. Get it at the Park Service Visitor Center or mail order a waterproof one from waterproof charts.com. Needless to say, you'll need a compass and some skills, too. A GPS is nice to have as a back-up.

Binoculars are quite helpful when spotting distant keys, markers or nav aids. Case en point: We were taking bearings from Pavilion Key, trying to figure out which one was Rabbit. Finally Walt dug out his binoculars, had a look, and uttered what be became a “classic quote” for the trip:

“Well h__, I can see the d___ Jiffy John from here!”

Turns out you could identify Rabbit Key, four miles distant, by sighting the bright blue latrine. Somewhat sad but true. I hate to admit that, once we learned this trick, we resorted to it again. Wonder if anyone else uses outhouses as aids-to-navigation….

Wind / weather: Predominant wind is from the Southeast in the winter, but we saw all points of the compass during our 6 day trip. 15-20 knot winds were the norm. Fronts seem to come and go quickly, and of course the wind would be much stronger when a front line passes. A weather radio is recommended. Paddlers who meet up at the campsites often exchange information about the expected weather. Temperatures can vary considerably. Of the six days we were out there was one day when I went swimming to cool off, and another when I dressed in the same stuff I wear skiing. Be prepared for cold, rain, lightning, sun and heat.

Water: Water temperatures in winter are usually in to 70s. Water can be very shallow, and for this reason, wave heights are not as great as they would otherwise be. Tidal range is about 3 feet. You may hardly notice the tidal currents, but you'll definitely be aware of the tide when you have to hike across 100 yards of mud / ooze flat to land your boat. Or when you have to hang over the side of a chickee to load your boat!