For a fast track to isolation, kayak south out of Everglades City across Chokoloskee Bay and into the Wilderness Waterway. The 99-mile route cuts through a fertile world of streams, bays, and mangroves. Day one is an 11-mile paddle up the Turner River to the chickee (camping platform) at Sunday Bay, where redfish, tarpon, and sawfish abound. Next day make for Gopher Key, home to colonies of egrets, roseate spoonbills, and white pelicans, and tie up at the high-ground camp at Darwin's Place. From there, it's 8.5 miles to Mormon Key in the Gulf, a deserted strip of sand that makes a fitting base for your last night in the wilds. Be sure to time the next day's 17-mile paddle back to Everglades City with the falling tide. Your shoulders will thank you.
The cozy Ivey House Bed & Breakfast in Everglades City ($63; iveyhouse.com) offers a 20 percent break on boat rentals at its on-site Everglades Rentals & Eco Adventures (closed mid-April through mid-October; kayaks, $45 a day; evergladesadventures.com).
Fall through spring is the best time to go (summers are sweltering). Backcountry permits, $10, plus $2 per person per night. Backcountry camping free with permit. Seven-day entry pass, $10 (nps.gov/ever).
Originally published as part of "America's Ultimate Parks 2008," National Geographic Adventure magazine