Heading east toward Snake Bight from the marina at Flamingo, the park's southern outpost, a paddler can pretty much be guaranteed a rewarding experience. Once past the small village for employees, it's wilderness for as far as you'd care to travel. Along the shore, on the ground and in the tall mangroves, teeming flocks of birds congregate -- herons, egrets, white pelicans, roseate spoonbills, even the occasional flamingo. The silty water usually prevents clear viewing of sea life, but it is abundantly evident nonetheless, from leaping mullet to racing bonefish and cruising rays. Go far enough east, and if you are very lucky, you might even see an American crocodile lounging on the sand. But even if you're not, you'll still enjoy solitude, silence, and nature the way it's meant to be. The park concessionaire rents kayaks and canoes at the marina, though it's wise to reserve in advance, especially on weekends (941-695-3101). It's also smart to check the tides (www.saltwatertides.com
). High tide is best for close-up viewing along the shore, and low tide can literally leave you stuck in the mud. Prevailing winds are from the southeast, which helps on the return leg of your trip.