Big Cypress National Preserve


In Big Cypress National Preserve, rounded cypress domes mushroom up from otherwise flat expanses of marsh and prairie. Ibises stalk pools teeming with tasty fish. Alligator snouts break the surface of tranquil water. Big Cypress preserves these scenes intact but more importantly, it helps ensure the integrity of the Everglades watershed. In 1928 the Tamiami Trail between Miami and Tampa opened, enabling easy human access to this vast wilderness. Lumber, oil, citrus groves and sugarcane all danced before developers' eyes. Soon most of the enormous bald cypress trees, some over 600 years old, had been logged out and much swampy area had been drained. The Everglades, which depend on a constant influx of freshwater, suffered from the slow destruction of its watershed, prompting the park service to set aside 720,000 acres in 1974 and call it Big Cypress. Today, visitors hike or drive through a landscape that alternates from swamp to pine stands to hardwood hammocks to dry prairie in a tangle of variety unique to the southern tip of Florida. What to see and do: Make your first stop the Big Cypress visitor center, located on the Tamiami Trail and open from 9 AM until 4:30 PM every day. On your way in, look for alligators by the roadside. They're drawn to the Tamiami Canal, which runs alongside the trail. A 15-minute movie tells you about the Big Cypress preserve, and wildlife exhibits introduce you to some of the creatures you may see during your stay. Ranger presentations are offered in the winter season, and you can check the schedule of ranger-led wet walks and campfire programs. Two scenic drives will take you through Big Cypress National Preserve's highlights. Along the 26-mile Loop Road, you'll drive through cypress groves and some freshwater prairie. Be sure to walk the self-guided Tree Snail Hammock Nature Trail. You'll get a detailed, close-up view of how an ecosystem fits together in this watery environment. You may even glimpse an otter or wild turkey. Six primitive campsites offer a place to camp; only Monument Campground has water and flush toilets. All campsites are first-come, first-served. Another driving tour loops around the Turner River and Birdon roads for 17 miles. During the rainy season, bursts of wildflowers greet your eyes. Located at the western edge of the Big Cypress preserve, Birdon Road intersects the Tamiami Trail by Dona Drive, which has water and a dump station. Intrepid hikers tackle the 33 miles of the Florida Trail running through Big Cypress. Especially during the rainy summer season, you should bring bug repellent and expect to find yourself ankle- or waist-deep in water. At the visitor center, hook up with the trail running both north and south of the Tamiami Trail. It can be rough going at times, but well worth the effort because you'll hike through several separate ecosystems. In marshier areas, expect to see wood storks, herons, or alligators, while in hammocks or pine stands, red cockaded woodpeckers catch your eye. Three primitive campsites dot the trail. Watch out for poison ivy and poison wood in hammocks, and be sure to squelch all fires. Feel free to bike along any of the roads. Off-road vehicles are allowed in some areas of Big Cypress most of the year, except June 2 through July 31. Check with a ranger for fees and permits. You may wish to take a guided tour from one of several concessionaires along the Tamiami Trail; they offer swamp buggy or airboat tours outside the preserve in the Everglades. Winter or spring (before the rainy season, hot weather, and bugs) are the best times to visit Big Cypress National Preserve. Pets: Leashed pets are permitted. Fees: No park entrance fee is charged.


33100 Tamiami Trail East
Ochopee, FL 34141


25.76050100, -80.99919800
Visit Website
(239) 695-1201

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