National Park Getaway: Big Cypress National Preserve

By Jon Swain, Park Ranger, Big Cypress National Preserve
Rainbow over Big Cypress Swamp
The Big Cypress Swamp is not only scenic, but also acts as a filter making the freshwater cleaner as it flows downstream into the Everglades and communities in southern Florida.

NPS Photo

Just one hour west of Miami along the Tamiami Trail, the opportunity to experience something magnificent is waiting in each of the 729,000 acres of pristine swamplands, prairies, and hammocks that make up Big Cypress National Preserve.

An unlikely coalition of sportsmen, conservationists, Seminoles, and others paved the way for Big Cypress to be inaugurated as America’s first national preserve in 1974, but the history of this place as a refuge for people and wildlife alike extends far past our own memory. Central to this gathering of plants, animals, and people is the fresh sheet of rainwater deposited every season that filters gently through the swamp, meandering toward the rich coastal estuaries that provide a vital sanctuary for marine life.

People hiking through swamp
Tromp through the high waters of the swamp on designated trails during the wet season. Or wait for the water to recede during the dry season or colder time of year.

NPS Photo

Big Cypress National Preserve offers many unique recreational activities to take part in on your trip. Pitch your tent at Bear Island Campground or any one of the seven established campgrounds along the preserve, five of which are open to vehicle camping. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous and you’ve brought the proper gear, consider camping in the backcountry underneath a majestic curtain of stars. The hiking trails, such as Gator Hook, that crisscross the preserve may be partially or totally submerged during the wet season, but remain navigable for those not afraid to get their feet wet. Orienteering through unmarked territory is also permitted. Perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to glimpse the elusive ghost orchid deep within the green cathedral of a cypress dome or hear the distant squall of the critically endangered Florida Panther through the tangled corridors of a hardwood hammock.

Glide through a mangrove forest on a canoe or kayak, and you may catch sight of an American alligator or the very rare American crocodile, an endangered species that is protected on the preserve. Bicyclists can enjoy miles upon miles of roads and paths in the preserve, and those with off-road vehicles can obtain permits to drive on designated trails. A flash of pink feathers out of the corner of your eye may reveal a Roseate spoonbill, just one of the many species of unique birds in Big Cypress. The preserve is also a place for permitted sportsmen such as hunters and fishermen to pursue their quarry of choice. After a successful day of sporting, consider attending one of our ranger-led programs for an excellent opportunity to learn more about this exceptional place.

American alligator high walking
The locals, such as the American alligator, may appear to have been grins, but remember to keep a safe distance when watching wildlife!

NPS Photo

Big Cypress National Preserve is uniquely accessible, with two main roads, US-41 (Tamiami Trail) and I-75 bisecting the preserve, allowing for quick travel between our points of interest. We are open to the public 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and our two visitor centers, both along the Tamiami Trail, are open every day except December 25. Our ADA accessible boardwalks allow you to view wildlife without getting your feet wet, and several scenic roads offer the chance for a picturesque drive through the South Florida wilderness.

Whether you’re a new enthusiast of the outdoors, or an experienced adventurer, Big Cypress National Preserve is a destination that offers both recreation and inspiration as you discover your national parks.

Last updated: December 4, 2018