Enjoy Yourself at Florida’s Big Cypress National Preserve

The theme parks of Florida are great and are “must-see” attractions for all visitors to this state, however, some of Florida’s natural attractions should also be put on your list of places to visit when you plan your vacation. If you are headed towards Miami or Ft. Meyers then the Big Cypress National Preserve is a destination which will let you get up close to Florida’s wildlife and enjoy all kinds of outdoor activities.

Big Cypress National Preserve consists of 729,000 acres of freshwater swamp. Here you will find tropical and temperate plants and a wide diversity of birds and animals including the endangered Florida panther. In the past this part of Florida was home to the Seminole and Miccosukee peoples and the preserve protects their traditional customs in addition to its role of providing recreational opportunities to residents of south Florida and to visitors.

The preserve has several prime areas for wildlife viewing and bird watching. If you want to see alligators and manatees then the HP Williams Roadside Park, the Big Cypress Swamp Welcome Center and the Oasis Visitor Center are the places to go. If you take a canoe out on the Turner River during the winter you will also be treated to the site of many wading birds. If you prefer not to get wet you can take a walk through the Kirby Storter Roadside Park and enjoy the views of nature there.

The preserve, as would be expected, has many designated trails for hiking and it is also possible to hike through unmarked territory. The best season for hiking is the dry season, though some hikers, who are ready to walk in waist-high water, enjoy the challenges of the wet season. Whichever season you choose, you will be rewarded with unique views of untouched wildlife. You can download Google Map Files and Garmin Map Source Files of the hiking trails of the preserve if you want to start planning your hikes now.

If you do not want to go it alone you can take advantage of various Ranger Led Programs that are available with the staff of the National Park Service. In addition, there are commercial tours run by permitted commercial service operators.

You may prefer to paddle your way through the preserve and that’s why canoeing and kayaking are popular here. The prime paddling season is from November through March when temperatures and bugs are tolerable. However, if you don’t mind these obstacles you can paddle through the preserve year-round.

There are various designated paddling routes and it can take from three to seven hours to complete the routes. It of course depends on the tidal conditions, where you start and end your trips and your paddling or kayaking skills. You will need intermediate canoe paddling skills or kayaking skills to handle the conditions of this preserve and the park service cautions you “to make arrangements for parking a second vehicle at the end of your paddling trip to shuttle you back to the starting point.”

Many families enjoy camping and fishing in the preserve. Campgrounds within the preserve are offered on a first-come first-served basis, no reservations are accepted. There are nominal fees for some of the campgrounds in the period December 15 through April 15 and there are free campgrounds within the preserve as well.

Big Cypress National Preserve is located one hour driving distance from Ft. Myers and one-and-one half hours from Miami. If you need more information contact the Big Cypress Swamp Welcome Center, an interagency center for all public lands within the Big Cypress Swamp located at 33000 Tamiami Trail East, Ochopee, Florida 34141 (239) 695-4758

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