Big Cypress National Preserve

Big Cypress National Preserve

By: Mercedes Diaz | Dec 7, 2020

Behold towering cypress forests, miles of serene waterways, and an abundance of Florida wildlife in this remarkable subtropical wilderness. Big Cypress National Preserve attracts nature lovers, adventure seekers and those who love wild Florida. The preserve connects five different ecosystems, from mangrove-lined shores to oak and maple woodlands. Budding naturalists, outdoors enthusiasts, photographers and adventure seekers will all find plenty to explore here.

Covering an area larger than the state of Rhode Island, Big Cypress National Preserve protects 729,000 acres that border Everglades National Park to the south and Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park to the west. From the rare ghost orchid to the Florida pantherwhite-tailed deer, visitors may have an opportunity to see plants and animals you won’t see anywhere else. The Florida panther, one of the most elusive and endangered animals here, makes its home at the preserve, along with alligators, black bears, white-tailed deer, and more than 200 types of birds. Fascinated by reptiles? Of its 51 species of reptiles, 28 are snakes including the Florida scarlet snake, pygmy rattlesnake and Florida cottonmouth.

Guided Tours

Guided tours let you explore Big Cypress by foot, on the water, or on a swamp buggy. On foot, guides show you tiny orchids clinging to giant cypress trees, lead you through unmarked trails and show you the secret parts of this Florida wilderness. More of a paddler? A ranger-led canoe trip on the Turner River takes you through the different habitats in Big Cypress, including pond cypress swamp to the north and mangrove tunnels and sawgrass prairie south of the Tamiami Trail. Interested in a little more adventure? From a swamp buggy ride, to a naturalist-led biking adventure or Gladesman-led swamp walks, Big Cypress Institute offers a wide variety of tours. For a unique experience on Turner River, opt for Everglades Adventure Tours’ guided pole boat eco-tour, where you’ll glide peacefully on a traditional Gladesman pole boat manned by a knowledgeable guide.

Important note: Although the preserve has suspended ranger-led programs for now, due to covid precautions, the immediate future, private guides such as Everglades Adventure Tours and Tour the Glades continue to offer tours by boat, buggy and foot.

Nature Walks and Hiking

Whether you're in the mood for a casual nature walk or day hike, Big Cypress offers a variety of trails for those who crave some wilderness therapy.

Along the Tamiami Trail, you can stop to stretch your legs as well as view wildlife at the Preserve's two roadside parks. Pull over at Kirby Storter Roadside Park for a mile-long boardwalk trail leading into a mature cypress strand with towering cypress trees, strangler figs and air plants. At the trail's end, there's a gator hole where you can watch birds, turtles and alligators (particularly in the drier months). Further west on Tamiami Trail, you'll find H.P. Williams Roadside Park, where a short boardwalk along the edge of Turner River Road has views of alligators, turtles and wading birds.

Planning a day hike? Starting at the Loop Road trailhead, Gator Hook Trail's 4.75-mile round-trip can be walked in a day. The trail crosses through prairie, cypress strands and dense hammocks dotted with pond apple trees. Mostly underwater during the wetter months, the trail poses fewer challenges during the dry season, although you’re likely to encounter some areas with deep mud and cypress knees small enough to trip the unwary. That said, it’s a rewarding experience (rangers often say it’s their favorite trail in the preserve).

While you might not be up for trekking the entire 36-mile-plus stretch of the Florida National Scenic Trail in Big Cypress, you can do just a few miles by starting at the Oasis Visitors Center or from Mile Marker 63 off I-75. Before beginning your walk, be sure to get the required backcountry permit at the trailhead.


Big Cypress’s off-road vehicle trails double as biking trails. Riding conditions are rough and muddy in parts, so a mountain bike or hybrid with knobby tires is suggested. For an easy 4.5-mile round-trip ride, pedal through Fire Prairie Trail (after you pedal through a short stretch of forest, the land opens into sawgrass prairie for the rest of the trail). Want to try a backcountry trail? Cross pinelands and tree islands as you bike through some of Bear Island’s 20 miles of trails. From reptiles to wild turkey and perhaps a black bear, there’s the added perk of seeing wildlife along the way. Important note: Bear Island allows hunting, so wear high-visibility clothing.


With miles of meandering waterways, Big Cypress is an ideal place to explore by canoe or kayak. Two popular canoe trails, Turner River and Halfway Creek, cover a variety of terrain, including cypress domes, mangrove estuaries and sawgrass prairie. Those who want to paddle through cypress swamp and in hidden mangrove tunnels will love the Turner River Trail. Need to rent a canoe or kayak? Everglades Adventure Tours, a half-mile west of the Turner River launch on the Tamiami Trail, offers half and full-day rentals. The rental includes shuttle services to both Turner River and Halfway Creek launches.

Scenic Drives

If you have even a small SUV, you can explore Big Cypress’s byways from your car. About 40 miles west of Miami,Tamiami Trail’s 40 Mile Bend marks the turnoff to Loop Road, a scenic 27- mile mostly dirt road. This drive shows off the preserve’s dwarf cypress forests, deep cypress swamps and pine rocklands. Planning to bring your camera along? Don’t be surprised to find alligators sunning themselves on the side of the road. Pull off at the culverts to see wood storks, great white egrets and more alligators amidst the cypresses. (Be sure to keep your distance.) Loop Road can be dusty or, after a heavy rain, muddy.

Local birders and wildlife photographers head to the 17-mile Turner River scenic drive loop. Alongside Turner River Road, a shallow canal brims with fish, frogs, turtles and other wildlife. This canal attracts hungry wading birds such as anhingas and great white egrets, and it’s not uncommon to see a gator or two. This road is less rough-and-tumble than Loop Road and typically can be navigated in any type of car (check at the visitor center about road conditions).

Swamp Buggies and Airboats

Think of swamp buggies and airboats as nature’s roller coasters (without the loop-de-loops) and sign up for an off-road adventure in the backcountry. Swamp buggies and airboats let you see part of Big Cypress you simply can’t reach on foot. Buffalo Tiger Airboat Tours, run by the Miccosukee Tribe, offers airboat tours in areas only the tribe can access. Wooten’s Swamp Buggy Tours offer you a chance to see manatees, bald eagles and other wildlife on the western edge of Big Cypress.


Big Cypress has eight campgrounds. Sites range from primitive to RV and offer a variety of settings, from chickee huts on the water to palm-fringed campsites. Some campgrounds take reservations, while others offer camping on a first-come, first-served basis. Campsites range, too, from secluded to popular, with some areas filling quickly, while many backcountry campgrounds require a lot of effort (and hiking or off-roading) to find.


Big Cypress has epic stargazing. Since 2016, Big Cypress has been an International Dark Sky Reserve, making it the only protected night sky in South Florida. You can see the awe-inspiring Milky Way without a telescope, or join a ranger-led night sky outing. Rangers narrate the stargazing tour and let you peer through telescopes at the night sky’s faraway galaxies, stars and planets.

The Art of Clyde Butcher

Clyde Butcher, known for his stunning black-and-white Florida wilderness photos, maintains a gallery in Big Cypress. The gallery, on U.S. 41 just east of the Big Cypress Oasis Visitor Center, showcases Butcher’s Florida collection. It’s free to visit, and out back you can take a short, circular walk through the swamp. The gallery also offers swamp tours where you actually wade into the water (some tours are geared to budding photographers). Butcher’s gallery also includes work from his wife, Niki Butcher, who hand-paints Florida photographs, his granddaughter, and other Big Cypress and Florida artists.


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