Plan Your Trip to Big Cypress National Preserve

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Plan Your Trip to Big Cypress National Preserve

An hour away from Downtown Miami, you’ll find a subtropical wilderness that’s home to endangered Florida panthers, black bears and rare orchids. Although part of the connected web of the Everglades’ ecosystem, the preserve is not part of Everglades National Park and allows for experiences not found in national parks, such as swamp buggy tours, fishing and hunting. Here’s everything you need to know to plan your trip to Big Cypress National Preserve.

Getting to Big Cypress 

About 45 miles west of Downtown Miami, you’ll find the preserve on US 41 (also called Tamiami Trail). Once you enter the preserve, you’ll find two visitor centers, several campgrounds, roadside parks, wildlife viewing areas and many trailheads along Tamiami Trail. You can also access the preserve’s two scenic drives – Loop Road as well as Turner River / Wagonwheel / Birdon Roads Loop – from Tamiami Trail. 

Best Time to Visit Big Cypress National Preserve 

Dry Season (November through April)

If you want to see the wading birds, gators and other wildlife that call the preserve home, the dry season’s the best time to do it. Less water in the preserve means you can see wildlife gathered at the relatively fewer wet areas. Be aware, however, that “dry” is a relative term here; if you plan to head off the boardwalks, wear hard-soled water shoes or waterproof hiking boots (or plan to get wet and bring another pair of shoes to change into). The dry season – which includes the coolest months – also attracts the most visitors, so you should definitely make reservations for any tours or campsites before you strike out for the preserve.

Wet Season (May through October)

Fans of subtropical plants have much to see during the wet season, when the preserve gets almost-daily rainstorms and fewer people visit. Wildlife spreads out, making viewing more challenging (although certainly not impossible), and hikers might find themselves slogging through high water or muddy trails (for example, the preserve’s Gator Hook Trail is often underwater in the wet season). It’s impressive to see storm clouds build in the sky every afternoon, but the rain brings mosquitoes. Storms can push water onto Tamiami Trail. On the Loop Road, standing water may hide holes or rocks on the unpaved road. Note that an SUV or high-profile vehicle is recommended on the Loop Road in the wet months.

Visiting Safely 

As with any wild areas, you should bring more water than you expect you’ll want, wear sunscreen and bring bug repellent (with DEET). Big Cypress is mostly wilderness, so you should take a few extra safety precautions. 

  • If you intend to leave well-marked trails or head into the backcountry, do not rely on your phone for navigation; bring a compass and map. 
  • Fill out a backcountry permit at one of the visitor centers for any backcountry hikes or excursions, whether you intend to spend the night in the preserve or not.
  • Let a friend or family member know where you’re heading in the backcountry. Tell them when to expect you to check in and that if they don’t hear from you, to call the National Park Service dispatch at (844) 677-0911 and give them your location.
  • The preserve allows hunting almost all year, so it’s wise to wear a blaze orange vest when in the backcountry (that is, when not at the roadside campgrounds, parks and boardwalks).
  • Practice defensive driving along Tamiami Trail; most accidents in the preserve are traffic accidents.
  • Should you get caught in a thunderstorm, seek cover in the lowest area possible, such as a ditch or under scrub.
  • When hiking anywhere but on boardwalks and hard roads, bring a walking stick to lightly tap the ground in front of you as you walk. This will help you avoid sinking into muck, and will also alert any unsuspecting snakes to your presence so they can move away.
  • Backcountry hikers should pack a whistle and, ideally, a personal locator beacon. Should you get lost, you can sound three short blasts on the whistle or activate the beacon.

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