Although not technically part of the Everglades , the nearby Big Cypress Swamp covers an equally impressive 720,000 acres, most of which are under the protection of the Big Cypress National Preserve, which was the first property in the National Park System to be designated a national preserve.
As with Everglades National Park , human access is limited by the terrain, but it’s far drier than the Glades, relatively speaking, and visitors will find that much more of the park can be used for camping, hiking, and hunting.
The Big Cypress Visitors Center (33100 Tamiami Tr., Ochopee, 9 a.m.–4:30 p.m. daily, closed Christmas Day) doesn’t offer much beyond a small wildlife exhibit and a brief movie about the history and natural beauty of the preserve, but this is where you need to be if you want to pick up maps, register with rangers, or pick up a camping or off-road vehicle permit.
There are three primary and well-marked hiking trails within the preserve, all of which are part of the Florida Trail. The most popular is the 6.5-mile trail that connects Loop Road in the south to Highway 41. During the winter, when the bugs are more tolerable and the ground is dry, this trail can get busy, but the vast expanses of prairie still make it feel quite isolated.
There’s a much longer and more challenging trail starting from a trailhead at the visitors center; it winds nearly 28 miles through slash pine copses, hardwood hammocks, and lots and lots of dry prairie land.
One of the biggest draws in Big Cypress is a drive along the 27-mile Loop Road. The well-marked and generally smooth road makes its way through dense forest canopies filled with dwarf cypress and slash pine trees, and the pastoral setting is as relaxing as the frequent wildlife-spotting is invigorating. The drive along the shorter Turner River loop is a great option for bird-watchers, as the open spaces and watering areas are popular with native and migrating bird species.
A stop into Clyde Butcher’s Big Cypress Gallery (52388 Tamiami Tr., 239/695-2428, 9:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. daily) should be an all-but-essential part of anyone’s Big Cypress itinerary. Located just 0.5 miles west of the Big Cypress Visitor Center, the gallery displays Butcher’s stunning black-and-white photography and covers nearly 40 years of amazing visual documentation of wild and natural Florida . As the property is also home to Butcher’s studio, odds are he’ll be there and more than willing to provide visitors to the area plenty of insight into his work.
Most visitors to Big Cypress make their base in Naples . Dining and accommodations at the preserve, or even nearby, are extremely limited. There are six campgrounds within the preserve. Midway and Monument Lake have restrooms, potable water, and cold showers, but only Midway has electricity and a dump station for RVs. The other four campgrounds are primitive but are accessible by car and can generally accommodate RVs up to 45 feet.