Enormous & Essential~
The incredible Big Cypress National Preserve in South Florida stretches out over 700,000 acres and borders the north edge of Everglades National Park. The Big Cypress Swamp is an essential element of the greater Everglades ecosystem because it provides a fresh water flow to the Everglades and the Ten Thousand Islands regions.
Living so close to both Big Cypress and the Everglades, I am constantly amazed at the vastness of the wilderness, both land and swamp, that makes up a huge portion of southern Florida.
Survival in a Harsh Land
I am always intrigued by the alligators, panthers and various birds that live within these boundaries. But, I never gave any thought into how these animals survived in these remote, harsh lands.
Protecting the Preserve
What I am learning is that Big Cypress National Preserve is almost the glue that holds it all together! In 1974, Congress realized the importance of the fresh water flow through this enormous land and created the Big Cypress National Preserve.
The fresh water flowing through the preserve feeds 5 distinct habitats in this vast swamp and is paramount to the survival of this ecosystem. The 5 habitats are the hardwood hammocks, pinelands, prairies, cypress swamps and estuaries. Pretty heavy stuff right?
For the casual South Florida visitor who stops along I-75 through Alligator Alley or stops at one of the visitor centers on Highway 41, this information is shocking! Most people see these areas as vast wastelands. But they are not! So many animals live within this preserve and we are lucky enough to get to see them.
Big Cypress Swamp
If you visit the Big Cypress National Preserve, make sure you stop at the Big Cypress Swamp Welcome Center on Highway 41, a little east of the intersection with Highway 29. There are paths behind the visitor center where you might see alligators, possibly manatees, and usually tons of birds. Inside the visitor center you can get information on ranger lead programs and guided tours.
Alligators & Turner River Road
If you continue east on Highway 41 from the welcome center, you will find H.P. Williams Roadside Park at the intersection of Turner River Road. This is a small park with a boardwalk that I often take guests to see alligators and birds. The park has a picnic area and a vault toilet. You can even continue north up Turner River Road, which is not paved, for aways and you will often see alligators in the waters beside the road.
Scenic Drives through Big Cypress
Continuing east on Highway 41, you will come to the west end of Loop Road. This 27 mile road is partially paved and is considered one of two scenic drives within Big Cypress National Preserve. Turner River Road, along with two roads that create a loop with it, is the other scenic drive. As you travel along Loop Road, slow down near the culverts to have the best chances of seeing alligators and birds. For more information about these scenic drives, check out the Big Cypress website here.
Oasis Visitor Center
The eastern most visitor center in Big Cypress is the Oasis Visitor Center. This place was such a surprise! There is a fairly long boardwalk with tons of alligators lounging in and out of the water below. There is also an abundance of birds. I will take guests to this spot too in the future!
Walk, Bike, Canoe
Remember that Big Cypress National Preserve covers over 700,000 acres! The land and swamp in between Highway 41 and I-75 is remote. It can be accessed at several points along both roadways and there are numerous trails for you to explore. You can walk, bike, canoe and go off-roading through acres of this preserve.
Remember it’s Remote
Just plan ahead as there are no food and gas services within Big Cypress National Preserve and very little cell coverage. However there are numerous campgrounds within Big Cypress, some accessible only by off-road vehicles or airboat.
Check out the National Park Service website here for further information about Big Cypress National Preserve.
Visit the Swamp!
If you are looking for a remote but important part of the National Park Service, look no further than Big Cypress National Preserve. If you are ever in this neck of the woods, or should I say swamp, stop in for a visit!