Established in 1974, Big Cypress National Preserve holds the title of the first national preserve in the U.S. Comprising 729,000 acres of swamps, hardwood hammocks, prairies, pinelands, and estuaries, this national treasure enables the natural flow of freshwater into the Everglades and Ten Thousand Islands. As with the other protected lands and waters of south Florida, the preserve originally faced many threats due to human expansion in the area, including the proposed creation of the world’s largest, futuristic jetport with the world’s largest runway. Construction began in 1968 but was halted in 1970, thanks to efforts of scientists and environmentalists such as Marjorie Stoneman Douglas and Dr. Luna Leopold (yes, son of Aldo) and others. The results led to Florida’s first Environmental Impact Study, which stated unequivocally that such development would destroy the entire south Florida ecosystem, including the Everglades.
Visitors can explore two scenic drives: Loop Road, a 27-mile drive through dwarf cypress forests and pine forests, or if you prefer more open landscapes, you can opt for Turner River/Wagonwheel/Birdon Roads Loop, a 17-mile drive through open prairies. Wildlife is abundant, so please use caution, stay alert, and as always, never feed, harass, or disturb wild animals.
The preserve’s two visitor centers are located on the Tamiami Trail (US 41): Big Cypress Swamp Welcome Center, near the western boundary, and Oasis Visitor Center, which is closer to the eastern boundary. Both locations provide visitors with maps and information, indoor and outdoor exhibits, gift shops, restrooms, trailhead access, picnic areas, and more. Ranger-led hikes, paddles, and programs are popular here, and reservations are required.
Visitors can also enjoy bicycling, wet/dry hiking, birding, photography, and canoeing/kayaking within the preserve. There are several boat rental companies and canoe/kayak liveries in the area, or you can launch your vessel from one of the preserve’s five launches. Note: only two of the launches allow boats – all allow canoes/kayaks. Paddling is allowed year-round, but best from November through March, when water levels are lower and the heat and insects are less bothersome. It is risky the rest of the year because the high water levels can make waterways indistinguishable, plus it’s downright miserable due to the heat and insects.
There are eight front country campgrounds, but only one is full facility, and it is open year-round. The others offer varying amenities and are opened seasonally and/or due to flooding, so please plan accordingly. Backcountry camping is also available, but a permit is required.
When you’re in the south Florida area, this is another wild and wonderful place to explore and experience the Real Florida!