You may have never heard of Big Cypress National Preserve but it directly abuts Everglades National Park so that’s how it landed on our radar. So is Big Cypress National Preserve worth the visit? The quick answer is “ehhh, I wouldn’t make a trip out of it”, but the longer answer is absolutely yes! And there are several reasons why.
A Little Background on Big Cypress National Preserve
Back in the 1960s, there were big plans unveiled to build a Jetport right in the heart of the Everglades, so in response, many local environmental groups and local tribes banded together to find a way to protect the land. In 1974, Big Cypress National Preserve was established as the FIRST National Preserve!
The concept of a National Preserve is actually a compromise. People didn’t want it to become part of the strictly managed Everglades National Park system, but the “preserve” allowed them to protect the land from building, but also still use the swamp land for specific activities.
The preserve is larger than the state of Rhode Island and gets about a million visitors per year but is not well known to the common traveler. And unlike the Everglades National Park, Big Cypress is designated as an International Dark Sky Site. But what are the top 3 reasons to visit Big Cypress National Preserve?
#1: Plenty of Cool Activities
Whether you prefer to canoe, kayak, boat, hike, drive or swamp buggy, there are a ton of different ways to see the preserve. Check out the list of operators for some options for guided tours or rental companies!
If you like educational adventures, take one of the many ranger-guided hikes or canoe trips. They’ll take the time to show and teach you all about the environment and wildlife of the National Preserve.
There are also opportunities for guided Swamp Buggy or birding tours if you like to get out and just need someone to follow along with. Swamp buggies and other off-road vehicles would be a completely unique way to get out and see the swamp first hand without getting TOO close to the gators.
Or if you like the comfort of your car, there are a few scenic drives that can take you off of the main road through the park and more into the backwoods areas. We opted to take the Loop Road back instead of the main road and thoroughly enjoyed having it to ourselves and seeing more of the off the beaten path areas.
Reason #2: Hikes through the Cypress Trees
The hikes through the swamps and cypress trees are completely unique to the area. You get a totally different feel from this National Preserve compared to he many hikes you can go on in the Everglades National Park. (Check out my guide to A Long Weekend in Everglades National Park here!)
On either end of the park, there are visitor centers that you can stop at for a little history, some maps and some national park swag. There, you’ll learn about the cypress tress and how they help to clean the water flowing through the swamp area, and also the endangered Florida panther that makes Big Cypress National Preserve their home.
(Though the Park Ranger said in all the years she’s worked there, she’s never actually seen one of the illusive panthers!)
There are plenty of “hikes” right off the man road through the Preserve. Most of them are built up boardwalks over the swampland so their completely accessible and for the most part, not super muddy. Check out Kirby Storter and H.P. Williams Roadside Parks for a couple good trails and some picnic and birdwatching opportunities!
Reason #3: SO MANY GATORS!
I honestly could have written this blog to say that the ONLY REASON to visit Big Cypress National Preserve is the alligators! We spent DAYS in Everglades National Park and only saw a handful of them here and there but it wasn’t until we got to Big Cypress that we REALLY got our gator fix. At the Oasis Visitor Center alone there were probably 30+ alligators up on the bank of the river sunbathing in plain site. The center has a boardwalk built along the water so that you can walk along and look down at these massive reptiles.
Being able to see them that close up was such a wild experience because most of the ones we saw in the National Park were smaller or farther away. Then as you continue through the park along the Tamiami Trail, you can spot them every few feet along the water following the road. Once you know what to look for, they stand out along the swamp and trees.
We were lucky to hit the National Preserve on a sunny and warm day so the gators were all over the place trying to soak up the sun. I also recommend if you’re just driving through the park, that you circle back along the scenic Loop Road to get an even closer look at the alligators. That road is a dirt road for most of the drive and since there weren’t many other people out along that road, you could pull over and really take your time!
So is Big Cypress National Park Worth the Visit? Yes!
As a New Englander, I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of seeing these amazing creatures! It’s like seeing something out of the prehistoric era! I genuinely think that our few hour drive through Big Cypress National Park was one of the highlights of our entire trip because of the hundreds of alligators alone. 10/10 recommend!
If you’re interested in reading more about our trip down to Southern Florida, check out my Weekend in Everglades National Park blog and One Day in Biscayne National Park blog as well. And until next time…