Big Cypress National Preserve, FL… Gator heaven!
While we were down in southern Florida last month, we spent most of our time in Big Cypress National Preserve. We had not intended on staying there much, as we had originally gone down to explore the Everglades. Our intent was to stay a few nights in Big Cypress to base camp while we figured out just where we wanted to haul our 42′ toy hauler to camp for our Everglades adventures. Because of construction on the east end of 41 in Big Cypress, we decided to leave the RV in the Big Cypress Swamp preserve. Through the construction, there were multiple flaggers, and each flagger had multiple rumble strips, and down here, their rumble strips really rumble; we didn’t want to have to haul the RV through all that mess if we didn’t have to. In the end, we were so glad that we decided to stay in Big Cypress – we LOVED it. And while we enjoyed our day trips to the Everglades, Big Cypress Swamp is the one that really made an impression on us!
Big Cypress Swamp National Preserve is 790,000 acres that are set aside to protect the Everglades water shed. The preserve is not exactly the same as a National Park, but it is part of the National Park System. In Big Cypress, you can hunt and fish, and there are even some private residences.
We camped in the park for 12 days, and had a wonderful stay! There was so much to see and do, and Big Cypress is one of those wonderful locations where you are so out of the loop that the world just passes on by and you don’t notice it!
While we were in the park, we did all sorts of fun exploring! The park is mostly ‘road free’, but there are 2 main thorough-fares through the park, and 2 other dirt-road loops. Even though this doesn’t seem like much in the way of park viewing, the preserve is so full of animals that these few drives allowed us the ability to see tons of native animals.
Big Cypress is a great place to kayak or canoe, and the park even offers ranger-led canoe tours. The ‘bigs’ in our family (dad and 6 of the kids) all were able to go on a kayak tour with a ranger one afternoon; they had the very best time! We also took a swamp walk with a ranger that took the bigs into a ‘gator hole’ and told them about the wildlife, and also quite a bit about ‘air plants’. We were even able to attend ‘campfire talks’ each Friday night, right in our campground.
The preserve has several different visitor’s centers that are musts to see. Each one is unique! The Welcoming Center on the west entrance to the preserve is where you sign up for swamp walks and canoe tours (call ahead if you can – they are usually full!), and it has a great boardwalk behind it where you can look out over the river, and hopefully get a peek at the manatees that are often seen swimming there. The Oasis Visitor’s Center, about half-way through the park on Highway 41, has (in my opinion) the best close-up gator viewing (I’d say guaranteed, but you are guaranteed to see gators in Big Cypress Swamp anyway - there are so many you couldn’t miss them if you tried!); there is also a great place to take a swamp walk, right across from the v.c. Both the Welcoming Center and Oasis play a short film to help familiarize visitors with the park. There is also the Shark Valley visitor’s center. Shark Valley is a little bit different in that there really isn’t a visitor’s center there – there is an information booth, and this is where you can take a tram ride along a canal, and view the gators and wading birds. The tram ride was a little out of our price range (everything is X12 for us!), but it looked fun! Even if you choose to skip the tram ride, the paved path that the tram drives on is a popular biking path, and many also walk it. We walked it for approximately half a mile, and in that little space we saw a ton of alligators, including a momma with about 12 babies! That was such a neat experience!!!
We spent 12 days in Big Cypress, nearly every day exploring our surroundings. It wasn’t nearly long enough! We so enjoyed the preserve, and can’t wait to get back down there! Big Cypress Swamp surged to the top of our ‘favorite places’ list, along with Padre Island, and the Oregon coast. If you haven’t been to Big Cypress, think about making it a future destination; it is fabulously one of a kind!