Big Cypress National Preserve
Yesterday & Today
Located less than one hour from the Naples Grande Beach Resort, Big Cypress National Preserve stretches over 729,000 acres in southwest Florida and borders Everglades National Park to the south. Established in 1974 for the conservation and preservation of the Big Cypress watershed, it is the first national preserves in the United States National Preserve System. Inhabited by various cultures over its 4500 archaeological and historical past, the area now serves as home to the Miccosukee and Seminole tribes, as well as a recreation area and habitat preservation zone.
With a tropical savannah climate and rainfall more than half the days of the year, Big Cypress is teeming with biological and ecological diversity in each of its five distinct ecosystems. The preserve is defined by its five distinct ecosystems and the water that flows through it. Beginning with highest elevation and driest habitat, hardwood hammocks create a canopy that funnels rainfall into the rest of the habitats. Next, pinelands, composed primarily of saw palmetto and slash pine, were designed to flourish and repopulate under the harshest natural conditions, wildfires. Following the waterflow further, prairies host a significant link in the chain because they generate periphyton, a thick mixture of algae and microbes that covers the ground and provides a fundamental source of food. Then, cypress swamps, dominated by water-bound cypress trees and airplants like orchids. Last, water returns to the Gulf of Mexico through the “nurseries of the seas,” estuaries and mangrove swamps. Each of these steps in the water flow create a vital ecosystem for the distinct plants and wildlife within it.
One of the most thrilling features of Big Cypress National Preserve is the wildlife you can spot from the trails, visitor centers and scenic drives. Since the preserve is brimming with such diverse habitats, it’s no surprise you’ll find an equally substantial number of unique animals and organisms. Hardwood hammocks contain some of the most famous endangered species, Florida panthers and black bears. Pinelands are largely home to small tree-dwellers like birds and rodents. In prairies, you can encounter a blend of small mammals, wading birds, amphibians and reptiles. Cypress swamps are another well-known for their popular residents, American alligators and river otters. Estuaries and mangrove swamps are some of the most productive and safe ecosystems, creating the perfect home for newborn sharks, manatees and dolphins. If you’ve come to Big Cypress to see the animals, take a look at their checklists and brochures to learn more about these fascinating creatures.
Things to Do
Depending on which animals you’d like to see and what time of year you’re visiting, your vantage point will change. Often, visitors prefer the dry season because of its greater wildlife viewing opportunities and fewer mosquitos Good places to start year-round are HP Williams Roadside Park to view birds, turtles and alligators. Big Cypress Swamp Welcome Center offers sights of manatees and alligators. The Oasis Visitor Center to see manatees, birds and alligators. During winter, kayak or canoe down Turner River or one of their many other canoe trails to spot wading birds and manatees.
There are over 206 species of birds in Big Cypress National Preserve, so it’s worth mentioning them separately from other forms of wildlife. Birding is one of the main attractions within the preserve, so don’t miss a photo opportunity at one of these recommended locations: Preserve Loop Road, Kirby Storter Trail, Birdon Road, Wagonwheel Road, or the Florida National Scenic Trail. Be sure to bring your checklist.
Take a Tour
Not only can you find tours inside the park, a multitude of companies outside the park offer various types of tours. Sign up early and join a free ranger-led activity like Gator Gossip, Birdwatching 101, Wet & Wild Hikes, and more. Outside the park, you can hire private companies guide you through Big Cypress via kayak, canoe, buggy, boat or on foot!
Find a Trail
Whether you want to discover off-roading thrills or a peaceful hiking or biking trail, Big Cypress has the adventure you’re looking for. Make sure you bring plenty of water and your own repair kit, as dehydration can set in quickly and there are no repair stations on the property. Whether you’re overnighting or not, the preserve requires a backcountry permit for all hiking, biking, and ORV visitors.
Nature-lovers will rejoice when they see the endless camping opportunities within the preserve. Car camping, RV camping or primitive camping in the backcountry, Big Cypress offers campgrounds for every type of visitor. Some sites are first come, first served, while most require reservations. Make sure you have a permit valid for the duration of your stay and exercise proper Leave No Trace principles.
Some of the longest-standing advocates for protecting the preserve, hunters are a valued component of Big Cypress’ overall health. Archery, muzzle-loading and general gun hunting are authorized during their respective seasons. White-tailed deer, turkey and wild hogs most commonly hunted within the preserve. Get your permits, check out the backcountry rules and verify with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to see when your preferred animal is available to hunt.
Attend an Event
Throughout the year, Big Cypress National Preserve has celebrations and exhibits that may surprise you. Art displays and demonstrations are located in each visitor center. Take part in the annual poetry competition, birthday bash, centennial celebration or the Swamp Heritage Festival. No matter what time of year you’re visiting, there is always an exciting event taking place.
For assistance with any or all of your Big Cypress National Preserve plans, contact your Naples Grand Beach Resort Concierge.