Florida tourist attractions – Big Cypress National Reserve, the Everglades

While pre-existing development is allowed to continue, with limits, on this 1,139-square-mile preserve, its federal protections generally make it feel as wild and natural as the Everglades park. And that’s a good thing, since the rains that flood its wetlands are an integral part of the ecosystem that keeps the Everglades green, lush, and vibrant. Recently, the park entered into an interesting ‘Sister Parks Understanding’ with a similar park in Guatemala, Laguna del Tigre National Park. The two parks share closely related habitats and management issues, and will now be able to share technical assistance and resource expertise.

About 45% of the cypress swamp (which is not a swamp at all but a group of mangrove islands, hardwood hammocks, cut pine islands, grasslands, and swamps) is a protected reserve. The large bald cypress trees have all but disappeared from the area, as the logging and other industries took their toll before the reserve was established. These days, dwarf pond cypresses fill the area.

Why is it called Big Cypress then? Because of the size of the reserve, not because of the cypress trees inside. Resident wildlife includes alligators, snakes, wading birds (white ibis, wood storks, tri-colored herons, and egrets), Florida panthers (rarely seen), wild turkeys, and red-cockade woodpeckers. Find more information at the Big Cypress Visitor Center (941-695-4111; 8:30 a.m. to 4:40 p.m.), about 20 miles west of Shark Valley, or at the National Preserve Headquarters (941-695-2000; 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday), just east of Ochopee.

You’ll find 31 miles of the Florida National Scenic Trail, maintained by the Florida Trail Association, within Big Cypress National Preserve. From the southern end, accessible by car via Loop Rd, the trail runs 8.3 miles north to Tamiami Trail, passing the Big Cypress Visitor Center. There are two fairly primitive campsites with watering holes along the trail. All-terrain vehicles may cross, but not operate in, the FNST. For the less adventurous, there is the Tree Snail Hammock Nature, Trail, near Loop Rd.

Highway vehicles can travel on Loop Rd, a rutted dirt road, and on Turner River Rd, which runs directly north from Tamiami Trail. There are wildlife viewing opportunities along the entire stretch of Turner River Rd, especially in the Turner River Canal, which runs along the east side. The road leads to the northern part of the reserve where all-terrain vehicles are allowed.

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