Big Cypress National Preserve is the northern neighbor of Everglades National Park in south-central Florida, comprising more than 729,000 acres. It protects a vast area of fresh-water swamp that is vital to the health and ecosystem of the Everglades, as well as providing water to many of the residents in south Florida. The first designated National Preserve in the United States, it was established in 1974 and is administered by the National Park Service. In 2016, it was also designated an International Dark Sky Park.
Big Cypress contains five main habitats: hardwood hammock, pineland, prairie, cypress swamp, and estuary. An exceptional diversity of flora and fauna is found here: it’s a native habitat to many rare and/or endangered plant species including the ghost orchid and Florida thatch palm; and home to the endangered Florida panther and the Florida sandhill crane. The Audubon Society has designated the Big Cypress Swamp Watershed an ‘Important Bird Area:’ the ‘Cape Sable’ seaside sparrow can only be found here and in Everglades NP to the south, and the Preserve hosts Florida’s fourth-largest population of the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.
A wide variety of recreational and other activities are available, including: 4 developed campgrounds and multiple backcountry campsites, dozens of miles of trails, including more than 38 miles of the Florida National Scenic Trail, the southern terminus of which is at the Preserve’s Oasis Visitor Center, fishing, hunting, biking, off-roading, wildlife-watching, and ranger-guided adventures through the Oasis Visitor Center. I spent a couple of days exploring here in May 2017, including hiking the first few miles of the Florida Trail, with local guides and area experts Swamp Ape and El Prez.
Entry to and most activities within the Preserve are free. Campgrounds range from $10 to $30/night, depending on amenities. Check the Preserve website or at the Oasis Visitor Center, which is near Everglades City, FL, for the most current information regarding fees, and also closures and alerts. The official Preserve orientation video below is an excellent introduction to the Preserve and its importance in protecting the delicate ecosystem of the swamps and everglade areas of Florida.
**Be advised that cell service is limited in several areas of the Preserve, so make sure you have adequate maps before setting out on your adventure**
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