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Big Cypress National Preserve Guide — Camping, Hiking, and More

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Amar Hussain
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Amar Hussain

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Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications incl...
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Big Cypress National Preserve is in southwestern Florida and consists of swamps and forests. Its most prominent feature is the Big Cypress Swamp, one of the most critical resources for the Everglades. There’s so much to see and do — including hiking, guided activities, paddle tours, and scenic drives — for the more than 1 million annual visitors.

How To Get to Big Cypress National Preserve

Where Is Big Cypress National Preserve?

Big Cypress National Preserve is in South Florida. The closest major city is Miami, about 45 miles east of the preserve. This national preserve stretches over 729,000 acres of tropical and temperate plant communities and swamps. 

Big Cypress National Preserve Opening Hours and Seasons

Big Cypress National Preserve is open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. The facilities, such as the visitor centers, are closed on Christmas Day. Depending on the season and facility, some facilities may have varying hours of operation. 

Nearest Airports to Big Cypress National Preserve

The best option for flying to Big Cypress National Preserve is arriving at Miami International Airport (MIA). This airport option is 41 miles from the preserve, or about a 1-hour drive. 

Nonstop and connecting flights are offered to many countries and cities worldwide. Some of the airlines serviced by this airport include Air Canada, American, British Airways, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, and Sun Country.

This airport is just a hop, skip, and jump from the preserve. It has several customer service agents and rental car kiosks, so you can easily make arrangements for the final leg of your journey. 

Driving to Big Cypress National Preserve

There are multiple routes for those driving to Big Cypress National Preserve, depending on the area you are coming from. 

Visitors from the west coast of Florida will take I-75 South to exit 80 onto SR-29. After 17 miles, this road intersects with US-41, which leads to the park’s visitor center near the Tamiami Trail. 

Those from the east coast of Florida will take I-75 North from Fort Lauderdale to exit 80, then onto SR-29 for 17 miles, then onto US-41 to the visitor center. 

Finally, travelers coming from Southwest Florida will use the US-41 and continue north for approximately 40 miles before arriving at the visitor center. 

This preserve is easily accessed from many different Florida cities. The drive is quick and easy, so you can get right to your adventures. 

Taking the Train to Big Cypress National Preserve

For those who want to arrive at Big Cypress National Preserve by rail, there is no direct service to the preserve, but you can get close. Amtrak and Brightline have stations in Miami. From there, you are about an hour from the preserve. You can arrange a ride share or rent a vehicle to get through to the end of your journey. 

Taking the Bus to Big Cypress National Preserve

Utilizing public transportation to the preserve is an excellent option for reducing travel stress. While there are no options that arrive directly at Big Cypress, a trolley station in Homestead is nearby.

The Homestead National Parks Trolley operates bus lines to and from Miami and can get you as close as 44 miles to the park. You will still need to arrange a rental car or ride service, but this is a great way to get close to the park and let someone else take over the stress of navigating an unfamiliar city.

Getting Around Big Cypress National Preserve

Driving a vehicle is the best way to get around Big Cypress National Preserve. There are a couple of scenic drives, so having a vehicle is a perk. The National Park Service offers printable and interactive maps to help you plan excursions. 

What To See and Do in Big Cypress National Preserve

With an area of over 729,000 acres, it’s no surprise that there are abundant opportunities to take in incredible sites and participate in exciting activities at this preserve. From hiking trails and paddle boat tours to scenic drives and incredible visitor centers, there’s something for every visitor to enjoy at Big Cypress National Preserve.

Canoeing and Kayaking

Canoeing and Kayaking
Image Credit: NPS

With all the water throughout the preserve, it’s no secret that a popular activity is kayaking and canoeing. There are 5 wonderful opportunities for 1-day paddles throughout creeks, rivers, and the bay. The paddle routes vary from 3 to 7 hours, and all the routes require intermediate paddling skills.

Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park share a border, making 2 units perfect for this activity. One area is a flooded upland and forest, while the other is a wetland of grassy glades.

Hot Tip:

The best time to paddle is during paddling season, which is from November to March.

Hiking

Those who enjoy hiking are in for a treat at this preserve. This park has designated trails and miles and miles of unmarked territory. The best time to hike is during the dry season. For those who come during the wet season, it is essential to be prepared for hiking through water that can be up to waist deep.

Hiking in this unique area provides opportunities for wildlife viewing and taking in the lush plant life. Those who intend to hike in the backcountry must obtain a backcountry permit.

Ranger-Led Activities

There are a variety of ranger-led activities available at Big Cypress National Preserve. These activities allow guests to explore the natural landscapes and ecosystems in a way that incorporates all the senses.

Some of the popular ranger-led activities include day programs such as wet walks and night programs such as night sky programs. Several programs are conducted by commercial service operators not associated with the park. These events include swamp buggy tours and paddle trips within the park’s boundaries.

Scenic Drives

There are 2 scenic drives that wind through Big Cypress National Preserve:

  • Loop Road is a 27-mile drive through dwarf cypress forests, hardwood hammocks, and pine forests. This scenic drive provides incredible photo opportunities of the landscape in the preserve.
  • The Turner River/Wagonwheel/Birdon Roads Loop Drive is a 17-mile drive that travels through wet prairies and bird-feeding areas. This scenic drive is ideal for wildlife viewing.

Tamiami Trail

The Tamiami Trail, constructed in April of 1928, also winds through much of the preserve. This road was used initially to connect Tampa to Miami, and today, it provides many opportunities for driving to popular historic sites within the preserve, such as the HP Williams Boardwalk and the Kirby Storter Boardwalk. Visitors can pull off at these sites to rest, view wildlife, and see what life was like long ago. 

Visitor Centers

Visitor Center Big Cypress National Preserve
Image Credit: NPS

There are 2 buildings that serve as visitor centers for Big Cypress National Preserve.

Nathanial P. Reed Visitor Center is located on the Tamiami Trail, about 5 miles east of State Road 29. This visitor center is open year-round, except Christmas Day, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The Oasis Visitor Center is a former private airport turned service station now used to welcome visitors to the preserve. This building is located on Tamiami Trail East and is open Friday through Sunday From 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Bottom Line:

Each of these visitor centers offers exhibits that teach the cultural and natural history of the park, an information desk, and a small bookstore. The centers are excellent starting points for your Big Cypress National Preserve adventures. 

Best Times To Visit Big Cypress National Preserve

A trip to Big Cypress National Preserve is amazing, no matter what time of year you visit. However, if there are specific activities or events you’d like to participate in, there may be a better time to plan a visit.

Best Time To Visit Big Cypress National Preserve for Ideal Weather

The weather can be tricky at this preserve. There are 2 main seasons: the wet season and the dry season. If you’re hoping to enjoy ideal weather, the best time to come is in December, during the driest month. This time of year, the temperatures range from 60 degrees to the upper 70s, and there are typically only 3 days of rain during the month. 

Best Time To Visit Big Cypress National Preserve To Avoid the Crowds

Enjoying a park without crowds is a lovely experience. To avoid crowds at Big Cypress, plan to come in June. This is when the park has the fewest guests throughout the year. 

Best Time To Visit Big Cypress National Preserve for Wildlife Viewing

Big Cypress National Preserve Wildlife Viewing
Image Credit: NPS

If you love to see incredible animals, you won’t be disappointed when visiting this preserve. The best time to visit to see the park’s wildlife is in November. This is the beginning of the dry season and right before the heavy crowds arrive.

An abundance of migrating and wintering birds make their way to the preserve, making it a great way to see the variety of birds that spend time there. There are also opportunities to see unique animals like manatees. 

Cheapest Time To Visit Big Cypress National Preserve

The cheapest time to visit this preserve is in June. Flights and accommodations are typically reduced this month, as it is one of the least busy times of the year. A June visit to Big Cypress National Preserve will allow you to save hundreds of dollars in travel expenses. 

Annual Events in Big Cypress National Preserve

Several annual events take place at Big Cypress National Preserve. From epic races to educational programs, there’s something to pique the interest of every visitor. Check out some of the most anticipated events held at the preserve annually. 

Tamiami Trail Triathlon

The Tamiami Trail Triathlon is a unique event that begins every April. Participants led by a ranger start at the Gulf Coast Visitor Center at Everglades National Park, hike through Big Cypress, cycle ride through Shark Valley, and paddle to Sandfly Island.

While this event kicks off in April, it can be completed at any time throughout the year, all at once or one course at a time. If visitors choose to complete the course independently, a ranger will not lead. This option is only available to participants completing the race in 1 day. 

SWAMP Celebration

Each year in October, The Alliance for Florida’s National Parks hosts a 2-day swamp walk fundraiser in the preserve. This event consists of 2-hour swamp walks that allow participants to experience the natural wonders of Southwest Florida. Each walk can accommodate 10 adults and 5 children. Proceeds for this event support youth environmental education programs, which benefit all sixth-grade students of the local community. 

Where To Stay in Big Cypress National Preserve

One of the first things to decide on when planning any trip is where to stay. The variety of lodging options makes planning where to stay a breeze. Check out the options for base camps when visiting Big Cypress National Preserve. 

Inside the Park

Big Cypress Campgrounds
Image Credit: NPS

The only lodging option within the preserve’s boundaries is camping in 1 of 8 established campgrounds or backcountry camping.

Midway and Pinecrest are the only year-round campgrounds in the preserve. Midway has RV and tent campsites, and Pinecrest is exclusively for group camping. Midway offers drinking water, dump stations, electrical hookups, and restrooms, while Pinecrest is a more primitive option, with the only amenity being vault toilets. 

The rest of the campgrounds are typically open from August to April. The Bear Island, Burns Lake, Mitchell Landing, and Monument Lake campgrounds have RV and tent campsites available. Pink Jeep and Gator Head are campgrounds exclusively for tent camping.

Towns Near Big Cypress National Preserve

For visitors who want to stay near the park, there are plenty of options for setting up a home away from home in the surrounding towns and communities. Whether you are seeking a quiet town or a lively city, you won’t be disappointed in the variety near Big Cypress National Preserve.

Everglades City, Florida

Everglades City is one of the closest cities to the preserve, about a 4-mile drive from the park. This small town has several lodging, dining, and recreation options. It has various lodging options, from beachfront resorts to well-known chain hotels and private rentals to bed and breakfasts. No matter your preference, you will find the perfect solution here.

The dining scene in this charming town is unbelievable. Everglades City has fresh seafood restaurants, international cuisine, and gourmet dining rooms. Visitors can choose from casual or chic when selecting where to enjoy a meal. 

Airboat tours, museums, and kayaking are some activities visitors enjoy when staying in the area. Other activities include fishing charters, visiting a seafood market, and birdwatching.

Bottom Line:

You can’t beat the proximity of Everglades City to the preserve, which makes it an ideal choice for those wanting to stay nearby in a more traditional setting.

Miami, Florida

Miami Florida
Image Credit: Shawn Henley via Unsplash

Miami is great for setting up a home base near the preserve. It is a bit further from the preserve at 45 miles away, but the perfect option for visitors who want an exciting stay in a big city. There are countless options for lodging; Beachfront resorts, luxury hotels, and budget-friendly motels are some of the popular choices for places to stay. 

The dining scene is a dream for food enthusiasts. From authentic cultural cuisine and seafood shacks to gourmet food trucks and elegant fine dining rooms, there’s something for every palate to enjoy in this exciting city.

This city has unmatched opportunities for fun and recreation. During the day, many visitors tour the local museums, art galleries, and botanical gardens or spend the day on the beach or shopping. At night, the town is bubbling over with excitement and entertainment. Nightclubs and bars offer plenty of opportunities for a great drink, socializing, and dancing the night away.

For awesome lodging opportunities, unique culinary creations, and a long list of ways to spend the days and nights, plan to stay in Miami. It is well worth the hour’s drive. 

Where To Eat in Big Cypress National Preserve

There are no restaurants or dining options within the preserve’s boundaries, but there are plenty of fantastic restaurants just down the road. Whatever you crave, you can rest assured that there is a perfect hunger solution within a few minutes from the park.

Camellia Street Grill

Camellia Street Grill is just a few minutes from the preserve in Everglades City. This top-rated restaurant serves lunch and dinner daily with incredible views looking out over the water. Camellia’s has patio dining, live music, and incredible dishes for every palate.

Unique tacos, stacked signature sandwiches, and seafood dishes are just some of the menu items at this restaurant. Customers rave about the alligator tacos, fried green tomatoes, frog legs, and famous peanut butter pies. 

Plan to grab a meal at Camellia Street Grill for a meal you won’t forget and with a view you can’t see at an ordinary restaurant. You may see the dolphins put on a show for you if you’re lucky.

Joanie’s Blue Crab Café

Joanie’s Blue Crab Café is a highly-rated restaurant in Ochopee in the same city as Big Cypress National Preserve. If you love seafood, especially crab, you won’t want to miss out on a meal at Joanie’s. 

The menu features baked and fried dishes with local, freshly caught seafood, burgers, chicken dishes, fresh salads, and homemade desserts. Some of the most popular menu items include the mahi mahi tacos, grouper sandwich, softshell crab sandwich, and the swamp combo basket. Don’t forget to grab a cold beer and some homemade key lime pie to finish your meal with a bang.

You won’t want to miss trying Joanie’s Blue Crab Café when visiting the preserve. The customer service and delicious dishes will leave you wanting to come back again and again.

Big Cypress National Preserve Facts

Big Cypress Sunset
Image Credit: NPS

1. The Preserve Was Established in 1974

Big Cypress National Preserve was established on October 11, 1974. This preserve was the first national preserve established in the U.S. 

2. It’s an International Dark Sky Park

Big Cypress National Preserve is an International Dark Sky Park dedicated to protecting and educating visitors about the importance of the dark skies. There are many presentations throughout the year and regular night sky viewing opportunities. This preserve is home to some of the last few dark skies in the country, so rangers take their job to protect and preserve this resource seriously. 

3. Calusa Were the Original Inhabitants of the Preserve

The original people who called the preserve home were the Calusa tribe. The Big Cypress Swamp was a critical feature for this North American tribe, providing much food and resources. Ancient artifacts and evidence point to fish and reptiles being a major part of the diet for these people. Research shows that shells were used as tools, weapons, and decoration for pottery. It’s believed that this tribe lived here approximately 4,500 years ago. 

4. The Preserve Has an Abundance of Animals

A diverse array of animals makes their home in Big Cypress National Preserve. There are 35 types of mammals, over 190 bird species, 51 kinds of reptiles, 18 types of amphibians, and 66 species of fish documented in this preserve. 

5. There Are 2 Types of Seasons

Wet and dry are the 2 predominant seasons at Big Cypress National Preserve. The wet season is from May through October. During this season, mosquitoes can be unbearable, and there are daily thunderstorms, high temperatures, and high humidity. The dry season is November through April and is the recommended time to visit. It’s also the busiest time. The mosquitoes are fewer, and there are better opportunities to view wildlife during this time. 

Final Thoughts

Big Cypress National Preserve is a glorious stretch of swampland just waiting for you to explore. This park has many things to see and do, from viewing unique wildlife and camping to paddling tours and visiting historic buildings. There’s something for every traveler to enjoy. Book your trip to this national preserve and discover what draws in a million visitors from around the world each year.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to enter Big Cypress National Preserve?

There is no entrance fee for Big Cypress National Preserve. There may be fees for some of the facilities and permits, but entering the preserve is free of charge.

Can I feed the gators at Big Cypress National Preserve?

It is illegal and extremely dangerous to feed the alligators at the preserve.

Can I bring my dog to Big Cypress National Preserve?

Pets are welcome at Big Cypress National Preserve. Pets are to be leashed at all times. They are permitted at the visitor centers, parking areas, campgrounds, and picnic areas.

Are there dangerous animals at Big Cypress National Preserve?

Dangerous animals live in the preserve. The alligators are typically wary of people, and unprovoked attacks are rare. There are 4 species of venomous snakes that live in this area, including cottonmouth, coral snake, diamond rattlesnake, and dusky pigmy rattlesnake, but they don’t usually come near people. Should you see a snake, give it plenty of space, and do not pick it up.

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About Amar Hussain

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications including Forbes, the Huffington Post, and more.

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