Three access points
Connects to Seminole
One of the wildest places for a backpacking trip east of the Mississippi, the Florida Trail through Big Cypress National Preserve is not your typical hiking destination. It weaves through the heart of the rain-fed Big Cypress Swamp, a vast shallow river also known as the Western Everglades. Within the Big Cypress Swamp, hikers experience broad, open sawgrass prairies, underlain by slippery marl mud and periphyton (the primary biomass of the Everglades forest floor) a goopy glop that is a complex mix of algae, bacteria, and fungi. There are linear cypress strands – rivers within a river – with deeper water flowing northeast to southwest through corridors flanked by cypress trees, some tiny and wizened, others tall and stately, most decked out in bromeliads and orchids. And then there are the dry spots, the islands of slash pine that rise just a little above the river’s flow, just enough to offer a tiny speck of relief from the swamp.
Crossing the Big Cypress is both a physical and mental challenge. It is a hike best done with a group. Expect to average 1 MPH when wading through the swamp. It can be tough to scout blazes ahead of you when you are alone, and there are ankle-turning holes in the limestone bedrock and hidden logs beneath the swamp’s waters. It’s smart to use a hiking stick – a wooden one, not your extendable poles, which could snap and break in this environment – to feel the placement of your feet as you wade, since there are many underwater obstructions. Your feet will be wet for several days. Water may be as deep as waist-deep in places. Your tent will not dry out. Despite the water – where alligators look for the deep spots – this is the home of the Florida panther, the Florida black bear, and the Florida bobcat. Cottonmouths are common and should be treated with the utmost of respect. Python and anaconda sightings are possible, but more rare – dumped into the Everglades over the past two decades by irresponsible pet owners, these invasive snakes have exploded in population.
Florida Trail, Loop Road to Oasis
7.8 miles. Showcasing Robert’s Strand, a wet and wild cypress strand with giant ferns, lush bromeliads, and many orchids, this segment of the Florida Trail in Big Cypress makes an excellent day hike. It includes stretches of marl prairie and islands of pine rockland, one of Florida’s rarest habitats.
Florida Trail, Oasis to I-75 Rest Area
30.0 miles. The wildest and most remote section of the Florida Trail wind through ghostly stands of ancient, bonsai-like cypress, traverses vast sawgrass prairies, and has camping on small pine islands. It is a mucky, difficult hike which will take 2-3 days, depending on trail conditions and your stamina.
Florida Trail, I-75 Rest Area to Seminole Reservation
7.6 miles. An easy ramble from the rest area north along Nobles Road to the gate at the Seminole Reservation, a limestone road raised up above the surrounding swamp, this section parallels a canal much of the way on one side through cypress strands and pine flatwoods. A separate blue-blazed trail goes off to the east, creating a backpacking loop.
The official southern terminus of the Florida National Scenic Trail is now Oasis Visitor Center in Big Cypress National Preserve, easy to find along US 41, the Tamiami Trail. The historic southern terminus of the Florida Trail is at Loop Road. Hikers must sign in at trail kiosks and carry a free backcountry permit.
LOOP ROAD [25.760196,-81.034341]: From the Tamiami Trail (US 41) at Forty Mile Bend, follow Loop Road (unmarked paved road) south through the reservation and the small community of Pinecrest. The road turns to graded limestone once it enters Big Cypress National Preserve. 13 miles from US 41, you pass the Tree Snail Hammock Nature Trail sign. Keep alert, as you soon reach the Florida National Scenic Trail kiosk on the right side of the road. You can also access Loop Road from the west via US 41 at Monroe Station, where it is an unpaved and rough ride through Gator Hook Strand to the same point. Because of its remote location, this is not a safe place to leave a car overnight.
OASIS VISITOR CENTER [25.857105,-81.032916]: Between Miami and Naples along US 41 (Tamiami Trail), 22 miles east of SR 29 at Everglades City. Open daily, 9 AM-4 PM, with restrooms, potable water, phone, trail register, and large parking area. If you plan to leave your car, let the rangers know.
I-75 REST AREA [26.167649,-81.078200]: Located 0.3 mile west of mile marker 63 on I-75 (Alligator Alley). If you plan to leave your car overnight, let the security officers know. Park away from the main building, at the eastern end of the parking area.
There are a handful of services at the MICCOSUKEE RESERVATION where Loop Road meets the Tamiami Trail (US 41) to the east, including the small Everglades Tower Inn motel (which may or may not be open), a convenience store, and restaurant. Primary services for this region, including gasoline, groceries, dining, and motels, are in EVERGLADES CITY, a walkable city 25 miles west of the Florida Trail crossing on US 41 at Oasis Visitor Center. The I-75 rest area is open 24 hours and has restrooms, picnic tables, and vending machines with drinks and snacks.