Big Cypress National Preserve | PARK AT A GLANCE

Big Cypress National Preserve

Big Cypress National Preserve

PARK OVERVIEW

Big Cypress National Preserve is the somewhat overlooked counterpart to its southern neighbor, Everglades National Park. You will find countless Everglades-related websites and reviews that blatantly refer to locations in Big Cypress as part of the Everglades. While the two parks are distinct entities and even have a major ecological difference, in the minds of most people the entire area is the Everglades, and tourists visiting locations in one park will certainly be visiting the other without making any mental distinctions between the two. This is understandable, especially considering that much of Big Cypress was originally marked for inclusion in Everglades National Park, but the landowners protested and it remained in private hands. However, in the 1960s Miami started building an international airport on the eastern side of today’s park, and the residents soon realized it wouldn’t be long before the metropolis of Miami connected all the way across the state with Tampa. This sent them crawling back to the federal government begging for protection, and in 1974, Big Cypress National Preserve was established. A long runway is all that was ever constructed of the proposed airport.

The fundamental difference between Big Cypress and the Everglades is that Big Cypress is mainly a cypress swamp while the Everglades is a prairie that is submerged by a slow moving and very shallow sheet of water created by the yearly overflow of Lake Okeechobee. The water in the Big Cypress swamp is rainwater. Different elevations within Big Cypress result in different habitats. The lowest areas are the Cypress swamps and prairies that are underwater during the wet season (May-September). At the higher elevations, often only a few feet higher than the swamps, are pine and hardwood forests. To the south nearest the Everglades are estuaries.

Big Cypress has the co-distinction of being the nation’s first “Preserve,” having been authorized by Congress on the same day as Big Thicket National Preserve in Texas. A Preserve is a unique park designation in that while development of the area is stifled, traditional activities such as hunting, fishing, backcountry camping, and travel through the swamps on Swamp Buggies and ATVs is allowed. Even oil and gas exploration and extraction on the land continues today. Furthermore, those who owned property within the park boundary were allowed to keep it, which is why you may stumble upon “No Trespassing” signs while wandering through what appears to be the middle of nowhere.

While the majority of Big Cypress National Preserve is accessible only to those rugged enough to tackle remote hiking and off-road vehicle driving, there is still plenty to do for tourists passing through the area. Most activities are found along Highway 41 (aka Tamiami Trail), which crosses the southern section of the park from east to west. The highway was built in the 1920s to connect Miami with Tampa, thus the cute name. There are numerous developed campgrounds and picnic areas along the road. The National Park Service offers guided tours, talks, and walks throughout the tourist season from November through April. These include swamp walks, canoe trips, and hikes into the backcounty. Approved concessionaires also offer guided, outdoor activities. In addition, there are plenty of places to see wildlife such as alligators and exotic birds, often without having to stray far from your vehicle.

For those interested in learning more about Big Cypress National Preserve, don’t miss the excellent one-hour documentary, Big Cypress Swamp: The Western Everglades.


OPERATING HOURS

The Nathaniel P. Reed Visitor Center is open daily, except on Christmas day, from 9 AM to 4:30 PM. The Oasis Visitor Center is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 9 AM to 4:30 PM. However, times can change, so before making travel plans be sure to check Big Cypress National Preserve’s Operating Hours and Seasons web page for the latest schedule.

The grounds of Big Cypress National Preserve are open year round, though certain areas may be closed due to environmental issues.

Campground facilities and Ranger-led tours operate on a seasonal schedule. Please visit the park’s Campgrounds and Ranger-Led Activities web pages for more information.


FEES

There are no fees to enter Big Cypress National Preserve. The only fees are for camping, some tours, and Off-Road Vehicle permits.

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Last updated on June 6, 2023
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