Big Cypress National Preserve | BACKCOUNTRY CAMPING

Carpenter Camp along the Florida Trail north of I-75

Carpenter Camp along the Florida Trail north of I-75

With two exceptions, free primitive camping is allowed anywhere in the backcountry of Big Cypress National Preserve as long as tents are pitched at least a half mile from any developed areas such as roads, private residences, or officially designated campgrounds. If you are driving into the backcountry in a swamp buggy, ATV, or 4-Wheel Drive (Off-Road Driving permit required) you can camp near the trails as long as you pull completely off the trail so that others can pass, then carry your equipment to the campsite. No pets other than hunting dogs during hunting season are allowed in the backcountry.

Exceptions to the “camp anywhere” rule are for those camping in the Bear Island Backcountry Unit and for those using airboats in Zone 4 of the Stairsteps Backcountry Unit. Those camping at Bear Island must stay in one of the three developed campgrounds (fees apply, see the Campgrounds web page for details) and airboaters who want to camp in Zone 4 must stay at one of the seventeen designated primitive campsites (free). Those entering Zone 4 on foot or in a canoe or kayak can camp anywhere as long as they don’t violate the “half-mile from developed areas” rule, and they must be at least a quarter mile from the designated campsites (unless actually staying at one). All sites are taken on a first-come, first-serve basis.

There are designated backcountry campsites along the Florida Trail, though hikers are free to camp anywhere per the above developed-area rule. The benefit of the designated sites is that these have cleared areas that make pitching a tent much easier than hiking around trying to find a suitable campsite each night.

Each person is limited to 30 days of backcountry camping per year. No camping gear can be left in the backcountry when a person is not actively camping except for hunters, who may leave equipment for the duration of the hunting season (Archery Season/Muzzle Loading Season, General Gun Season, and Spring Turkey Season), except for in Zone 4. If leaving gear at one of the Bear Island campsites, the daily camping fee must be paid even for the days that you are not physically present.

Entry by any means into the backcountry requires a permit. These are free and can be obtained at kiosks at trailheads, boat ramps, backcountry access roads, hunter check-in stations, and the visitor centers. All you need is a pen or pencil to fill out the multi-copy form on which you provide your entry date and time, your estimated return time, and the purpose of your adventure (i.e. hike, camp, hunt). Keep one copy with you, stick one in the permit collection box at the kiosk, and place one on the dashboard of your car (all backcountry access areas have parking lots or allow roadside parking). Permits help the National Park Service track which areas are used the most, plus if your car is left overnight the park Rangers will know when you were supposed to have returned, and if this time has long since passed, they know to come looking for you.

You can also download the Backcountry-Permit (PDF) and either fill it out by hand or by using Adobe Acrobat (or an Acrobat browser plug-in). The PDF has two permits, and if you use Acrobat, the second permit fills out automatically as you type information into the first permit. You need three permits, so be sure to print two copies of the PDF and then use scissors to separate the copies.

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Last updated on December 10, 2019
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