Big Cypress National Preserve | OFF ROAD DRIVING

Typical Primary Backcountry road

Typical Primary Backcountry road


Note: Currently all Secondary Backcountry Trails are closed due to a lawsuit against the National Park Service. Trails will remain closed until an environmental study has been conducted to see how backcountry driving is affecting the environment. Keep in mind that even without this ban, secondary trails are always closed for June and July.

Primary trails remain open.


The backcountry at Big Cypress National Preserve is divided into seven sections, five of which have backcountry trails (dirt roads) open to vehicles: Turner River, Bear Island, Corn Dance, Loop, and Stairsteps. The Deep Lake and Additions units do not have trails, at least none that are open to driving. In addition to traditional off-road vehicles—4-Wheel Drives, Swamp Buggies, and ATVs—airboats are allowed in Zone 4 of the Stairsteps Unit. See the Backcountry web page for information on each unit.

Permits are required for vehicles, including airboats, that enter into the backcoutry. These are issued at the Oasis Visitor Center on Friday through Sunday from 9 AM to 12 PM for walk up service and from 12:30 to 4 PM for those who schedule an appointment. The office is also open on Mondays by appointment only. To get a permit you must pass an on-line test (which is done prior to coming to the office), have your vehicle inspected, and pay for the permit, currently $100 for the year. Thus, you can see that this process is not that appealing to the typical tourist and is geared more for people who live in the area and/or who use the backcountry on a regular basis for outdoor recreation such as hunting, fishing, and camping. For complete details, including a link to the on-line course and a study guide, visit the park’s Off-Road Vehicle Office web page.

The backcountry trails are divided into two categories: Primary and Secondary Trails. If you have a park brochure, the Primary Trails ares shown on the map. The Secondary Trails are not on the map, but these are just side trails off of the Primary Trails. Back before the park was created in 1978, there was no limit as to where people could drive their swamp buggies and ATVs, for after all, the land was pretty much flat and large areas were treeless. Once the park was established, it was agreed that off-road driving could continue, but it was now limited to the roads that were already well defined. The main roads became the Primary Trails.

I visited Big Cypress National Preserve in February, the height of the dry season, and I traveled on the Primary Trails during a Swamp Buggy tour and while biking, and to tell the truth, most are just typical dirt roads that any passenger vehicle could drive on. These are not roads where your off-road driving skills will be tested. The only reason that passenger vehicles are not allowed on the roads during the dry season is that there are spots that remain muddy year round. Of course, during the wet season when the roads are underwater and plenty muddy, only off-road vehicles could travel on them.

If you do not want to obtain a permit, but would still like to explore the backcountry, all trails are open to both hikers and bikers. Free backcountry permits are required, and these can be obtained at any backcountry access area (i.e. roads, trails, boat launches). All you need is a pen or pencil to fill one out.

Primary trail in the Bear Island Backcountry Unit

Primary trail in the Bear Island Backcountry Unit

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Primary trail in the Turner River Backcountry Unit

In the wet season it would be neat to ride around in a swamp buggy or on an ATV, but the typical tourist does not have these. If this is what you want to do, authorized concessionaires offer guided tours.

Swamp buggies used for guided tours into the backcountry

Swamp buggies used for guided tours into the backcountry

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Last updated on December 10, 2019
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