While the Everglades National Park is one of the most well-known and sought-out destinations in the National Park Service system, there is a neighboring, but lesser known, park that should also be at the top of the list for visiting during your RV travels.
Big Cypress National Preserve is 729,000 acres of swampland located on the northern edge of the Everglades and acts as its watershed.
We initially thought that the Everglades would be a tropical oasis, but we were surprised to find that Big Cypress seemed even more so. Much of the Everglades is open fields and comprised of grass lands, in contrast to the areas in Big Cypress that we visited which were treed, humid, and seemed near tropical.
We had intended on just taking a peek at Big Cypress on our way through to the Everglades. But, we ended up loving the preserve, and just took a couple of day trips to the Everglades and spent the majority of our two weeks exploring Big Cypress.
We have been to more than 90 national park sites, and Big Cypress is, unanimously, one of our top favorites. Here is why we believe that Big Cypress will quickly become one of your favorite national park sites as well:
1. With one main road through the park, Big Cypress still has a very undiscovered and “wild” feel.
The two-lane main highway is bordered by a canal to the north, which is full of alligators, water birds, and other animals. We loved driving along the canal every time we went somewhere in the park. It is a great place to see the local wildlife up close; and you can get some great photos right from the road.
2. Big Cypress boasts two welcoming and educational visitor’s centers
On the west end of the park is the Big Cypress Swamp Welcome Center. This welcome center is a great place to stop on your way into the park if you are coming in from the west.
The center offers a 26-minute film overview of the park. Here you can learn about manatees, and there is a good chance that you will even get to view them in the waterway in the back of the visitor’s center.
The Oasis Visitor’s Center in Big Cypress is a great stop to check out gators up close and personal! letsrv.comThe Oasis Visitor’s Center is located near the center of the park, and is the first visitor’s center that you will encounter if you enter the park from the east.
At the Oasis Visitor’s Center, be sure to take the short walk out the front of the center and view the alligators that congregate in the canal that is between the center and the road. You can also watch the same overview film here as you can at the other welcome center, which we recommend as it is a great way to get acquainted with the park.
While the Shark Valley Visitor’s Center is technically a part of the Everglades, it is located on the eastern edge of Big Cypress, just off of Hwy. 41. It is worth a stop if only to walk the boardwalk and get up close and personal with the resident alligators. This location offers the fun experience of taking a tram to see the sights.
3. You can get a great view of Big Cypress from the comfort of your vehicle.
Besides the main road (Tamiami Trail/Highway 41), there are two roads that you should take the time to leisurely drive. They include:
- The Wagonwheel Loop, a 17-mile gravel road that leads through forest and field. This drive is a great one if you like wide open views, and love flowers.
- The Loop Road is a more rugged 27-mile road through evergreen and cypress groves. You will find alligators, water birds, and great trails to walk on this drive.
4. Enjoy several fabulous ranger-led programs to help you discover the backwoods of Big Cypress.
Various educational and enjoyable ranger-led programs are available throughout the park, including on-site at the visitor’s centers and at various boardwalks. Also offered are all-day hikes, a four-hour bike ride, and campfire programs at the campgrounds.
Canoes, paddles, and life jackets are provided, you bring appropriate clothing for the weather, a sack lunch, and sunscreen. Incredibly fun and informative, this is a must-do if you want to view the local wildlife like alligators and birds in their natural habitat.
Signup is available at the Big Cypress Welcome Center. Reservations are mandatory. This program fills up quickly, so get on the books as soon as possible.
With three different walks available in three different locations in the park, this free program is a hands-on — make that a feet-in — experience in the who, what, when and how of the swamp lands. Be sure to have a pair of sturdy, close-toed shoes and clothing that you don’t mind getting muddy, as well as different shoes and pants to change into after the walk.
Reservations are required and signups are available through the Oasis Visitor’s Center.
Programs are available from Nov. 22 through April 2, contingent on watershed water levels and weather. You can find a full list of programs, dates and times offered, as well as information about each activity, by clicking here.
5. Big Cypress offers several excellent camping opportunities.
We highly recommend staying within Big Cypress to fully experience the location. There are seven national park campgrounds in the preserve, with five of those being RV friendly.
We stayed at the Midway campground, which is the only location to offer electricity. Midway is well-maintained with active and friendly camp hosts, paved sites with electric, and an easy-to-access dump station. None of the campgrounds offer full hookups, but there are dump stations available in some campgrounds, and accessible for free to all people using the park’s campgrounds.
To view a chart showing all the amenities of each campground, click here.
There is one private campground located in the preserve. We stayed at the Trails Lake Campground for one night, and one night only, and would never recommend it due to attitude of owner, and upkeep and cleanliness of facilities.
Big Cypress National Preserve is an excellent destination for anyone wishing to experience the wild side of Florida. It is a great place to explore whether you have just one day to spend at the park, or wish to take advantage of the two-week maximum stay at the park campgrounds, like we did.
Check it out and see for yourself why it is our favorite destination in the Sunshine State.
For more information about Big Cypress National Preserve, visit www.nps.gov/bicy/index.htm.