Big Cypress National Preserve: Top Ways to Explore

By Jennnifer Adams

Sometimes, you need to immerse yourself in natural beauty – and Big Cypress National Preserve is the unspoiled paradise where you can do just that.

Not far from the world-class dining and beautiful beach resorts of Naples and Marco Island, Big Cypress National Preserve beckons hikers, campers and other nature enthusiasts to come exploring. The freshwater swamp ecosystem next to the Everglades is home to many species of animals as well as tropical and temperate plants. Walk among cypress and mangroves, spot birds, observe American alligators and look for the elusive Florida panther. At 729,000 acres– an area larger than the state of Rhode Island – Big Cypress provides the largest contiguous acreage of habitat for panthers – a critically endangered species – in South Florida.
Established October 11, 1974, Big Cypress is the United States’ first national preserve, and welcomes approximately one million visitors each year to explore its largely untouched natural swampland.
Here’s a guide to visiting this natural gem.

Explore Big Cypress with a Swamp Walk.
Explore Big Cypress with a Swamp Walk.  
Ranger-Led Hikes in Big Cypress

Big Cypress National Preserve offers plenty of activities and excursions. For an educational experience, join a free, ranger-led discovery hike – hosted regularly from November through April, weather permitting. Reserve your spot up to 14 days in advance at the Oasis Visitor Center or Swamp Visitor Center.
Clyde Butcher's Big Cypress Gallery

Clyde Butcher's Big Cypress Gallery, located in the middle of a million acres of National Park wilderness, is surrounded by the serene beauty of the photographic world of Clyde Butcher.

Guided Swamp Walks

Renowned nature photographer Clyde Butcher has a gallery adjacent to the preserve (open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and is also well known for his guided eco swamp walks and photo safari swamp walks. Participants on the walks get a glimpse of the preserve through Butcher’s eyes as he points out the orchids, rare ferns, threatened bromeliads, native birds and other swamp life he captures in his photographs.

Big Cypress Preserve’s Hiking and Biking Trails
Those who would rather explore on their own can bike or hike a variety of scenic trails, or even go off-roading around Big Cypress. Special four-wheel drive vehicles called swamp buggies are commonly used to access the preserve’s more remote terrain. Permits and vehicle inspections are required to use off-road vehicle trails; visit the office at the Oasis Visitor Center for more information and to register your off-road vehicle.
Where (and When) to Go Paddling
Get a closer look at the diverse wildlife that calls Big Cypress National Preserve home by exploring the preserve’s plentiful waterways. Several paddling routes converge at the border of Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park, where water flows over the flat landscape on its way to the Gulf of Mexico. The routes pass through creeks, rivers and bays, and most take three to seven hours to complete, depending on your launch and takeout points, the tidal stage and your paddling speed. (These routes are recommended for intermediate level paddlers and above.) Paddling season, which is characterized by a drop in water levels and lower temperatures, is November through March, though some trails are accessible all year.
Big Cypress National Preserve’s Best Camping Spots
Sunset in Big Cypress National Preserve by Elam S. Stoltzfus

Sunset in Big Cypress National Preserve by Elam S. Stoltzfus.

Discover what it’s like to live off the grid and sleep under the stars when you camp at Big Cypress National Preserve. The preserve offers eight tent and RV campgrounds to choose from, with backcountry camping also available. (Backcountry permits are required but can be obtained free of charge at both visitor centers or at every backcountry trailhead.)
Reservations may be made online at for some campgrounds. Pink Jeep, Mitchell Landing, Gator Head and Bear Island campgrounds are first-come, first-served, and reservations are not available. Two campgrounds (Pink Jeep and Gator Head) are only accessible by foot, bike or permitted off-road vehicles.
Campgrounds may close seasonally; contact the Oasis Visitor Center at (239) 695-1201, or Big Cypress Welcome Center at (239) 695-4758 for information on closures.
Getting to Big Cypress
The preserve is easily accessible by car; it’s so large that it borders many of Southwest Florida’s major thoroughfares. Here are the easiest ways to get there from key spots along the Paradise Coast.
From Naples:
  1. Take I-75 (Alligator Alley) South to Exit 80, SR-29.
  2. Head south on SR-29 (towards Everglades City) 17 miles to where it intersects with US-41 (Tamiami Trail).
  3. Turn left onto US-41 southbound and proceed approximately two miles.
  4. Big Cypress Swamp Welcome Center will be on your right, on the south side of US-41.
  1. Take US-41 southbound and proceed directly along it, as if you were heading for Miami.
  2. Keep an eye out for the intersection of US-41/SR-29 (flashing light). Your destination is approximately two miles beyond that intersection.
  3. Big Cypress Swamp Welcome Center will be on your right, on the south side of US-41.
  4. Oasis Visitor Center is another 20 miles down the road, on the opposite side.