Before you go jumping to icky conclusions, a swamp walk in the Big Cypress National Preserve or nearby Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park is not a burdensome slog through miles of muck, not a daredevil endeavor or endurance test. There are various ways to access this pristine, watery wilderness - one being on a guided walk with Big Cypress Gallery's Everglades Swamp Tours. You’ll take a long, leisurely walk through a submerged trail on the grounds behind photographer Clyde Butcher’s gallery. Depending on the time of year, water in the Everglades National Park can reach up to your waist (but mostly stays at the thighs or lower).
It’s downright therapeutic. The guided swamp walk in this part of Big Cypress National Preserve is a relaxing communion with one of the world’s most unique ecosystems. First thing you notice is the absence of noise save for the sounds of swishing water, cawing birds and the grunts of frogs.
You’ll join a guide— ours was Trish — and leave a paved pathway for a venture into the wetlands. They suggest you wear long pants and an old pair of sneakers. Detritus from fallen leaves forms a spongy bottom (it’s not mud). In fact, the water is quite clear. The tour guides provide walking sticks, because you’ll traverse logs and root systems in the water (which guides will point out ahead of time). The walk runs about 90 minutes to two hours — and you might cover a half a mile.
“It’s not a place to rush,” says Trish. “It’s not about distance. It’s about enjoying yourself out in the swamp. There’s lot of beauty to be seen, and a lot of it is small.”
A delicate patch of white flowers will suddenly appear amid of wall of green. You’ll encounter floating hearts, arrowhead plants, flag iris, porter weed, bladderwort, duck potato, pond apples (which are edible, but we don’t recommend them), and countless other varieties of plant life.
What you’ll not encounter are alligators and venomous snakes. Yes, they live in the Everglades, but, as Trish informs, “gators really want nothing to do with humans. We don’t provide food for them. We’re tall. We’re most of the time pretty smelly beasts to them. Gators avoid us. We do nothing for them. The same goes for snakes.”
Our tour took place in late August, the hottest time of year. Even wearing long pants, long sleeves and a hat, it was notably cooler in the cypress swamp than out on the beach. That’s mostly because the trees provide filtered light and keep the clear, flowing water cool.
You’ll be walking along and suddenly hit a cool section, which adds a little kick to your step.
Ultimately, an Everglades swamp walk evokes strong feelings. “A lot of people are a little scared before they go in, and when they come out they lift their walking stick in jubilation,” Trish says. “They have a peace about them, a joy. As a guide, I might see the tension in their face at the start, but they relax about 10 minutes in. It’s a very special, healing place. People come here from very stressful jobs, go out for a swamp walk and leave their cares behind, realizing that there’s a whole other world just right off the beaten path. They just have to get out of their car and into the water.”