Florida is famous for its Everglade National Park, but the Everglades are not the only stunning wetland in the state. Located 45 miles south of Miami is the Big Cypress National Preserve. Big Cypress boasts a diverse landscape where one can see cypress and mangroves and spot alligators and endangered panthers all in just one day.

The preserve is dominated by wet cypress forest and has a dizzying array of flora and fauna. These include orchids, alligators, river otters, bobcats, black bears, cougars, eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, and others. See here for hiking the Anhinga Trail in the Everglades - where one is sure to see Alligators.

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About Big Cypress National Preserve

  • Established: In 1974

Big Cypress borders the freshwater marl prairies of the Everglades and is slightly more elevated than the western Everglades. Once alligators and crocodiles here were hunted to near extinction and the timber industry destroyed most of the ecosystem's old-growth trees. Today it is open to the public and is one of the best ecosystems to visit in Florida.

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One of the differences between Big Cypress and the Everglades is that by law the Miccosukee, Seminole, and Traditional people have permanent rights to occupy the land and use the land in traditional ways. They also have the first rights to develop incoming producing activities here (like working as tour guides).

Alligators In The Preserve

One can expect to see American Alligators lazily awaiting their next meal as they are regularly seen, the Florida Panther on the other hand is endangered and harder to spot.

  • Size: Male Alligators Can Grow Up To 15 Feet Long, Female Alligators Can Reach 9.8 Feet

American Alligators were extensively hunted and poached in the early 20th century. Today their numbers have been bouncing back and they have made it off the endangered species list (although they are still listed as threatened). See here for 10 things you didn't know about Alligators in Florida.

Related: The 10 Most Photogenic Swamps In The United States

Visiting The Big Cypress National Preserve

  • Admission Fee: $0.00 Admission Is Free - No Entrance Fees
  • Ranger Tours: In The Dry Winter Months Rangers Often Lead Swamp Walks Out (As Well As Canoe Trips and Boardwalk Talks)

There are two Visitor Centers:

Nathaniel P. Reed Visitor Center: This visitor center is designed with an eye to energy conservation and offers both indoor and outdoor exhibits.

  • Hours: 9:00 am to 4:30 pm
  • Days Open: 7 Days A Week

Oasis Visitor Center: Oddly, this visitor center was once a gas station/convenience store. Converted by the National Park Service to a visitor center, it also has a number of natural and cultural history exhibits. There is also a 28-minute orientation film to watch and get acquainted with the preserve.

  • Hours: 9:00 am to 4:30 pm
  • Days Open: Friday to Monday (Closed Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday)
  • Size: 729, 000 Acres

Camping In the Preserve

There are a number of campgrounds in the preserve and there are fees for staying. Reservations can be made for most of the campgrounds at www.recreation.gov. The campgrounds that are first-come-first-served and where no reservations are possible are Pink Jeep, Mitchell Landing, Gator Head, and Bear Island campgrounds. The preserve is also open to backcountry camping.

  • Tip: Always Leave Animals Alone, If They Become Too Familized With People The NPS May Have To Put Them Down
  • Backcountry Hiking and Camping: Requires Permits But Are Also Free

Related: The Great Dismal Swamp, Explained: Why You Should Visit This Unique Natural Landmark

Kayaking And Canoeing

This is a wetland and so, of course, one of the best activities is kayaking and canoeing. It is one of the best ways to explore this rich ecosystem.

  • "Paddling Season": When Water Levels Drop From November To March (It is Also When The Temperature Is Cooler And the Bugs are Tolerable)
  • Open Year-Round: While Paddling Is Best In The "Paddling Season", One Can Paddle Year-Round
  • Rentals: A List Of Boat Rental Companies Can Be Found Here

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There are five paddling trails (with four of them listed below), for more information and to know which are open see the National Park Service webpage.

Turner River Paddling Trail

  • Distance: 9.93 miles
  • Paddling time: 4 ½ to 7 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • See: Cypress Strand, Sawgrass Prairie, Intertidal Mangrove Trees

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Halfway Creek and Halfway Creek Loop Paddling Trails

  • Distance: 7.28 miles
  • Paddling time: 4 to 5 Hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Takeout point(s): NPS Gulf District Ranger Station or Chokoloskee Island
  • See: Sawgrass Prairie, Coastal Mangrove Forests
  • Note: This Trail May Not Be Fully Passable, Contact The Visitor Center

Lefthand Turner River Paddling Trail

  • Distance: 3.65 Miles
  • Paddling time: 3 to 4 Hours
  • Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
  • See: Intertidal Mangrove Forest
  • Note: This Trail May Not Be Fully Passable, Contact The Visitor Center

Sandfly Island Loop Paddling Trail 

  • Distance: 3.73 Miles
  • Paddling time: 3 to 5 Hours
  • Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
  • See: Intercoastal Mangrove Tree Islands, Oyster Banks, Brackish Marine Environment, v Open Bay

Next: Should You Take An Everglades Airboat Tour? Here's What You Can Expect