The First U.S. National Preserve – Big Cypress

Date Visited: 12/12/2020

This vast swamp is home to a rich diversity of plants and animals, including the endangered Florida panther, the American alligator, and the elusive ghost orchid. Here are some reasons why Big Cypress is so special:

It is the first national preserve in the United States

Unlike national parks, which are managed for preservation and recreation, national preserves allow for some activities that are not permitted in parks, such as hunting, oil drilling, and off-road vehicle use. This means that Big Cypress is a place where people can enjoy nature while also respecting its multiple uses and values.

The Big Cypress Swamp forms a largely undeveloped landscape in southwestern Florida that includes three major habitats: seasonally flooded marshes, forested wetlands and upland pine habitats. The swamp is essential to the health of the neighboring Everglades and the rich marine estuaries along Florida’s southwest coast.

So beautiful! With their numbers so low, let’s hope efforts to protect these great cats are successful.

It is a sanctuary for endangered species

Some of the amazing creatures that you can find in Big Cypress are the Florida panther, the red-cockaded woodpecker, the wood stork and the American crocodile.

The Florida panther is a majestic and elusive animal that roams the swamps and forests of the preserve. You might be lucky enough to spot one on a guided tour or a hiking trail. We were not lucky. In fact, they are shy and usually avoid humans.

Just one of many alligators we would see today.

Alligators are an important part of the Big Cypress Swamp ecosystem. They help maintain the balance of the food chain by preying on fish, turtles, snakes, birds and mammals. They also create alligator holes, which are deep pools of water that provide refuge for aquatic animals during the dry season. Alligator holes also attract other wildlife, such as wading birds and deer, that come to drink or feed. We lost track of the number of alligator we saw on this day, but if their numbers are any indication of the health of the Big Cypress Ecosystem, it’s a fair assessment that the swamp is in pretty good shape!

Big Cypress Foxtail Squirrel. I’ve waited my whole life to catch a picture of one of these and the color on this one was outstanding! Photo by KMcGee

We were thrilled to catch a glimpse of the Big Cypress Foxtail squirrel. This squirrel lives in the swamps and forests of Florida, where it uses its long, bushy tail to balance on branches and communicate with other squirrels. The Big Cypress Foxtail squirrel has a beautiful reddish-brown fur that blends in with the autumn leaves. It also has a white belly and a black stripe along its back. The Big Cypress Foxtail squirrel is very smart and curious. It can solve puzzles, find hidden food, and even use tools to crack nuts. It loves to eat acorns, pine nuts, berries, and mushrooms. The Big Cypress Foxtail squirrel is a friendly and social animal. It lives in large groups called colonies, where it shares food and nests with its relatives.

We watched this guy catch a fish and eat it! They are so graceful under water.

It is part of the Greater Everglades ecosystem

Big Cypress is connected to Everglades National Park by water flows and wildlife corridors. The freshwaters of Big Cypress nourish the marine estuaries along Florida’s southwest coast, where mangroves, seagrasses, and coral reefs provide habitat for countless species of fish and shellfish. Big Cypress also helps to filter and store water for millions of people in South Florida.

Don’t be fooled by its sheer beauty – Like any swamp this place is filled with things that could kill you.

There are also some dangers that lurk in Big Cypress National Preserve. In addition to alligators, you might encounter venomous snakes, crocodiles, bears, or mosquitoes. You also need to be prepared for the weather, which can be hot, humid, and rainy. We chose to visit during the winter to avoid the swarms of mosquitos and the worst of the Florida humidity, but the tradeoff was in seeing less wildlife than one would expect to see during the warmer months as the reptiles were less active this time of year.

I put the camera down for a little fishing, but the fish were not biting here!

It offers a variety of outdoor activities

Whether you want to hike, bike, canoe, kayak, fish, camp, or birdwatch, you can find something to suit your interests in Big Cypress. You can also join a ranger-led program to learn more about the history and ecology of the preserve. Or you can follow our lead and explore the preserve on your own, following scenic drives and trails that take you through different habitats and landscapes.

Recent flooding made the drive a little wet! This road was completely submerged in several places.

It has a fascinating history and culture

Big Cypress has been inhabited by humans for thousands of years, from the ancient Calusa people to the modern Seminole and Miccosukee tribes. You can learn about their stories and traditions at the preserve’s visitor centers and museums. You can also see evidence of the oil industry that shaped the region in the 20th century, such as wells, pipelines, and pump stations, which leads us to our next destination – Collier-Seminole State Park. See you there!

Big Cypress National Preserve
33100 Tamiami Trl E, Ochopee, FL 34141
(239) 695-2000

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