Best American Adventures: Swamp Tromp in Big Cypress National Preserve
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By Robert Earle Howells; Photograph by Jack Dykinga
The “big” in Big Cypress is much more about land and sky than about
trees. Most of the preserve’s giant cypress trees were long ago logged
out, leaving behind their stunted kin. But few places can match the
sense of spacious wilderness (720,000 acres, or 292,000 hectares) and
primal pleasure of Big Cypress Swamp when you hike it under its own
terms. Which, we submit, is when it’s underwater. That’s
right—conventional wisdom may say to stick to the dry season, and
that’s fine. But take a cue from a peculiar breed of Florida hiker
called the swamp tromper and go for a sawgrass prairie slosh in July
You'll walk through calf-deep to knee-deep water
on a 30-mile (48-kilometer) segment of the 1,500-mile (2,414-kilometer)
Florida Trail that cuts across the preserve. For one thing, water keeps
the marl soil compacted; “dry” usually means “muddy” here. For another,
it’s just plain fun—and decidedly magical. The water is crystal clear.
You’ll see primeval avians like wood storks, Florida sandhill cranes,
and egrets, and, on the higher ground, songbirds like grosbeaks and
cardinals. You’re unlikely to have much human company.
is blazed, but GPS is a big help, especially in winter when the pathway
isn’t particularly evident underfoot. There are few gators hereabouts,
and no, you won’t be camping in knee-deep water. The trail links
high-ground islands known as hammocks, where the camping is fine
beneath pines and palms, and where gorgeous bromeliads festoon the
trees. Bears like the high ground, too, so a clean camp is called for.
At night, listen for the wail of a panther. They’re out there.
Need to Know: The blazed trail runs from the park visitor center on U.S. 41 to a rest stop on I-75. For info and free permits, go to www.nps.gov/bicy. Maps and guides are available at www.floridatrail.org.
- Nat Geo Expeditions