Florida National Scenic Trail
In 1964, businessman and wildlife photographer James Kern, inspired by a trek on the Appalachian Trail, conceived the north-south, state-long Florida National Scenic Trail. An enormous undertaking, Kern teamed up with various federal, state and local agencies, including the NPS, in order to realize his dream. 31 hike-able miles of the trail are found within the confines of the Big Cypress National Preserve. Hikers planning to make their way along the whole stretch should be prepared for a challenge. This is one of the most isolated outdoor experiences in the country. But for this reason, the trek is particularly rewarding. The trail crosses through a patchwork of ecosystems, including swamplands; pineland and hardwood hammock stands; bamboo slough and of course, cypress. Throughout the trail, you're likely to encounter a remarkable array of wildlife, from bobcats and wild hogs to endangered Big Cypress fox squirrel and the “snakebird” or anhinga, so named for its habit of submerging its body in the shallow waters while on the hunt, leaving only its head and neck visible.
The southernmost section of the trail branches off of Loop Road, through wildflowers, willows, and bayberry strands. Crossing over the Tamiami, and past the Oasis ranger station, swampland gives way to forest land populated by rotund cypress and the fan-leaved saw palmetto, where bears make their winter dens. The final section of the trail passes through hardwood hammock, cabbage palms, and bamboo slough. Plan your trip carefully, as campsites are spaced several miles apart, and the going is likely to be relatively slow through much of the trail.
Experienced cyclists will want to explore the trails on Bear Island, northeast of the Florida National Scenic Trail, across US 75. This 14 mile, out-and-back trail is as close as you're likely to get to the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, home of the areas most famous tenant. Though the Florida Panther Refuge lies several miles to the West, panthers have been known to make their way into the Preserve, and the hammock and palmetto in this region are favorite shelters for the elusive hunters. Actually a cougar, standing about two feet at the shoulder with reddish-blonde fur, the Florida panthers have been forced to near extinction by hunting and habitat destruction. There are currently only an estimated 30-50 of these graceful creatures left in the wild. Don't be discouraged if you don't catch sight of one, as there is plenty of wildlife to see on this trail, from white-tailed deer to great-horned owls, red-cockaded woodpeckers to the shy Florida black bear. Watch for pine trees with strips of bark pulled off, where the Florida Black Bear has peeled and snacked on pine sap. Off road vehicles are also allowed on designated routes in portions of this area, and elsewhere in the Preserve.
Big Cypress National Park
Eight campgrounds are available throughout the Preserve, seven free of charge. These are primitive campsites, with no potable water and no restroom facilities. Dona Drive, the eighth, charges a $14 per night fee, and features a dump station, shower and restroom, and water supply. For more information on planning your visit, contact Preserve Headquarters at 239-695-4111.
Florida Trail Association
5415 SW 13 Street
Gainesville, FL 32608
Information provided by the National Park Service