DRIVE TIME: Big Cypress is in South Florida, about 55 miles west of Miami and 40 miles east of Naples.
THE WAY: From Miami, take US 41 west 55 miles to the Big Cypress National Preserve Visitor Center. The Florida Trail passes right by the visitor center. Its Big Cypress southern trailhead is on Loop Road and the northern, on I-75 (Alligator Alley).
TRAILS: The Florida Trail-which, when completed, will stretch 1,100 miles to Florida’s western panhandle-runs through Big Cypress for 41 miles. A 9-mile segment lies south of US 41, and 32 miles lie north of it. On the Florida Trail Association’s Big Cypress National Preserve map (see Guides below), the trails marked to the west of the Florida Trail (known as the Blue Loop) are in disrepair and have been abandoned by hikers.
ELEVATION: Just above sea level. Contact the preserve about water levels before you go.
CAN’T MISS: Camping on a pine island in the midst of a sea of saw grass.
CROWD CONTROL: The Florida Trail is rarely crowded, though the busiest times are February and March weekends. The best hiking is from January to April, when temperatures are cooler, bugs are fewer, and water levels the lowest.
GUIDES: The Hiking Guide to the Florida Trail ($5), laminated maps Big Cypress North and Big Cypress South ($2.50), and maps are available from the Florida Trail Association, (800) 343-1882; www.florida-trail.org.
WALK SOFTLY: Even when the trail goes through the deepest part of the swamp, do not cut new paths in the saw grass or through cypress domes.
CONTACT: Big Cypress National Preserve, (941) 695-4111; www.nps.gov/bicy.