Journey Through a Real-Life Jurassic Park

Florida Trail Loop, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida
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Florida Trail Loop, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida
Barred Owl

A barred owl perches on a tree in Big Cypress National Preserve. (Photo by Felipe Vidal)

Hikers are often disappointed when they look at a map of the Everglades: not many trails in the paddler’s paradise. But dozens of miles of footpaths meander through Big Cypress National Preserve, the Everglades’ freshwater cousin to the north. Sure, the trails are often submerged in 1 to 2 feet of water (bring trekking poles to test footing), but campsites are always dry and the trail corridor is easily distinguishable through the dense foliage. Nowhere else can you explore the Lower 48’s only subtropical forest on foot. Several species found here—such as the Florida sandhill crane, Big Cypress fox squirrel, and alligator lily—exist nowhere else on the planet, while other residents, like the elusive Florida panther, are protected as endangered species.

Explore this biodiversity hot spot on a 13-mile loop through the heart of the preserve’s backcountry. Strike out north on the Florida Trail from the Oasis Visitor Center (pools to the east of the center are home to dozens of alligators) to 7-Mile Camp, where you’ll pitch a tent on a dry pine island among a garden of saw palmettos (blooming March to May). In the morning, head west on the blue-blazed path and loop 6.2 miles back to the Florida Trail. From here, retrace your steps 2.9 miles to the parking area. January and February tend to be the driest months, but be prepared for wet sections of trail any time of year.

Distance 13 miles, 2 days Trailhead25.857177, -81.033225 Season October-April Permit Free; obtain online or at Oasis.