Big Cypress National Preserve
There's nothing like having a big, more well-known sister just to your west and south in Everglades National Park, and then catching up to them, if not in notoriety, but in use. Yes, Cypress National Preserve doesn't get the headlines of that Everglades sibling, but it is catching up in attendance. That's been happening over the last four decades to the current day so that now it only gets forty thousand less visitors. Both attract over one million folks looking for South Florida fun trudging down its paths and boardwalks. And all of it really makes good sense.
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Big Cypress Then
Yes, there was Indian culture going on in Big Cypress and the Everglades for centuries, and even in more modern times, like at the Seminole Indian Village pictured above in 1972. The culture of the area was influenced by the Calusa, Miccosukee, as well as the Seminoles. And of course, European settlers looking for the Fountain of Youth in 1513, and a whole lot more, including acts of white government with policies, sometimes even unintentional, that would lead to war with the Seminoles, three of them.
Later, the Tamiami Trail itself was completed in 1928, which brought tourists bounding through, or at least, past the swamps. It took eleven years and $7 million to accomplish and the name itself (Tam ... Tampa to Miami) tells you what they were trying to accomplish. This led to that Indian village experience above and today's national park experience.
Photo above: Two alligators at Big Cypress National Preserve. Courtesy National Park Service photo by Jan Shirey. Below: Boardwalk and wayside exhibit at Big Cypress National Preserve. Courtesy Flickr page of Big Cypress National Preserve.
Big Cypress Now
The park is in the same basic sub-tropical world of alligators, swamps, and the kind of raw nature that amazes its audience. It has nearly the same amount of acreage, and it is in basically the same location, ... South Florida from Miami to the west coast along the Tamiami Trail. Yes, in the heart of the real Seminole Nation, plus Miccosukee and Calusa nations, too. And yes, Big Cypress, not the Everglades big sister, includes a greater portion of the Tamiami Trail where vacations for centuries could visit Indian culture, including touristy and great attractions like alligator wrestling in various Indian village attractions. So if you're in this part of Florida after visiting the mouse or Miami or spring training, take a detour to both Everglades National Park, the more well-known sister, and Big Cypress National Preserve, the sister that's starting to get more attention as she gets its braces off and smiles a big welcoming grin.
Big Cypress National Preserve is actually pretty new to all this national park type attention, even though it's been traveled by tourists, residents, and Seminoles for years, even European explorers such as Ponce de Leon. Established by President Gerald Ford in 1974 as the first national preserve, it has been taking on that additional mission, as noted in the declaration of its intent ... "to assure the preservation, conservation, and protection of the natural, scenic, hydrologic, floral and faunal, and recreational values of the Big Cypress Watershed in the state of Florida and to provide for the enhancement and public safety thereof," with great aplomb for forty years and counting.
Big Cypress is a place of many boardwalks that stretch over the swamps and provide a great glimpse of the wildlife and fauna at every turn. These can be accessed either by yourself or on guided tours by park rangers.
One of the more unique attractions near the preserve itself is the Ochopee Post Office. It's the first post office in the nation and not much larger than your standard back yard suburban shed. But it's a lot cuter.
Twenty-seven miles west of Miami along the Tamiami Trail, there's the Miccosukee Indian Village, which tells the tale of one of the tribes of the area in tourist terms. It's a whole lot of fun as you're on your way down the trail into Big Cypress National Preserve.
T-Shirts and Souvenirs
Big Cypress National Preserve Souvenirs. Official gifts from Americabesthistory.com provided at Teepossible.
Things You Should Not Miss
1. Take advantage of a ranger led evening program, 45 minutes, which are held at some of the campsites, or an evening star-gazing spectacular held several times per year. There are also a myriad of daily guided walks during the height of their season, November to April. Some may require reservations, so check ahead.
2. Canoe with a ranger. Four to five hour tours take you into the heart of the swamp.
3. If you like your vacation on the less sedate side, there are commercial activities from outside companies that are allowed within the preserve and take your adventure here to new dimensions. We're talking swamp buggy tours, pole boat tours, kayak and canoe trips, or for the more traditional tourists, van tours of the front country in safari mode.
Photo above: Another view of the fauna in the swamp at Big Cypress. Courtesy Flickr page of Big Cypress National Preserve. Below: Seminole Indian Village pictured above in 1972 along the Tamiami Trail. Courtesy National Archives.