A foot of snow and sub-zero temperatures await me back home, I remind myself, as I work my way through Big Cypress Swamp. The day’s uncomfortable heat and humidity quickly dampen my shirt and cause droplets of sweat to pool on my forehead and rhythmically drip from my elbows. It’s a slog through the swamp’s calf-deep waters, that’s for sure. No wonder hikers average one mile per hour here. Yet despite the tough workout, the water is refreshingly cool and astonishingly clear, and the vibrant tangle of cypresses, pond apples, Jamaican dogwood and fern create a neon glow that brightens my way. I could have come here in March, toward the end of the prime swamp-hiking season, when the water has nearly dried up and the going is much easier. But what’s the fun of hiking through a dry swamp?
Navigating Big Cypress Swamp
From Oasis Visitor Center
Follow the fence west of the airstrip. (1.2 miles)
Watch for the thick, green sawgrass prairie in between 10 and 13 Mile Camps. Sawgrass is the most common plant in the Everglades.
When you reach the barbed wire fence (mile 20.4), be prepared to have wet feet for the remainder of your hike.
Black Lagoon at mile 23.1 holds the deepest water on the trail. But it’s a great place for filtering.
Turn left at the dirt buggy road at mile 29.5; from here it’s just 1.3 miles until I-75 and the end of the swamp.
10 Mile Camp (mile 9.7)
This spacious camp can hold at least a dozen, and there’s sparkling clear water in the nearby cypress dome. The easy miles leading here are a perfect warm-up for the swamp.
Oak Hill Camp (mile 23)
It can be quite buggy here if there hasn’t been a hard freeze yet. Get your water in the cypress strand 0.1-mile north of camp – in the very trail you’ll be hiking tomorrow.
Cleaning Up after Big Cypress Swamp
When you reach I-75, hose off your filthy socks, shoes and feet at the I-75 Rest Area, just past the EMS station. There are outside spigots; ask the attendant for a chuck key to turn one on. Don’t use the bathroom sinks, as there’s little water pressure. If you’re thru-hiking the trail, swamp experts recommend wearing old shoes and pitching them once you reach Billie Swamp Safari, 13.6 miles farther up the trail. Billie Swamp accepts packages for hikers if they’re sent UPS; mail replacement shoes there.
If You Go
TRAILHEAD: Oasis Visitor Center on US-41 (Tamiami Trail East).
SEASON: November through March
PERMIT: Registration required at Oasis Visitor Center; free backcountry permits also available at trailhead kiosks. CONTACT: nps.gov/bicy
DISTANCE: 28.8 miles
TIME: Plan 3 days
Backpacker, November 2017