To the east of Naples, the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk at Fakahatchee Preserve State Park offers a peek into one tiny corner of the Fakahatchee Strand, but it’s significant in two ways – it’s the most accessible and therefore most highly visited corner of the preserve, and it’s a notable natural landmark, a stand of virgin cypress in an otherwise cut-over strand. Why is it still here? The land was in private hands when the Lee Tidewater Cypress Company worked its way across the region, tearing down the old-growth forest in Florida’s own Amazon. Tunnel into the heart of the swamp on this brief but beautiful boardwalk trail to experience the hundreds of shades of green and the majestic ancient cypresses that tower above.
Location: Everglades City
Length: 1.2 miles
Lat-Long: 25.941796, -81.469376
Fees / Permits: none, but donation appreciated
Bug factor: moderate
For more information: Fakahatchee Stand Preserve State Park
From Naples, drive 17.1 miles east from the intersection of CR 951 (Collier Blvd) along US 41 (Tamiami Trail), passing Collier-Seminole State Park and Port of the Isles. There is a very large sign on the right, but parking is in a small space to the left. Do not block the gate to the Miccosukee Village. From the east, the boardwalk is 6.9 miles west of the blinker at the intersection of US 41 and SR 27 near Everglades City, which is 17 miles south of the I-75 Everglades City / Immokalee exit.
Your hike starts at the kiosk at the end of the parking lot, where there is a map and general information about the more than 85,000 acre preserve. Start your walk along the limestone berm between the fence for the Miccosukee village and the canal, keeping alert for wildlife along the water’s edge–sometimes otters, sometimes alligators, and frequently a variety of wading birds.
The trail opens up into a clearing with picnic benches and a limestone monument with a plaque that states that this section of the swamp was made a registered National Natural Landmark in 1966. The boardwalk begins here, and it is narrow and shows a bit of age. Vegetation crowds close to the sides of the boardwalk. Look, don’t touch–poison ivy climbs up some of the trees.
On the dry hummocks of the swamp, you’ll see tropical trees like myrsine, and royal palms raise their regal fronds above the low canopy of the forest. This is a fern-filled bowl, fed by a clear, clean rain-fed sheet flow of water. You’ll see tall red-tipped marsh ferns, primordial-looking giant leather ferns, and delicate royal ferns. Water spangles, a floating fern, swirl across shallow pools.
After 0.3 mile you reach a small deck built around the base of two large cypresses. The reason for this boardwalk is the stand of ancient bald cypress that remain here. Their bark is wrinkled and whorled, and if you look closely, peering around corners, you’ll see delicate lichens and even rare whisk ferns peeping out of the folds of these magnificent giants of the forest. Look up and into the pop ash and pond apple trees, and you may see evidence of orchids. Most species bloom during the summer months, but their leaves are a tell-tale sign. Bromeliads blossom in the trees. Dahoon holly sprinkles the deep green of the forest with deep red berries. Many of the trees, especially the towering cypresses, are held in tight embrace by strangler figs, a tree that sprouts in its host tree and sends roots downward. At this time of year, the red maples are ablaze in deep crimson.
A sharp right, and the boardwalk continues down a straightaway. There are many pools of water where water bugs zip and frogs go plop. The boardwalk ends along the edge of a flag pond, an area of deeper water within the swamp fringed by tall alligator flag. Swamp lilies sprout along the edges. Sit here on the observation deck and watch for the alligators. It’s a good place to observe herons along the edge of the deeper water, too. You’ve walked 0.6 mile.
Turn around and walk along the boardwalk, keeping alert for wildlife. This is the home of the Florida panther, and you never know when a big cat might be stretched out along a live oak limb. Otters splash in shallow pools, and turtles slip off their logs. The chatter of downy woodpeckers echoes through the swamp. At the end of the boardwalk, continue along the gravel path past the Miccosukee village, keeping an eye on the canal for wildlife. Returning to the parking area, you complete the 1.2-mile walk