East of Naples, the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk offers a peek into one very tiny corner of the Fakahatchee Strand, but it’s significant in two ways.
With a prominent trailhead along US 41, it’s the most accessible and therefore most highly visited piece of Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park.
It’s also a notable natural landmark, a stand of virgin cypress in an otherwise cut-over cypress strand.
Why is it still here? The land was in private hands when the Lee Tidewater Cypress Company worked its way across the region.
While the company tore down old-growth forest in Florida’s own Amazon, this smidgen of the ancient strand remains.
Tunnel into the heart of the swamp on this brief but beautiful boardwalk to experience a spectrum of green vegetation and the majestic cypresses that tower above.
Resources for exploring the area
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Location: Everglades City
Length: 1.2 mile round-trip
Trailhead: 25.941796, -81.469376
Address: Along US 41 W of SR 29
Fees: $3 per vehicle
Land manager: Florida State Parks
Open 8 AM to sunset. Be alert for alligators and black bears. Do not approach the adjoining Miccosukee Village. Do not leave the boardwalk.
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.
The trail opens up into a clearing with picnic benches and a limestone monument with a National Natural Registered Landmark plaque from 1966.
The boardwalk begins here. It has been replaced–again–since our most recent visit, but riotous growth is normal along it.
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. Water spangles, a floating fern, swirl across shallow pools.
You’ll see tall red-tipped marsh ferns, primordial-looking giant leather ferns, and delicate royal ferns.
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. Look closely: delicate lichens and rare whisk ferns peep out of the folds of these magnificent giants of the forest.
Look up, too, into the pop ash and pond apple trees, where orchids thrive. 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.
In winter, red maples are ablaze in deep crimson. Ferns fill the soggy forest floor at all times of year.
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 follow the boardwalk, keeping alert for wildlife. This is the home of the Florida panther, and one 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, complete the 1.2-mile walk
Learn more about Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park
See our photos of Big Cypress Bend
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
On the Marsh Trail, immerse yourself in the mangrove maze of the Ten Thousand Islands on a trail that takes you to places you’d normally only see from a boat.
Protecting nearly three quarters of the million-acre Big Cypress Swamp, Big Cypress National Preserve is Florida’s largest and most remote wilderness.
Protecting the largest natural hammock of royal palms in the United States, Collier-Seminole State Park opened in 1947 south of Naples along the Tamiami Trail.