Created by the Florida Trail Association, the Collier-Seminole Hiking Trail is one of South Florida’s most beautiful trails, but it’s not for the inexperienced hiker. Wilderness savvy is in order, as you’ll be wading the better part of 6 miles to experience a watery forest like none other – the Big Cypress Swamp. This loop is a real workout! Start at the parking area and use the blue connector to reach the orange-blazed main trail. Turn right to walk counterclockwise around the loop. You’ll wade through thick cypress strands and across sloughs; splash through wet flatwoods; cross wildflower-dotted prairies, and appreciate the high ground in the tropical hammocks.
Length: 6.5 miles
Lat-Long: 25.990033, -81.578300
Fees / Permits: state park use fee
Bug factor: annoying to extreme
CAUTIONS: Do not take small children on this trail. Unless you visit on a chilly day in the dead of winter, the mosquitoes are fierce: wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and a hat; carry insect repellent; and bring a mosquito head net just in case. This can also be a very wet hike, where you’ll slog through ankle-to-knee deep water through several stretches of cypress swamp. You’ll wade through several streams bounded by thick, sticky mud. Bring spare clothing and shoes to change into after the hike. Backpackers may want to carry a large trash compactor bag to put their packs into for water crossings. Do not attempt this trail during the wet season or after a recent rain. Always first consult with the park rangers as to trail conditions.
SPECIAL INSTRUCTIONS: Before you start your hike, you must check in at the ranger station, pay your state park use fee, and inform them you are hiking the trail before proceeding to the trailhead. Let them know if you intend to use the backpacker’s campsite, or they will come looking for you when the park closes. The ranger will give you a combination to the gate. From the ranger station at the main entrance, drive 0.8 mile east on US 41. Stop at the gate on the north side of the road, and use the combination to unlock it. Lock it up behind you. Drive along the dirt road until you come to a broad spot next to a pond. Park here but do not block the gate.
From I-75, take exit 101, Naples / Marco Island. Drive south on CR 951 for 7.1 miles to US 41. Turn left to continue east 8.5 miles to the park entrance on the right, just beyond the turnoff to Marco Island at Royal Palm Hammock. From the east, the Collier-Seminole State Park entrance is 15.5 miles west of the FL 29 / US 41 junction north of Everglades City.
A blue-blazed connector trail starts at the FT sign at the parking area, leading you across undulating terrain through stands of sand live oaks in the scrubby flatwoods. After 0.1 mile, you reach a T intersection with the orange-blazed loop. Turn right to hike the loop counterclockwise—the recommended direction, as it leaves the wettest portion of the trail for last. That doesn’t mean you won’t hit water right away, as the trail is the low spot in the forest, and tends to be wet; cypress knees as big as footstools poke out of inky water. Emerging from the cypresses, the trail rises into cabbage palm flatwoods.
At 0.5 mile, the trail crosses an abandoned forest road and makes a sharp turn left at a double-blaze into dense forest. Although narrow, the trail corridor remains distinct. Emerging from this wet section, you rise up into a drier prairie. Cypresses close in around the footpath again around 1.3 miles; keep alert for each blaze through the maze of trees.
Another forest road crosses at 1.5 miles. If you need to cut your hike short, this is your last chance to do so before heading into the heart of the swamp—turn left and walk 1.5 miles back along the road to the gate at the parking area. Otherwise, continue across the road past the “FT” sign and into the prairie beneath the pines. At 2 miles, you cross another road and pass a bench.
After 2.8 miles, you reach the 0.4-mile blue blaze to the backpacker’s campsite. Continuing along the orange blazes, you walk through a high and dry forest before dropping down into a narrow corridor through a cypress slough, passing another bench at 3.4 miles. After 4 miles, you start to hear traffic on US 41, and drop into another stretch of swamp at 4.5 miles. Watch for a sharp left at a double blaze.
At 5.2 miles, you see Miccosukee chickee huts hiding in the woods. This small village is part of the Miccosukee Reservation, so respect their privacy and do not approach the village from the trail. Blazes lead left, and you wade into the wettest part of the cypress swamp, approaching a series of sloughs that drain into the mangrove marshes on the south side of US 41. A new long bridge carries you across the deepest slough at 5.6 miles. The others must be waded. Use a hiking stick for balance in the muck.
Rising back up into a shady hammock, the trail snakes between laurel oaks and cabbage palms on its way to the centerpiece of this hike: a tiny remnant of the vast royal palm hammock that once covered the high ground between the swamps. Royal palms tower overhead as the trail winds through the hammock, passing a bench at 5.9 miles, zigzagging between the bases of these regal trees. Keep alert for a sharp left turn at a double blaze at 6.1 miles, where the trail rises up into cabbage palm flatwoods. The wettest part of the hike is behind you. When you reach the forest road, turn right—and follow the dry, easy walk back to the parking area. After 6.6 miles, you emerge at the gate and parking area, completing this tiring but beautiful hike.