Florida’s best and most extensive boardwalk hike tunnels deep into Corkscrew Strand, weaving between old-growth cypress trees under a majestic canopy of swamp forest.
Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary contains the largest stand of virgin bald cypress in the world, with trees up to 600 years old. Since the entire trail is wheelchair-accessible, and offers plenty of benches and rain shelters along the boardwalk route, it’s great for the entire family.
Managed by the National Audubon Society since 1912, Corkscrew Swamp, encompassing 315 square miles, is one of the most important breeding grounds for wood storks. It is also one of the few places you can see a ghost orchid bloom in the summer months.
Once you walk out to the strand swamp, you’ll understand why so many people flock here. There is a constant chatter of birds in the trees.
This is a world-renowned birding site, with nearly 200 species identified within the swamp, so expect to meet many birders along your walk, field guides and binoculars in hand.
Length: 2.3 miles
Trailhead: 26.375724, -81.603725
Address: 375 Sanctuary Road, Naples
Fees: See below
Restroom: In the nature center and outside the complex
Land manager: Audubon Florida
Opens 7 AM. Last admission 4:30 PM. Gates close 5:30 PM. Dogs are not permitted.
All visitors must pass through the Blair Audubon Center, which offers a movie about the swamp, interpretive exhibits and wildlife art, a gift shop, and a snack bar. Pay your admission here.
Admission costs $14 adult, Audubon member $10, student with ID $6, ages 6-18 $4, under 6 free. Your admission is good for two back-to-back days, so you can show up one afternoon and come back the next morning.
Visitors are encouraged to walk clockwise around the loop trail. Interpretive markers help you gauge how far you’ve walked along the way. For those who cannot do the whole 2.3 miles, a 0.7 mile loop is available.
Mosquitoes can be a problem any time of year, but especially in summer. Deer flies and yellow flies can also be an issue during late Apr-early Jun. Use repellent and wear long pants.
From I-75 exit 111 in Naples, Immokalee Road / Naples Park, drive east on CR 846. After 15.6 miles, turn left at the “Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary” sign onto CR 849.
Follow this road for 1.5 miles, which makes a sharp left, until you see the parking sign for the sanctuary. Turn right and park.
0.0 > As you exit the Blair Audubon Center, take a glance at the “Recent Wildlife Sightings” board. Keep to the left to follow the boardwalk into the pine flatwoods, where slash pines tower overhead.
0.1 > This is the edge of Corkscrew Island, a high spot surrounded by the sheet flow of the Big Cypress ecosystem. The boardwalk leads you across a broad, open wet prairie.
0.2 > The trail works its way to the shade of the cypress strand, where an observation deck offers your first opportunity for birding.
0.3 > Pass a side trail for staff. The trail rounds the corner, heading deeper into the strand. Alligator flag stands tall and pond apples crowd the boardwalk. This is the best place along the loop to see these fascinating trees up close.
0.4 > You pass a shortcut trail that leads to the Lettuce Lakes, creating a 0.7-mile loop for people with limited mobility. The main trail emerges on the edge of a large prairie at a side trail. Turn left to walk along the prairie’s edge to the Plume Camp rain shelter.
Interpretation explains the bird plume hunting that devastated South Florida’s wading bird population in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This wanton slaughter led to the formation of the first Audubon Society in 1896.
0.5 > After returning from the side trail, walk in the shade of the cypress strand. An observation platform on the prairie offers a good birding spot. The cypresses here are old but stunted.
0.6 > The boardwalk continues into the depths of the cypress strand, where giant strap ferns cast a primordial mood as they reflect in the inky shallows below. Rotting logs host colonies of fungi and ferns. You hear splashes in the shadows.
0.7 > Passing through a rain shelter, pause and watch for wildlife: small alligators, frogs, and turtles. The trees tower taller and taller, lifting the canopy to the heavens.
0.9 > All around you are the ancients of Corkscrew Swamp, bald cypresses rising up to 130 feet tall, with girths of up to 25 feet around. A side trail leads to an observation platform under the cypresses. Look straight up and marvel.
1.0 > Turn left to climb up to the observation platform along the marsh, where red maples show crimson colors in fall. It’s a sweeping view from the top, the marsh unexpectedly dry, choked with willows.
1.1 > Returning back to the main trail, continue straight, passing through the next rain shelter. A platform just beyond the shelter looks over a flag pond where the birds are especially active.
1.3 > All around you are enormous cypresses, many of which have equally gigantic strangler fig trees grappling with their trunks. It’s a place to feel Lilliputian.
1.5 > The boardwalk starts to zigzag across the Lettuce Lakes. These open spaces of deeper water gained their name from the water lettuce floating on the surface.
1.6 > The shortcut trail joins the main trail, which meanders gently through this wildlife watching area. Observation points offer a variety of perspectives and sometimes serve as perches for little blue herons and other wading birds.
1.9 > After the last flag pond, you pass the Bypass Trail. It’s only used in winter to bypass the wood stork rookery. The main trail continues its sinuous course through the cypress strand, coming to the other end of the Bypass Trail.
2.0 > The boardwalk zigzags through one last dense stand of cypresses before emerging at the open prairie between the swamp and Corkscrew Island.
2.2 > Cross the prairie. This is where you get the best view – behind you – of the strand. At the island’s edge, look for terrestrial orchids rising out of the pine duff.
2.3 > Returning to the trail junction with the “Recent Wildlife Sightings” board, record your observations to share with other visitors. Exit through the Blair Audubon Center to complete your walk.
Our slideshow of hiking Corkscrew Swamp
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