Spanning over 60,000 acres, the CREW project identifies the boundaries of the largest watershed in Southwest Florida. CREW is short for Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed, and over 54,000 acres of this biome are protected land.
Several agencies are involved in management, including the CREW Land and Water Trust, the Audubon Society, and the South Florida Water Management District.
The project focuses on providing a habitat for a multitude of native species, recharge of the aquifer, filtering impurities, and flood control.
The CREW Cypress Dome Trails provide an extensive trail system, traversing diverse woodland ecosystems alongside an expansive marsh.
Wildlife flourishes in these quiet woodlands, a residence to black bears, alligators, and Florida panthers.
This loop hike provides the only access point to adjacent Caracara Prairie Preserve, a Collier County conservation property with its own 2.6 mile loop.
This property also has a drive-up primitive campsite reservable though the South Florida Water Management District.
Resources for exploring the area
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Length: 4.4 mile loop
Trailhead: 26.456468, -81.562205
Address: 3980 Corkscrew Rd, Immokalee, FL 34142
Fees: Free, donations accepted
Restrooms: Portable restroom at trailhead
Land manager: South Florida Water Management District
Open one hour before sunrise and one hour after sunset.
Dogs are allowed on a leash. Expect wet feet for you and your dog.
Primitive camping is free, but you must reserve your campsite online in advance.
From Interstate 75 in Estero, head east on Corkscrew Rd for 13.9 miles. The trailhead is located on the right side of the road.
Starting at the parking area, head through the gate and turn right onto the green trail, passing a group of benches at the trailhead.
In 0.2 mile, a large covered structure known as Jim’s Pavilion stands to the left of the trail near a sign indicating the direction of a primitive campsite.
Continue southward, following green blazes for 0.2 mile through a pine flatwoods habitat before making a left turn.
Cabbage palms and tall slash pines rise from a lush shrubby landscape of saw palmettos, sumac, and fetterbush lyonia.
At the south end of the property, the trail turns left to head eastward for 0.2 mile before reaching the edge of a majestic cypress dome, its namesake trees towering above the surrounding forest.
In another tenth of a mile, the path begins to follow an old canal filled with surprisingly clear water.
Splashes of aquatic wildlife from the nearby canal blend with bird calls and the crunching leaves of occasional unseen mammal sneaking through the underbrush.
It is easy to imagine a Florida panther slowly creeping away from the trail to crouch in the bushes, hiding from an approaching hiker.
In 0.3 mile, the Green Trail takes a sharp turn to the northwest. Continue following the canal, joining the White Trail as the surrounding jungle becomes thicker.
Pass the junction for the Red Loop of the Caracara Prairie Preserve on the right just after Marker 6.
Gaps in the thick foliage lining the canal reveal spotted gar floating close to the surface, and an occasional gator sunning on the grassy edge.
At 1.7 miles, a sign denotes the beginning of the Wild Coffee Trail, a fantastic trek through a dense subtropical jungle.
Oaks and cabbage palms form dense canopy over rich soils carpeted with ferns and wild coffee.
Giant air plants rest in nooks as strangler figs cling to trunks, slowly making their way towards the dappled sunlight above.
As the trail turns west, the animal-tracked mud becomes thicker, reaching the edge of a pop ash slough at 2.2 miles.
Although this section of trail is likely flooded most of the year, it is well marked.
White blazes lead though knee-deep tannic waters, while the abundance of trees provide handholds across the uneven terrain.
The inundated portion might be short depending on the time of year.
The trail ascends into pine flatwoods in 0.6 mile, shortly before reaching the Green Trail again. Turn right, following green blazes for 0.2 mile, then turn right onto the Yellow Trail loop.
The Yellow Trail is a wide pathway cutting through pine flatwoods dotted with sporadic cabbage palms and oaks.
A blue-blazed shortcut bisects the trail as it leads towards the north end of the property.
The Yellow Trail curves southward through the pines and ends at the trailhead in another mile.
More trails in the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed
CREW Marsh Trails
At CREW Marsh, a network of well-marked paths crisscrosses the northwestern tip of the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed, providing loops of up to 3.1 miles along a vast marsh.
CREW Bird Rookery Swamp
Rich with wildlife, CREW Bird Rookery Swamp near Naples provides up to 12 miles of hiking/biking in Big Cypress habitats on tramways through a primordial swamp
Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
Weaving beneath a canopy knit by old-growth cypress trees in a majestic swamp forest, the boardwalk at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is one of Florida’s best hikes
CREW Flint Pen Strand
Just four miles east of Interstate 75, get your feet wet in one corner of the vast the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed on the trails of Flint Pen Strand.
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
LaBelle Nature Park
Along a mile of interconnected footpaths at LaBelle Nature Park, walk a gentle half-mile loop with views of the Caloosahatchee River from a lush hammock
Caloosahatchee Regional Park
Providing a rare peek into unspoiled upland and floodplain habitats along the Caloosahatchee River, Caloosahatchee Regional Park evokes the wilderness in which the Calusa lived
Edison & Ford Winter Estates
Tropical gardens from the 1920s grow lavishly around the historic winter homes of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers
Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve
Winding 1.4 miles through the slough, the broad wheelchair-accessible boardwalk at Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve in Fort Myers leads you into a dark cypress strand