Humidity crept into the still morning air, coloring the swamp with a mild haze. Standing behind his medium-format camera, the photographer watched and waited, waited and watched.
A green heron appeared, fluttering to the edge of the flag pond. Quick! The photographer took several frames, and moved on. There are plenty of subjects to draw the eye along the boardwalk at Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve.
Winding 1.4 miles through the slough, the broad, wheelchair-accessible boardwalk leads into a dark cypress strand. Loggers cleared the cypress swamps of Lee County in the 1930s, so most of the trees along this hike are young.
A few exceptions to the rule are the grand giants overshadowing the edges of the flag ponds, where alligators lurk. No worries, you’re several feet above their reach.
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Location: Fort Myers
Length: 1.4 mile loop
Trailhead: 26.571167, -81.826117
Address: 7751 Penzance Blvd, Fort Myers FL 33966
Fees: parking fee of $1 per hour
Restroom: at the trailhead
Land manager: Lee County
From January through April, the parking lot is often full from 10-3. Try to plan to arrive earlier or later.
Dogs are NOT allowed. The accessible boardwalk is open dawn to dusk daily. Please limit cell phone use.
The LEED-certified interpretive center, with exhibits and a gift shop, is open 10-4 Tue-Sun.
Be sure to obtain your parking permit from the automated machine ($1 an hour or $5 per day) and place it in your windshield before you start the hike.
From Interstate 75 exit 136, Colonial Blvd, continue west to Six Mile Cypress Parkway. Drive 3.2 miles south along the parkway to the preserve entrance, which is on the left.
Follow the boardwalk into the slough from the entry kiosk. A side boardwalk to the restrooms leads left. Continue straight ahead into the young cypress swamp.
Slash pines tower overhead before Alligator Lake becomes visible. Created by dredging to build Six Mile Cypress Parkway, this deep stretch of water provides a haven for little blue herons, white ibises, and alligators.
At an interpretive kiosk, turn left to walk past an outdoor amphitheater for a view of Alligator Lake, with benches for wildlife watching. Continue along the main trail to the T and turn left.
The loop begins at 0.2 mile. Continue straight ahead as the boardwalk follows the shore of Alligator Lake, providing nice views. Take a look into the water from the fishing deck.
After the trail continues into the cypress swamp, the forest closes in, a dark and magical place. Look up to be rewarded with glimpses of giant bromeliads, giant wild pine, and several varieties of orchids.
At the cross-trail between the two boardwalk loops, continue straight. Tall alligator flag outlines the edge of a pond. A “Wood Duck Pond” sign indicates a spur trail to an observation platform.
This is the first of several flag ponds along the boardwalk. Deeper than the rest of the flooded forest, flag ponds provide habitat for bluegill, gar, largemouth bass, and other species.
After a visit to the pond, continue on the main trail. At the next stretch of open water, stop to see the oldest cypress in the slough, a gnarled pond cypress broader than it is tall.
The trail turns south into the dense slough. The forest pulses with life. Cypresses and oaks are covered in air plants and orchids.
A bench overlooks of a dark pool ringed with massive strap ferns. Water seeps slowly towards a flag pond in the distance. Pass the cross trail at 0.8 mile and continue straight ahead.
The boardwalk curves around an American elm swaddled in a thick growth of resurrection fern. The “Otter Pond” sign marks another spur trail worth exploring to a flag pond.
Reach a shaded observation deck after 1 mile. Watch for the turnoff to Pop Ash Pond, the prettiest of the flag ponds. It is down a spur trail that passes giant clumps of strap fern.
The covered deck is built like a large blind, fabulous for bird-watching. Look for snowy egrets, white ibises, anhinga, tricolor herons, and the occasional roseate spoonbill. Signs assist with bird identification.
Back on the main trail, the boardwalk continues through the cypress strand. The loop ends after 1.2 miles. Turn left to follow the boardwalk back to the parking lot.
See our photos of Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
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
A forest of mangroves along the Caloosahatchee River, Four Mile Cove Eco Preserve is a rare find in Cape Coral, with a 1.2-mile loop hike partly on a boardwalk through the mangrove fringe.
When Dr. Cyrus Teed founded a commune along the banks of the Estero River in 1894, he envisioned a utopia in the tropics. Koreshan State Park preserves that slice of history.