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 his 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.
Location: Fort Myers
Length: Up to 1.4 miles
Lat-Lon: 26.571167, -81.826117
Type: Loop and spur
Fees / Permits: none
Bug factor: moderate
The park is open 8 to sunset daily. The gate automatically closes at closing time. Free guided walks are offered; see their website for the schedule. A beautiful nature center opened in 2008, the first LEED-certified public building in Florida. As with all Lee County Parks, there is a parking fee of $1/hour or $5/day, paid via a machine that dispenses parking permits.
Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve is located in western Fort Myers off Six Mile Cypress Parkway, 3.2 miles south of Colonial Boulevard at the I-75 exit 136 interchange.
Start at the entry kiosk, following the boardwalk. White blooms of duck potato wave from the tops of tall stalks; red maple and wax myrtle crowd the forest. A boardwalk to the restrooms leads to the left. Continue straight into a young cypress swamp.
Here on the fringe of wet flatwoods, slash pines tower overhead. Rounding a corner, you can see open Alligator Lake beyond the trees. 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.
When you reach an interpretive kiosk, turn left to walk past an outdoor amphitheater to Alligator Lake. You’ll find benches here for wildlife watching.
Follow the boardwalk back along the left side of the amphitheater to return to the main trail, and turn left at the T intersection. The loop begins after 0.2 mile; continue straight here. The boardwalk jogs to the left to follow the shore of Alligator Lake, where star rush grows along the shore.
When you get to the fishing deck, pause to look down. Although the water seems black from a distance, it’s translucent when you peer into it. You may see tiny mosquitofish, gambusia, darting through the shallows. Thanks to their diet of mosquito larvae, this swampy hike is surprisingly bug-free.
As the trail continues into the cypress swamp, the forest closes in around you. It’s a dark and magical place. Look up, and you’ll be rewarded with glimpses of giant bromeliads, giant wild pine, and several varieties of orchids.
At 0.3 mile is the cross-trail between the two boardwalk loops. Continue straight. As the trail curves to the right, you see the tall forms of alligator flag outlining 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” here, named for the tall vegetation crowding around them during the wet season. Deeper than the rest of the flooded forest, flag ponds provide habitat for bluegill, gar, largemouth bass, and other species.
Take the spur, and then return to continue on the main trail. At the next stretch of open water, take a moment to enjoy the oldest cypress in the slough, a gnarled pond cypress broader than it is tall.
Turning away from its farthest point, the trail makes a sharp right and heads south. All around you, the forest pulses with life; cypresses and oaks are covered in air plants and orchids. A bench provides an overlook of a dark pool ringed with massive strap ferns, where water flows slowly towards a flag pond in the distance. At 0.8 mile is the other end of the cross trail; continue straight.
As the boardwalk curves around to the left, you’ll pass an American elm swaddled in a thick growth of resurrection fern. The “Otter Pond” sign marks another spur trail to a flag pond.
Continuing on the main trail, you’ll reach another shaded observation deck after 1 mile. Watch for the turnoff to Pop Ash Pond, the prettiest of the flag ponds. That spur trail leads pas more giant clumps of strap fern, and the covered deck is built like a large blind—fabulous for bird-watching. Look for snowy egrets, white ibises, anhinga, Louisiana herons, and the occasional roseate spoonbill. Interpretive signs assist you in bird identification.
Back on the main trail, continue through the cypress forest. The loop ends after 1.2 miles. Turn left to follow the boardwalk back to the parking lot.