Located in the small Everglades town of Ochopee just West of the Oasis Visitors Center along US 41, this roadside park has a ½ mile birding trail and elevated boardwalk that provides family friendly access to the enchanting swamplands of Big Cypress. The boardwalk is built wheelchair accessible and has occasional thatched roofs to provide shelter from the harsh sun or unexpected rains. The shelters are a great place to stand quietly while observing wildlife out in the wet prairies. Large wading birds such as egrets and herons can often be seen fishing in the saw grass prairie. Wild hog, white tail deer, alligators, and Florida Panthers are also no strangers to these parts.
There are several habitats to observe as the boardwalk begins at an expansive seasonally wet prairie with saw grass and an occasional dwarf cypress tree. The dwarf cypress trees are indicative of the shell of limestone that lies below the earth’s surface in the Big Cypress. This short excursion soon has you in the midst of a shady cool cypress slough. Look up to see the trees decorated with gray mosses and green epiphytes and look down to see floating hearts with their delicate white flowers covering the clear water’s surface. Unlike other swamplands, the waters in the Big Cypress tend to be clear and slow moving. The boardwalk then takes a turn and leads you out into the wet prairie. Stop to watch for wildlife while taking shelter under the thatched roof. Soon the boardwalk ends at a small pool of water that could serve as a gator hole during the dryer seasons. Take a moment to watch for turtles, alligators, and large wading birds foraging in the waters. Listen for migrating songbirds in the tree tops before retracing your steps back down the boardwalk.
If you have time, stop in at Oasis Visitor Center to learn about Big Cypress National Preserve and the National Scenic Florida Trail. Another gem of a stop located a little further to the east is world renowned photographer Clyde Butchers photo gallery. Clyde is world famous for photographing the Everglades in an Ansel Adams black and white style. If you are visiting on a weekend, Clyde might just be hanging around the studio.
Hours: Sunrise to sunset, 365 days.
Directions: Located on the South side of US 41 just west of the Oasis Visitor Center along US 41 (Tamiami Trail).
Facilities: No facilities.
Part 1 of 3 – Family Friendly Everglades hikes: Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk
Part 3 of 3 – Family friendly Everglades’s hikes: 10,000 Islands NWR