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Big Cypress National Preserve Camping

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Camping on Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida Everglades!

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Big Cypress National Preserve: North Of The Tamiami Trail

There is a more remote section of Big Cypress National Preserve located miles north of the Tamiami Trail. In fact, this section, call the Bear Island Backcountry Unit, is also north of Alligator Alley/I-75.

This area has miles of hiking trails and three campgrounds. Its popular with swamp buggies and ATVs.

In this Florida Rambler story on Everglades camping, theres a section on the Bear Island Backcountry.

A note from the editor:

The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning your trip.

This page may include affiliate links from which we may earn a modest commission if a purchase is made. More often, we include free courtesy links to small businesses, such as kayak outfitters, from whom we receive no commission.

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Camping At Bear Island

Awesome time camping at Bear Island Campground inside Big Cypress National Preserve! Super friendly staff at visitor center when you get to park! Great campsite, first come first serve!


It is a long drive across the Everglades but I think every American interested in the diversity of this countrys topography should see this. Make sure you stop at the visitor center to see the alligators.

I came to this area of Florida to visit Everglades National Park. I found out, though, that the famous Shark Valley area was flooded, the boat trips were booked, the kayaks were rented . Reluctantly, I decided to check out Big Cypress and realized it was better than anything I would have done in the National Park. There are multiple boardwalks and alligators were visible from almost all of them. At one of them, an alligator was camped out right in front of the parking area! One boardwalk includes a trip through a swampy area of the Everglades while another one has Cypress forests and another has an observation tower overlooking a swamp where I watched an alligator unsuccessfully stalk a heron.

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An Easy Stop In Big Cypress National Preserve: The Oasis Visitor Center

There are some exhibits here and its a good place to get answers to questions about trail and road conditions and pick up brochures, maps and a schedule of ranger programs.

But the real reason I suggest you stop here is that the large boardwalk out front overlooks a pond where youll usually see alligators. Periodically, a ranger or volunteer gives a short talk here about the alligator and its definitely worth hearing. Id been seeing gators in Florida for years and I still learned some really interesting things from the ranger.

By the way, the Oasis Visitor Center has an unexpected history. It was originally part of a private airport and had a Lockheed Constellation airplane mounted on its roof. You can see a picture here.

It is also th southern terminus of the Florida National Scenic Trail, a 1000-mile hiking trail that goes all the way to Pensacola, in the Panhandle and the Central Time Zone.

Big Cypress Preserve Oasis Visitor Center52105 Tamiami Trail East

Gator Hook Trailhead in Big Cypress National Preserve,

Visitor Centers In Big Cypress National Preserve


Youll find two visitor centers located here. Big Cypress Swamp Visitor Center welcomes you to the Preserves west-side entrance, just 2 miles east on Tamiami Trail and the SR 29 intersection . Youll find indoor and outdoor exhibits as well as printed material, and a film detailing stories of the swamp and recreational activities available.

Mural Exhibit at Big Cypress Swamp Visitor Center

The Oasis Visitor Center is located approximately 20 miles east on Tamiami Trail. This center is larger and provides items for sale, brochures, indoor exhibits and an introductory film about the Preserve. There youll find a boardwalk and perhaps your first glimpse of alligators in their natural habitat. These alligators are not enclosed, having free-will to come and go as they please. The narrow waterway beneath the boardwalk connects with other waters and swamps within the Preserve.

Oasis Visitor Center Boardwalk

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Details About Big Cypress National Preserve

Size – 729,00 acres

Check out how the park compares to otherNational Parks by Size.

Date Established


In 2021, Big Cypress NP had 2,563,810 park visitors.

In 2020, Big Cypress NP had 1,181,930 park visitors.

In 2019, Big Cypress NP had 1,007,471 park visitors.

Learn more about themost visited andleast visited National Parks in the US National Park System.

National Park Address

Nathaniel P. Reed Visitor Center33000 Tamiami Trail East, Ochopee, Florida 34141239-695-4758

52105 Tamiami Trail East, Ochopee, Florida 34141239-695-4111

Big Cypress National Preserve Headquarters33100 Tamiami Trail East, Ochopee, Florida 34141239-695-1103

Key West International Airport

Sarasota Bradenton International Airport

Driving Directions

From Floridas West Coast:

Take I-75 South to Exit 80, SR-29. Head south on SR-29 17 miles to where it intersects with US-41 . Turn Left onto US-41 southbound and proceed approximately two miles. Nathaniel P. Reed Visitor Center will be on your right, on the south side of US-41 .

From East & South Naples, Everglades City, Marco Island:

Take US-41 southbound as if they were heading for Miami. Keep an eye out for the intersection of US-41 / SR-29 you will only go approximately two miles further beyond that intersection. Nathaniel P. Reed Visitor Center will be on your right, on the south side of US-41. The Oasis Visitor Center is another 20 miles down the road on the opposite side.

From Floridas East Coast:

From Southwest Florida:

History Of Big Cypress National Preserve

People have been exploring the Everglades area of southern Florida for centuries. From native tribes to European explorers and other settlers, the wetlands have been a source of intrigue throughout history.

After the creation of the Tamiami Trail in 1928, access to the region opened up to anyone who could afford a Model T.

Southern Florida quickly became subject to a building boom, and Big Cypress National Preserve almost fell prey to the development of a jetway.

Luckily, the people of Florida protested the destruction of this incredible area, and in 1974 the preserve was created to protect the area.

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Spend The Night In Big Cypress

Campgrounds may close seasonally, temporarily for repairs or for resource concerns. Information will be on the reservation website, or contact the Oasis Visitor Center at 239-695-1201, or Big Cypress Welcome Center at 239-695-4758 for campground information on closures.

Reservations for camping can be made through for all campgrounds except Pink Jeep, Mitchell Landing, Gator Head, and Bear Island. Pink Jeep, Mitchell Landing, Gator Head, and Bear Island Campgrounds are first-come first-served and no reservations are taken. Pink Jeep and Gator Head are accessible only by permitted off-road vehicles, biking or hiking.

Big Cypress National Preserve consists of 729,000 acres of backcountry with several miles of multi-use trails to explore. Backcountry camping allows you to immerse yourself in the beauty and challenge of the Preserves wild side. By carrying everything you need to survive on your back, or in your off-road vehicle you can discover a world beyond where the pavement ends.

A Backcountry Camping Permit is required for all backcountry camping. Permits are free and can be filled out on-line and printed. Additionally, they are located at every backcountry trailhead and you can get them at both visitor centers. The permits take only a few minutes to complete. Please click on the link to the right to get started.

Sites 1-12 are open year-round.Sites 13-40 are open August 15-April 15.

Where To Stay When Visiting Big Cypress National Preserve

Review: Midway Campground, Big Cypress National Preserve – plus site tour

There are no National Park Lodges within the park.

There are eight front country National Park Service campgrounds available at Big Cypress National Preserve.

In addition, there are also various backcountry campgrounds located around the park.

Bear Island Campground

40 sites for tents and RVs

Open year-round

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Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park

Home to numerous animal and plant species found only in Florida, Fakahatchee Strand Preserve is the largest state park in Florida. Nestled in a uniquely forested swamp, this park is located just west of Big Cypress National Preserve.

There are four main areas of this park to explore, including the lengthy Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk. A stroll along this walkway winds its visitors through the incredibly pristine section of the swamp and culminates in an observation deck for viewing the ever-exciting alligator pond.

Alternatively, if you are interested in canoeing or kayaking, you should visit the East River or the Jones Grade lakes. Finally, if hiking and biking are your things, Janes Memorial Scenic Drive will not disappoint. For instance, the West Main trail traverses two miles of strand swamp before unfolding into a beautiful marle prairie.

Islands National Wildlife Refuge

Do some kayaking, paddling, and camping among the islands, but it can be easy to get lost in the islands. A handheld GPS that tracks your path would be very helpful if you got lost and needed to backtrack.

Youll need to use tide tables to help plan a paddling trip here. If you dont feel confident in visiting on your own then you can do a narrated boat tour from the Gulf Coast visitor center.

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Campgrounds In Big Cypress National Preserve

Several backcountry campgrounds are located throughout the Preserve, however, the most popular campground with RVers is Midway. Midway Campground, located just east of the Oasis Visitor Center, consists of a large oval loop with 26 RV sites plus an additional 10 sites for tents. Each large, paved RV site has an electric hookup, picnic table and fire ring. Potable water is available at the entrance in order to fill your fresh water tank. A dump station is also on-site.

Midway Campground Loops Around Center Lake

Midway is open year-round. Youll only find camp hosts here November through April each year. January April, sites can be reserved for a maximum of 10 days or 14 days for the remainder of the year. The campground loop surrounds a lake giving each site a waterfront view. There is one modern restroom, however, there are no showers.

Typical Campsite at Midway Campground

Reservations can be made 6 months in advance to the date of your arrival at and a 50% discount is provided with your America the Beautiful Pass. This is a well-maintained, peaceful campground right in the heart of Big Cypress.

Typical Sign Found at Campgrounds Throughout Big Cypress

Do not expect Wi-fi within Big Cypress. Midway has no cell service, however, cell service may be available in Monument Lake due to a few cell towers in the vicinity.

Go Kayaking Or Canoeing

Big Cypress National Preserve

There are four paddling trails that take anywhere from 3-7 hours to do depending on launch and takeout points, paddle speed, and tide levels.

Youll want to arrange a second vehicle or shuttle ride from your takeout point so you can get back to your car. If you do any, just be sure youre fit/experienced enough to finish and dont be afraid to turn around if you need to.

Turner River Paddling Trail

  • 9.93 miles
  • It takes 4.5-7 hours and is moderate difficulty
  • The entry point is at US-41 paddling access site west of Turner River Road and takeout points are Chokoloskee Island or the NPS Gulf District Ranger Station.
  • Youll see a cypress strand, a sawgrass prairie, and intertidal mangrove trees.
  • Watch out for airboats and powerboat traffic in the lower prairie.

Halfway Creek Paddling Trail

  • 7.28 miles
  • 4-5 hours and is moderate difficulty
  • You can add the Halfway Creek Loop to the trail which will increase distance by 3.7 miles and 2 hours.
  • The entry point is at Seagrape Drive, 1/4 mile west of the Big Cypreess Headquarters in Ochopee and takeout points are the NPS Gulf District Ranger station or Chokoloskee Island.
  • Youll see sawgrass prairies and mangrove forests.
  • Watch out for commercial airboats.

Lefthand Turner River Paddling Trail

Sandfly Island Loop Paddling Trail

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When In Big Cypress Preserve Consider These Experiences

Visiting Big Cypress Preserve combines well with visiting the Shark Valley area of Everglades National Park, which is immediately east of the preserve on the Tamiami Trail.

In winter, there is perhaps no better place to see Everglades wildlife than Shark Valley, a section of Everglades that features a 15-mile paved trail ideal of bicycling and walking. When the Everglades begin to dry out, alligators, birds, turtles and even otters gather along the waterway that lines this trail, providing superb close-up wildlife views.

Shark Valley also offers a narrated tram ride plus bike rentals. A Florida Rambler guide to Shark Valley.

In contrast to the $30 admission fee to Shark Valley and Everglades National Park, my other top recommendation is FREE.

Just west on U.S. 29 on the Tamiami Trail is The Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk, part of Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park. Its a 2,000-foot-long boardwalk through old growth cypress swampland and it is a truly stunning place. Its worth taking the time to take a stroll here its one the prettiest boardwalks in the Everglades and maybe in the whole state. Heres a Florida Rambler guide to the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve.

Camping In Big Cypress National Preserve

There are five park service campgrounds along the Tamiami Trail managed by the Big Cypress Preserve. Only Midway has hookups and a dump station for RVs. A second dump station is located at Dona Drive .

All of the campgrounds in Big Cypress offer access to recreational activities, including hiking, biking, fishing, hunting, photography and off-road vehicle trails.

Two of the campgrounds Pinecrest and Mitchells Landing are along Loop Road. Both are primitive campgrounds and are first come, first served .

Unlike Everglades National Park, dispersed camping for backpackers and hikers is permitted anywhere in Big Cypress south of Alligator Alley . Whether you are entering the back country for a day or a week, by car or on foot, you must have a backcountry permit, which you can

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A Combination Of Preservation And Outdoor Fun

Founded in 1974, Big Cypress National Preserve was the first national preserve to be established in the U.S. Spanning 729,000 acres, Big Cypress is home to a variety of animals, including panthers and alligators. Additionally, the diverse ecosystem of the fresh-water swamp also provides a complex habitat for a variety of wildlife.

Florida Panther Cubs at Big Cypress National Preserve. Photo credit Big Cypress National Preserve on Facebook.

Big Cypress offers visitors more than just outdoor activities. For instance, the preserve is home to the Seminole and Miccosukee tribes, allowing visitors to learn their rich heritage.

Turner River Mangrove Tunnel at Big Cypress National Preserve. Photo credit Big Cypress National Preserve on Facebook.

Backcountry Camping Rules & Regulations

Midway Campground, Big Cypress National Preserve

Except for the periods and locations indicated below, no camping gear can be left in the backcountry when the user is not actively camping and staying overnight at the campsite.

An individual may camp or leave camping gear unattended in backcountry areas of the Preserve, except for Zone 4, including the designated sites in the Bear Island campground, Gator Head and Pink Jeep campsites, for the length of the specific hunting season as follows:

  • Archery Season/Muzzle loading Season
  • General Gun Season
  • Spring Turkey Season

Backcountry camping in the Bear Island Unit is permitted only at designated campsites .

Campers who leave equipment at the Bear Island, Gator Head, and Pink Jeep Campgrounds in the Bear Island Unit will be required to pay the daily camping fee for the days their equipment occupies the site.

In Zone 4: airboat users must camp in designated campsites only backcountry camping is allowed in other areas of Zone 4 when access is gained by foot or non-motorized vessel, and the campsite is located at least 1/2 mile from the Loop Road and 1/4 mile from any designated campsite or airboat trail no personal property can be left in the backcountry anywhere in Zone 4 when the user is not actively camping and staying overnight at the campsite.

Once the daily limit has been reached for each time period, no person, party, or organization may use another designated area for the remainder of that season.

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