Drives offer comfortable view of Big Cypress
OCHOPEE, Fla. — Scenic drives within the Big Cypress National Preserve enable visitors to enjoy beautiful views comfortably accommodated inside their car.
Especially in the summer, when temperatures in Florida can reach 90 degrees during the day, this is a pleasant activity. But, of course, you will leave the air conditioning of your car many times along the road to take pictures of plants and animals you might find during the visit.
Before starting the journey, it is good to stop by the Oasis Visitor Center, located 50 miles west of Miami at U.S. 41. There you can find maps and get information about the park and the scenic drives. The Turner River / Wagonwheel / Birdon Roads Loop scenic drive is 14 miles from the Visitor Center and that was the one we chose to explore.
|Click on the video at right to see a slide show about the Big Cypress National Preserve photographed and prepared by writer Cassia Oliveira.|
Heading to our destination, we stopped by the Kirby Storter Roadside Park, where there is a half-mile boardwalk that leads you to the heart of the Big Cypress swamp.
Birds, plants and other natural noises that make you wonder which animal hides behind the trees near you, but these unusual sounds put you in contact with the nature.
Jennifer Walls, a resident of nearby Ochopee, recommends the walk.
|Visitors walk along the half-mile boardwalk at Kirby Storter Roadside Park. The path leads visitors into the heart of the Big Cypress swamp. (Photos by Cassia Oliveira). Below, several views of the preserve from one of the scenic drives.|
“What you have is two to three feet of crystal-clear water in the swamp. Actually I was there the other night and I saw a turtle and it was so clear I could see the turtle eating underneath the water. It was beautiful,” explained Walls.
The scenic drive begins on the Turner River Road, which, along with Wagonwheel Road and Birdon Road, forms a U-shape. It is 17 miles of dirt road and greenery. Right in the entrance of Turner River, H.P. Williams Roadside Park welcomes drivers with picnic tables, restrooms and a platform for wildlife watching.
Along the way, we came across several cars parked alongside the road. The problem was the cars driving past, leaving a cloud of sand that takes at least 10 seconds to disappear.
Nevertheless, it was a beautiful day and birds could be seen flying over the preserve.
The cypress trees don’t let you forget where you are. Actually, they cover two-thirds of the 720.000 acres protected area. The willow is another species of tree that you can easily find there.
“The experience of driving here is amazing and when you have the luck to see the animals near the road you have to stop for a closer look and record the moment,” said Bruno Couras, a civil engineer and scenic drive visitor.
The fact it was already the wet season, when water is plentiful throughout the preserve, made it hard to see the most famous resident of Turner River Road, the American alligator.
With more water in the preserve in summer, animals tend to spread out instead of congregating around the few remaining water holes of the dry season.
So, if you are a wildlife lover, the best season for visiting is November to April. The dry season is perfect for turtle, alligator and fish watching.
After traveling seven miles, you can turn west and enter the Upper Wagonwheel Road. The sign is not very visible. In fact, we passed the road, because we were not sure that was the right one.
Two miles later, we decided to go back and then, coming in the opposite way, it was possible to see the sign indicating the name of the road.
Anyway, the sign says just Wagonwheel Road, but we were almost sure it was the right one.
There you will see the Florida state trees – the cabbage palms – slash pines, aquatic plants and more birds. This three-mile road takes you to Birdon Road, heading south. Grouped, the Australian pines steal the show.
If you continue going south, you will end at U.S. 41 once again. You can also take the Wagonwheel Road turning west, which comes out to Janes Memorial Scenic Drive at the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve.
It is considered one of the largest orchid area strands in the United States, although they are hard to see.
“There is where I’ve seen my last panther and it was the most fascinating sight that I have seen. I was driving slowly and he was walking alongside the road. I slowed down, he knew I was there. He started galloping, went into the woods, and then I could just see his tail. It was just beautiful,” Walls recalled.
If You Go:
Big Cypress National Preserve
Located in South Florida between the cities of Miami and Naples. The main roads that traverse the site are Interstate 75 (Alligator Alley) and U.S. Highway 41 (Tamiami Trail). The Oasis Visitor Center is located along the Tamiami Trail, 50 miles west of Miami and 50 miles east of Naples.
Hours of Pperation:
Oasis Visitor Center: from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., every day but Christmas.
Oasis Visitor Center and general information: 239-695-1201, Administrative offices: 239 695-2000.
Big Cypress National Preserve map: