Have you ever gone for a walk in the Everglades? No, I’m not talking about hiking raised shell covered trails in the Glades. I’m talking about actually walking in the swamp with water, at times, up to your waist.
No? Then it’s time to get past your fears and give it try.
Winter in Southwest Florida is technically dry season as opposed to our summer very rainy wet season. As the rains slow down the sheet flow of water headed to the tip of Florida also begins to slow and causes lower water tables in the swamps. It’s a great time to put on old clothing you don’t mind getting muddy and setting out on a new adventure. Believe me, you won’t regret this.
First and foremost you’ll need a guide. I wouldn’t recommend stomping around in the swamp for the first, or even second time without one. The Big Cypress Oasis Visitor Center located on the north side of the Tamiami Trail in Ochopee, Florida is a good place to start. Their ranger guided swamp walks begin in December and it would be a good idea to book in advance. I’ve done several there and they were without a doubt one of the most fun things I’ve done in Florida.
For the walk you’ll need to wear long pants, long sleeve shirt and shoes that you don’t mind getting very muddy. I used old tennis shoes on my walks, but waterproof hiking boots would also do the trick. Add a small backpack with drinking water, bug spray and a zippered plastic bag to hold car keys, wallet and your cell phone. There’s always a chance of getting wet so precautions are best. A walking stick would also be a good addition.
The entry into the swamp is… well, creepy. The water is about shin deep and the bottom is very mucky. I was raised in Florida and I still remember my mother saying, “Don’t go in the swamp, something will eat you” and there I was disobeying my mom and a cardinal rule of living in Florida.
As we progressed, the water got slightly deeper and much clearer. The bottom also turned quite hard as we began walking on limestone. My fears begin to lessen as I looked up at the cypress dome of trees in front of us. It was amazingly beautiful. As we entered the dome you could feel the coolness of the air as it matched the water temperature. There were small minnows and fish and lots of plants that I didn’t recognize. One plant in particular with small yellow or purple flowers explained why we weren’t being eaten by mosquitoes. They’re called bladderwort, an aquatic plant that floats in water and has small bladders that collect tiny insects. Goodbye mosquitoes.
The walks are easy and just about all ages can participate. The park rangers are well versed about the plants and wildlife and there are stops along the way of show and tell. You might even get lucky and see a wild orchid or two.
Besides the Oasis location I’d recommend the private guided swamp walks at the Clyde Butcher Big Cypress Gallery, also located in Ochopee. While there you can also enjoy the black and white landscape photography of Clyde Butcher. A good many of us Floridians refer to him as the Ansel Adams of Everglades landscape photography. The photos are truly amazing and capture what it’s like to be in the middle of the Glades.
By the way. On all three of my walks I never saw a snake or an alligator. Just saying.
Captain Rob Modys is a lifetime Florida outdoorsman, retired spin & fly fishing guide and host of REEL Talk Radio on ESPN 99.3 FM every Saturday morning. He is past president and board chairman of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association and serves on the board of the Florida Guides Association. Capt. Rob also shares his fishing knowledge in a series of fishing classes at Bass Pro Shops.