Description & History:
Welcome to the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, “the Amazon of North America”. The Fakahatchee Strand is a linear swamp forest, approximately twenty miles long by five miles wide and oriented from north to south. It has been sculpted by the movement of water for thousands of years and clean fresh water is the key to its existence. Beneath a protective canopy of bald cypress trees flows a slow moving, shallow river or slough that is warmer than the ambient temperature in the winter and cooler in the summer. The buffering effect of the slough and the deeper lakes that punctuate it shield the forest interior from extreme cold temperatures and this fosters a high level of rare and endangered tropical plant species.
The Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park hosts a wide array of habitats and forest types from the wetter swamps and prairies to the drier islands of tropical hardwood hammocks and pine rock lands. Its groves of native royal palms are the most abundant in the state and the ecosystem of the Fakahatchee Strand is the only place in the world where bald cypress trees and royal palms share the forest canopy. It is the orchid and bromeliad capital of the continent with 44 native orchids and 14 native bromeliad species. It is a haven for wildlife. Florida panthers still pursue white-tailed deer from the uplands across the wetlands. Florida black bears and Eastern indigo snakes, Everglades minks and diamondback terrapins can still be found here. The resident and migratory bird life is spectacular and attracts many enthusiastic visitors.
The southern portion of the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve is a part of one of the most productive estuarine ecosystems in the world. Beneath the surface, where fresh water gradually becomes more saline, ideal conditions exist for spawning and the development of the fry of commercially and recreationally important fish species. Rookeries of wading birds color the landscape with dots of white, blue and pink. Canoeists and kayakers enjoy exploring amidst the scenic beauty. Anglers ply the mangrove-hugged backwaters for snook, snapper, tarpon and redfish. West Indian manatees float about in slow motion while American crocodiles carry on their secretive existence, slipping in and out of the of the tannic water to bask in the sun. On the coastal keys of the Ten Thousand Islands, loggerhead and green sea turtles return annually to nest on the same spits of white sand beach from which they themselves once emerged.
In spite of the ecological damage visited upon the Fakahatchee Strand in the past by clear-cut logging, road building and drainage, it has recovered remarkably well and remains a fairly intact and functional natural system. The raised railway beds or trams of the old logging train still crisscross the Fakahatchee Strand and they create a grid of trails, many of which are maintained for hiking. The Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk provides visitors a glimpse into the past as it winds through a stand of primary cypress forest. It has much to offer and every season presents different opportunities for visitors. Contact the Preserve Office for upcoming activities like guided swamp walks and canoe trips.
Collier Seminole State Park provides visitors with the opportunity to enjoy numerous different activities, including the following:
Bicycling is a popular activity throughout Fakahatchee Strand. Jane’s Memorial Scenic Drive is composed of hard compact dirt and it is about twelve miles from the Ranger Station to the end at Picayune State Forest. Here you will travel through various ecosystems like cypress domes, pine forests and prairies. There are also off-road trails throughout the park where mountain biking or “fat-tire” biking opportunities are abundant. Trail conditions vary seasonally and can go from being dry to having standing water and muddy areas while some may be completely submerged.
One of the southernmost sites on the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail, Fakahatchee Strand Preserve is a popular site for birding. Visitors can expect to see Florida native, migratory and several species of tropical birds. Common sightings include: Swallow-tailed kite, red-shoulder hawks, Barred owls, warblers, Buntings such as indigo, woodpeckers, ducks, wading birds, Roseate spoonbill, eagles, osprey, shorebirds, turkeys and vultures.
Canoeing and Kayaking
Canoeing and Kayaking is available at the East River and in many lakes in other portions of the preserve. The East River is a 5.6 mile brackish waterway consisting of mangrove tunnels and lakes until ending at Daniel’s Point in Fakahatchee Bay. This trail is recommended for intermediate levels and higher. Before paddling check the tides for the day, the waterway is dependent on the tides. There are no trail markers please bring a map AND a GPS/compass. The East river is on the South side of US 41 (Tamiami Trail) and 5.2 miles West of SR 29 and about 1 mile East of the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk. The lakes in the preserve are freshwater, most popular sites for fishing from canoes and kayaks are near the ranger station at Janes’ Memorial Scenic Drive and at our northern end of the park at Jones Grade Road. Alligators and variety of birds can be seen in both areas.
There are many fishing locations throughout the preserve from brackish water to freshwater rivers, canals and lakes. See the park map for water source locations.
A 2,000-foot long boardwalk at Big Cypress Bend, meandering through the old growth cypress, is the shortest opportunity for visitors to experience the beauty of this unusual swamp. Many more trails exist in the preserve such as the East Main Tram (gate 12), West Main Tram (gate 7), and Uplands Hiking Trail. See the map for location and length. Each trail travels through different natural communities with many wildlife veiwing and birding opportunities.
Picnic tables can be found at the entrance of the park off Janes Scenic Drive and at the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk . Relax and have a meal/snack before or after your venture.
Fakahatchee Strand has abundant wildlife throughout the year. Many animals such as deer, bears, bobcats, raccoons, opossums, red-shouldered hawks, turkeys, barred owls and vultures are commonly seen in the park. The wetlands attract alligators, ducks, wading birds, roseate spoonbills, eagles, ospreys and many species of shorebirds.
$3.00 per motor vehicle (up to 8 people per car), or $2.00 per person (pedestrian or bicycles).