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I think my favorite stop on our South Florida road trip was the Fakahatchee Hilton. I bet you’re picturing a five-star resort on the beach with unlimited drinks and the best view in the state. Well, it’s the exact opposite of that. It’s a little shack in the middle of the swamp at the Fakahatchee Strand State Park and Preserve. It does have a waterfront view, though.
The owners of the Fakahatchee Hilton let people visit it, hang out on the porch swing, and admire the alligators in the pond out back. Someone must sleep in it at some point because it has a bunch of bunk beds in it, but it was empty when we went. I think it would be so cool to stay there some time, so if you know how, let me know.
We set out from our campsite in Big Cypress and took our time on the Janes Memorial Scenic Drive. We didn’t see any wildlife on our way in this time, but we saw some adorable baby gators and a turtle another time. We got to the parking area in no time, about seven miles into the drive, and gathered our things before setting off on the two-mile flat and slightly muddy trail.
We were told the trail to the Fakahatchee Hilton was only two miles each way but it felt so much further than that. I don’t know if it was just because it was flat and straight or what, but it felt like it took forever. It’s totally worth it though, don’t get me wrong. If you want to make it go a little faster, you can rent bikes in Everglades City. I’m not sure if they’d want you bringing them out here though, so mention that at your discretion.
The trail itself is actually kind of a road, but I don’t think you can drive it. Maybe if you own the Hilton, but everyone else walks or bikes it. It’s a swampy woodsy area with water along the sides. Keep an eye out for gators in those areas. The road/path can get muddy, especially if it’s been rainy, so wear shoes you don’t mind getting dirty.
Eventually, you’ll see a little white spot coming up on the trail. That’s a little picnic table in front of the Hilton. Congratulations! You’re in the home stretch! On the left you’ll see the Fakahatchee Hilton in all it’s tinny glory. There is a little porch swing out front and a pond full of gators out back.
I think we counted at least 20 when we were there. A few were right around the little dock over the water. A few were on logs in the water. Two were on the trail just past the Hilton. And a ton were swimming around the pond. While there might not be a lot to do once you get there, I could have sat there watching the gators all day. After a while, we headed back.
It was a terrible walk back for me because I had two giant blisters on the bottom of my feet. I blame the humidity. On our way back, almost back to the car, we saw a giant gator on the trail. It actually surprised me and I jumped and made a little squealing noise. We just took its picture, admired it, said hello (I always have to say hello, even in the car) and went on our merry way. As soon as we passed him, he slid not so gracefully into the water.
Fun fact: when gators are just sitting there with their mouth wide open, they’re venting. It helps them cool off.
If you’re in South Florida, especially Southwest Florida, this is totally worth a stop. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon. It’s an easy hike and a great place to see some gators. Keep an eye out for orchids, which are really common in the Fakahatchee Strand, the elusive Florida Panther, and the even more elusive Skunk Ape.
If you don’t want to hike to the Fakahatchee Hilton, there is always the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk. This is just a short drive from Everglades City and about a half-mile walk. It’s probably a mile round-trip. It’s a nice walk through Old Growth Cypress and is the shortest hike in the park. You can also go Geocaching, kayaking, canoeing, birding, and biking, so no matter what you like, you can do it there.
We did the boardwalk on our way home and I really liked it. It was nice and easy, didn’t take too long, and we got to see some wildlife. At the end we saw two snakes, I’m not sure what kind but they were black. You can see them in the last picture on this post. If you know what kind they are, let me know in the comments!
We also saw a bird on our way in with a fish stuck on its beak. It was sitting on a log and had the fish speared with the top part of its beak and it was trying to catch the fish on the log to get it off, but it was really on there. We could see the beak through the fish. He would try and shake the fish off and it just stuck. After like, ten minutes he finally got the fish off, swallowed it, and was on his merry way back to doing bird things. I won’t lie, I was a little worried he wouldn’t be able to get the fish off and would starve.
I would definitely recommend a trip to Fakahatchee Strand State Park, whether you hike to the Fakahatchee Hilton or not. It’s a great Everglades Alternative and much less busy. It’s a great addition to a South Florida road trip.
Wildlife in Fakahatchee Strand:
- White-tailed deer
- Black bears
- Red Shouldered Hawk
- Roseate Spoonbill
- American Crocodile
- West Indian Manatee
- Florida Panther
- Everglades Mink
Tips for visiting Fakahatchee Strand State Park:
- The park entrance fee is $3 and can be paid in the little visitor center/entrance station.
- The Janes Memorial Scenic drive is where you’ll find the Fakahatchee Hilton.
- There are three other areas of the park as well: Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk, East River, and Jones Grade Lakes.
- Keep an eye out for Florida Panthers, Ghost Orchids, and Skunk Apes.
- I would recommend good walking shoes, hiking boots not necessary, that you wouldn’t mind getting wet or muddy. The trail to Fakahatchee Hilton is just a dirt road, but it’s muddy dirt, not dusty dirt.
- If you plan to walk in water at all, wear pants and close-toed shoes so you don’t get all cut up on the Sawgrass.
- Definitely, bring bug spray and lots of water because it gets hot.
- If you prefer biking over hiking, you can bike to the Fakahatchee Hilton, too.
- To get to the Fakahatchee Hilton, take the Janes Scenic Drive about seven miles in. There will be a parking area and the trail is on the right. When we went, the road was closed after this, so it was basically at the end of the road.
- The Janes Memorial Scenic Drive is dirt and a little pot-holey, but I think any car could make it. I would check at the little visitor center if you’re not sure or if it’s been rainy recently.
- If you see alligators on the trail, make sure you give them plenty of space.
- The hike to Fakahatchee Hilton is two miles each way. I think it felt longer, but apparently, it’s two.
Have you been to the Fakahatchee Hilton? Do you want to go? What about another park of the Fakahatchee Strand?