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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 really easy hike though.
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.
I’ve actually been back to the Fakahatchee Hilton twice since I first wrote this post and it’s been totally different both times.
The first, well second, was January of 2021 and it was a spontaneous hike. We drive to the end of the park road, just to see if we saw any good wildlife then decided to hike it while we were there.
Instead of like the first time, we barely saw any gators, even in the pond out back. The little trail to the right of the Hilton if you’re facing it had a couple, I think, but not many.
I did see a smallish one on a log in that area from the dock on the side of the Hilton, but it was pretty far so pictures were hard to get. I did get a few though.
The dock was also redone between the first and second visits. It’s new wood so it doesn’t really fit the completely rustic “look” anymore but at least now you know you won’t fall through into the pond?
The only other big difference in this visit was that the windows were boarded up so you weren’t able to look inside anymore. It felt different but it’s still a great Everglades City hike.
The third visit there was in March of 2021 when my parents came to visit us in Florida. We spent some time near Sanibel, Tampa, and Fort Myers and came to the Fakahatchee Hilton and Big Cypress for a day trip from Fort Myers.
This time was quite different. The Fakahatchee Hilton trail is actually an old logging road and can still be driven on if you have permission, I assume.
Well, it was a normal, hot, sunny hike. We saw a couple people on their way out as we went in. When we got close to the Hilton, I saw a car. Then a couple more. And even more.
There were like, ten cars parked there and tents all over. I think it was scientists of some sort, but I don’t know why I think that.
So, it was still a great hike, and we had it to ourselves since we only really saw one other person there, but it wasn’t quite the same.
We couldn’t get a good view of the Hilton since there were cars and tents all over and in front of it but at least we got to see more gators this time.
There still weren’t as many as our first visit here but I still love the hike and would still recommend it to anyone visiting the area.
It’s easy and takes you to a cool thing that you won’t be able to see anywhere else. I’m sure I’ll be back again sooner than later.
How long is the Fakahatchee Hilton hike?
Four miles round-trip. I checked it both of the last two times I went and it was pretty much exactly four miles both times. But it’s an easy four miles.
It’s flat. It can be a little muddy sometimes and some spots have no shade so it can get hot. In the summer, there may be water on the trail, so be prepared iff you visit then.
It can feel like way more than two miles each way, but I think that’s just beecause it’s so flat and you can see so far ahead.
Where is the Fakahatchee Hilton?
At the end of Janes Scenic Drive in Fakahatchee Strand State Park and Preserve. It’s about seven miles in on a dirt road. Most cars can drive it fine, just use some caution as it is pretty pot holey.
There will be a metal gate across the main road and a big parking area. It may be empty, there may be one or two cars. The third trip I counted 15. 15!
To the right of the metal gate will be a board and an old muddy road/trail. This is the east tram trail and will take you straight to the Fakahatchee Hilton. It’s extremely easy to find.
What to bring to the Fakahatchee Hilton
Sunscreen – If you plan on being outside, you’ll want sunscreen. I like the Hawaiian Tropic Sheer Touch a lot AND it’s reef safe! If you’re sensitive to fragrance though, it’s not a good choice. I also like the same one but specifically for your face.
Hat – You’ll want some kind of hat to keep the sun out of your eyes. A baseball hat should be fine but a bucket hat or sun hat could help keep the sun off your neck.
Sunglasses – This is a must no matter where you are. Sunglasses are best paired with a hat on those really bright days.
Long sleeve shirt – A long sleeve shirt will help protect you from mosquitos. This is a must for a summer visit, but not 100% necessary for January and February, but it would be helpful.
Bug spray – You’ll want to bring this no matter when you visit, but especially if you want to go in the summer. I like the Ben’s bug spray as well as the Off! Deep Woods.
Good hiking shoes – If you’re sticking to boardwalks and other dry trails, Chacos will be good. If you want to go in the water or flooded areas, you’ll want closed toe shoes so you don’t get cut by sawgrass. Chaco Odysseys with socks are my favorite for hiking in Florida.
More from the original post
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.
Want to get in the mood for visiting? Read The Orchid Theif.
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. (Update 2021: these snakes are Black Racers and non-venomous.) You can see them in the last picture on this post.
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.
Florida posts you may also enjoy:
Have you been to the Fakahatchee Hilton? Do you want to go? What about another park of the Fakahatchee Strand?
8 thoughts on “Fakahatchee Hilton: A Gator Haven In South Florida at the Fakahatchee Strand State Park And Preserve”
It seems like an interesting thing to do, next time I’m in Florida!
It is! It’s the perfect quiet, easy hike and all the gaotrs are a bonus haha
Great find. Thanks!
Of course! I’m glad you enjoyed it!
The snakes are banded water snakes, and the bird is an anhinga
Oh, thank you!
Awesome looking area–definitely have to come by here sometime! Have you ever been to Canaveral National Seashore or the Mosquito Lagoon across from it? Also a beautiful slice of Florida wilderness and beach.
I have not! We were really close I think, but didn’t go. Next time though!