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You guys. I did it. I walked through knee-deep swamp water and didn’t get eaten by anything! That’s right. I was terrified and got a little panicky, but I did it. This was on the Gator Hook Trail in Big Cypress National Preserve this last winter. It’s a great intro to swamp hiking and pretty easy if a little long.
One of the things I really wanted to do on this trip to Florida was to walk through swamp water on a hike because it’s something that just really freaks me out. Well, when we knew we were going to Big Cypress, I figured the Gator Hook Trail was the perfect opportunity to try it.
The trail itself is pretty easy. It’s basically flat (because Florida) and a little muddy. The beginning (above) is limestone with mud holes. It’s easy to avoid the mud and dirt though by just walking on the rock, just pay attention so you don’t hurt your ankles or anything. This would be a lot harder if there was water on the trail, which there can be sometimes. The surroundings here are pretty bland, lots of tall grass and some trees.
After a while, it turns into a little dirt path with lots of cypress trees along both sides. This was my favorite part. Eventually, you come to a little section where you can either walk through the water or over a bung of logs. I chose the logs both directions because it made me feel like Nancy Drew crossing the bog in the game The Haunting of Castle Malloy. It was pretty fun.
While it’s called Gator Hook Trail, we only saw one gator and a couple babies on our way out. We didn’t do the whole hike, though. Not too far after the logs was the non-negotiable swamp walk. I sucked it up and started walking. The water wasn’t terribly cold, but not seeing what was in front of my feet was the worst part. I mean, what even happens if you step in a gator in the water?
I got a little less panicky with every step and had a hard time breathing. This happens to me when I jump in water, too. It’s really weird. I’m not a water person in case you’re new here. I made it through just fine though and we kept going a little longer. I loved seeing all the bromeliads in the trees. I’ll never get over seeing those everywhere.
We probably did about half of the trail, but the bushes and trees around the trail are really low and even at 5’4″ I was still walking hunched over the whole time and it was just not comfortable. So, we decided to turn around not too far after the water section and just had to go right back through it.
I wouldn’t mind finishing the whole trail someday but I’m not in a huge rush for that. There are plenty of other things I’d like to do in the area, too. I think this is a good intro trail for swampy hikes but it’s not great if you’re tall. You’ll probably be hunched way over on at least part of the trail, but even part of it would be worth doing.
How long is the Gator Hook Trail?
4.7 miles round-trip with a whopping 0 feet of elevation gain. The thing that makes it hardest is the humidity and heat, but it’s not terrible. It’s an out and back trail, so no loop here.
Where is the Gator Hook Trail?
It’s on the Loop Road. It is a dirt road but any car should be able to make it as long as it’s dry. It could get muddy after heavy rains. It’s 2.2 miles down the Loop Road and about 30 minutes from Everglades City. It’s only 3.2 miles from the Monument Lake campground.
What to bring on the Gator Hook Trail
Bug spray – You’ll want to bring this no matter when you visit, but especially if you want to go in the summer. We didn’y have too many issues with bugs here but I used bug spray anyways. I like the Ben’s bug spray as well as the Off! Deep Woods.
Good hiking shoes – For this you’ll definitely want sturdy closed-toe shoes so you don’t get cut by sawgrass or stub your toes on stuff under the water. The limestone holes in the beginning and cypress knees can get in the way and be issues.
Hiking poles – These will help keep you steady if you’re walking through water. They’re not totally necessary, but will be helpful.
How long do you need for the Gator Hook Trail?
I would say four to five hours for the whole thing. It could be less than this, but you definitely want to take your time on the limestone holes and water sections. It will also depend on how fast you generally walk on the dry parts and how often you stop.
What is the best time to do the Gator Hook Trail?
The trail is accessible year-round, so you can go anytime, but I would probably recommend winter. The weather will be better and there probably won’t be as much water on the trail. The trees won’t be green and you may not see as much wildlife though.
Summer is the wet season and the trail or parts of it may be flooded. It will be a lot hotter and more humid and buggy then but probably worth it to see the trees all green and more wildlife. I would be cautious about hiking here during the alligator mating season (starts in April-June) because they’re going to be a lot more aggressive.
Basically, you can go anytime it will just depend on personal preference for heat/humidity/greenery. As for time of day, I’d go earlier just because it’s usually cooler in the morning than evening.
Who is the Gator Hook Trail for?
Now, of course, anyone can do this trail, but there are a few people that this might not be the best option for, though you can always start and turn around, too. No shame in that, we did it and didn’t regret it.
- People that aren’t super tall
- People that aren’t super terrified of alligators
- People that don’t mind not being able to see the bottom of water they’re walking through
- People that don’t mind hiking in humid weather
- Probably not young kids unless you carry them and are confident walking through swamp water (We did see a bus here of probably middle schoolers that did it.)
- Anyone that wants to try swamp hiking but doesn’t want to just walk out wherever quite yet
- People that don’t mind getting wet and muddy and possibly ruining shoes.
Quick tips for hiking Gator Hook Trail:
- Wear shoes/pants you don’t mind getting muddy and wet. Because they most likely will, but it will depend on when you go.
- When you’re walking through water where you can’t see the bottom, kind of feel around in front of you before actually taking a step.
- The trail is marked with yellow blazes, but I won’t lie, I didn’t notice any of these, so you really need to look for them. We could easily follow the trail when we did this in January though.
- While it’s easy with how flat it is, the terrain makes it a little more challenging and presents lots of opportunities for tripping, stubbing toes, and falling, so watch your footing and bring hiking poles if you’re worried.
- The trail isn’t really maintained but is pretty easy to follow and is great for people wanting a true Everglades experience.
- Most of the water is around knee-level, but it can occasionally get higher.
- There are alligators and snakes here, so be cautious of both and keep an eye out.
Have you done the Gator Hook Trail? When did you go? What did you think of it? Do you want to do it? What is your favorite hike around here?