Big Cypress Or Everglades: The Great Swamp Debate

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Or at least for now. So, which is better, Big Cypress or Everglades National Park? If you’ve been here a while, you may already know what I think, if not, welcome and keep reading!

I love the Florida swamp. I love it. And I love one of these more than the other, but I won’t say which yet. I will say, both are absolutely worth visiting, but I know sometimes you have to choose and hopefully I’ll help you do that today.

I’ll break down which park has better hiking, better paddling, better wildlife viewing, and more. For Big Cypress, I will include the Big Cypress area (basically the Everglades City/Big Cypress area). It may not be the most fair right now, but in another section below it may even out a bit.

Where are Big Cypress and Everglades National Park?

Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park are actually neighbors in South Florida, not far from Miami. But the Flamingo Visitor Center (as far into Everglades as you can go) and the Oasis Visitor Center are about two hours apart.

If you’re staying in Everglades City (the best base for Big Cypress), it’s about 2.5 hours. Homestead is about an hour from Flamingo and 1.5 from Everglades City.

Best time to visit Big Cypress and the Everglades

Winter, for sure. I would say November to April and right in the middle of that wold be the best. Outside of that, it gets extra hot, extra humid, and extra buggy. The cypress trees won’t really be green in winter but it’s a much more enjoyable experience.

Now, lets get into the nitty gritty, all the good and bad to help you decide if Big Cypress or Everglades is better.

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How much are Big Cypress and Everglades?

  • Big Cypress is Free
  • Everglades is $30 (good for seven days)

Is Big Cypress or Everglades better for hiking?

Big Cypress has at least three short boardwalks, Fire Prairie Trail, and Gator Hook Trail if you want a swamp hike. So it doesn’t technically have a ton, BUT the area has a lot and they’re longer trails (2+ miles).

You’re also super close to the Florida Panther Preserve hiking trail, the Marsh Trail, the Fakahatchee boardwalk, the Fakahatchee Hilton, and Collier-Seminole State Park.

And, if you want to do some swamp walking, you can either join a. ranger-led tour or join a swamp walk at Clyde Butcher’s gallery in the preserve! Pretty cool if you ask me.

Everglades has tons of short interpretive trails and boardwalks but not quite as many longer trails. You can join ranger-led swamp walk to try slough slogging here, too. That’s where you just walk through the waters of the swamp.

There are more biking options here like Shark Valley, Snake Bight, and Rowdy Bend Trail just to name three, but there are more here.

While Everglades has a ton of short interpretive trails, as of right now I have to give this round to Big Cypress!

Is Big Cypress or Everglades better for paddling?

Big Cypress has four paddling trails ranging from three to seven hours. They also have ranger-led paddling tours if you want to get on the water but don’t want to go on your own. You can rent kayaks in Everglades City.

There are other trails in the area, but I don’t know a whole lot about those. Whatever you decide to do, let someone know where you’re going and bring a map or GPS to help stay on track.

Everglades has ten paddling trails, but three of them are on the Gulf Coast which are also in Big Cypress. Flamingo alone, though, has seven paddling trails, which is pretty impressive.

You can also join some ranger-led paddling tours in Flamingo which is a great way to get a taste of the park and paddling. This is probably the best way to experience both parks but I’m going to have to give this round to Everglades!

Is Big Cypress or Everglades better for seeing wildlife?

Big Cypress has a lot of places that are easy to spot wildlife in the park but also in the immediate area. Like, so many. We’ll start with official places. First, there is the welcome center boardwalk where you may see manatees.

Next is the Oasis Visitor Center where you can almost always see alligators in the canal out front. Some days there aren’t many, but last time we saw like, 20 plus fish and some birds.

Then there is the Loop Road. This is the dirt scenic drive in the park and we always see tons of birds and alligators here, just on the side of the road. We also saw Reggie, a cottonmouth, on the road here last year.

We saw at least one gator on the Gator Hook Trail and nothing on the Kirby Storter Boardwalk. It’s hard not to see wildlife here.

Now, for the places just right around Big Cypress! First up is the Marsh Trail. This is fantastic for birding and if you walk past the observation deck, you may see alligators.

Then, you have the Fakahatchee Boardwalk where we see at least one snake and alligator every time we hike this. Then the Fakahatchee Hilton which is home to a pond full of alligators.

Finally, you just have every critter you see along the Tamiami trail which is a lot. A lot a lot. When we go in January, there are so many birds everywhere and you can usually spot gators in the grass and canals, too.

Everglades is also great for seeing wildlife, no doubt about that. The best place in the park to see wildlife is the Anhinga Trail, for sure. Whether it’s gators or birds, there is plenty.

Then, in the Flamingo area we did see some storks, a manatee, and even a crocodile! That was very exciting and I wasn’t expecting to see a crocodile at all. We also saw some storks and alligators near a boardwalk.

Finally, biking Shark Valley. I think aside from paddling or the Anhinga Trail, this is probably the next best place to see wildlife in the park. We saw tiny baby gators, tons of birds, a turtle, lots of regular sized alligators, and even an ibis eating a snake!

I loved biking Shark Valley and think that’s the best way to visit it and see the most wildlife but it’s not quite enough for this round, which I’m going to have to give to Big Cypress!

While both parks are fantastic for seeing wildlife in Florida, I just think Big Cypress is better for it. It’s hard to go anywhere there and not see at least one thing.

I will say, though, this may depend on the time of year that you go, I’m not sure, but even just basing this off of my first trip to Big Cypress and Everglades (not including Shark Valley), Big Cypress would still win.

Big Cypress Overview

I think if you’re not as concerned with checking off a park list and want something a little less busy or with easy access to more remote (or remote feeling) areas, then Big Cypress is perfect for you.

If you’re in the Fort Myers/Sanibel/Naples area or want to visit beaches for shelling on this trip, too, then this is a better option since the main area of Everglades is so far into the park, it would take a while to get to from the west side of the state. It’s also better if you want a quieter experience, I think.

tree reflection in big cypress florida

Pros

  • Not as busy
  • Tons of camping
  • Free
  • Closer to Fort Myers and Naples and Marco Island
  • Pretty good cell phone service in most areas
  • Skunk Ape HQ
  • The cutest tiny post office ever
  • Lots of Geocaches
  • Tons of other hikes nearby

Cons

  • Not tons of food options
  • ???

Everglades Overview

I think if your main goal is visiting all of the national parks, then Everglades would be better, plus it’s closer to the other two Florida national parks.

It’s also probably more convenient to fly into Miami or Fort Lauderdale. If you’re sticking to the east cost of Florida, I’d go with Everglades if you just have one day. If you have two, you could sneak in a day trip to Big Cypress pretty easily.

Everglades National Park

Pros

  • Can easily visit Biscayne National Park, too
  • Better if you’re checking parks off a park bucket list
  • Closer to Miami
  • Closer to a variety of food options and city things
  • More amenities in the park
  • Quite a few Geocaches
  • A lot of paddling
  • Three areas to explore

Cons

  • Almost no phone service
  • More expensive
  • A lot busier

Big Cypress or Everglades: Which is better overall?

Drumroll pleeeeeease: Big Cypress wins for me! Obviously everyone can think differently, but I think Big Cypress is incredible and it’s one of my favorite places to visit.

I look forward to visiting every year and we can easily spend two weeks there. That’s how much I love it. Currently, it’s been almost an entire year since I was there last and I’m not sure when I’ll be there next but I’m so sad we didn’t get to do our annual trip this year.

I think both parks are pr. tty but I think Big Cypress is prettier. They look similar but it’s just different, too.

There’s just something special about Big Cypress and I will sing it’s praises from the rooftops. No matter which you visit, you won’t be making a bad decision.

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Have you been to Everglades or Big Cypress? Which one? Both? Which did you like best? Do you want to go?

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