Florida Everglades – Loop Road

Loop Road - The Everglades

Don Belzowski
8/12/2009
www.offthetrails.com

OFFTHETRAILS.COM’S On the Wild Side recently explored Big Cypress Preserve in southwest Florida on an easy day trip drive along count Road 94 known as Loop Road.  Loop Road is a scenic drive starting just west of the Miccosukee Indian Reservation headquarters on the Tamiami Trail (S.R. 41) a few miles past the Shark valley entrance to Everglades National Park.  The road then “loops” south then west and finally back north to reconnect 25 miles later with the Tamiami Trail.

This trip took us through a variety of wild habitats including saw grass prairie, hardwood hammocks, large cypress sloughs and scrub pinelands.  bird life was everywhere including hawks, woodstork, heron, egret, ibis and many smaller birds for those with a sharp eye.  The airplants (Tillandsia species of bromeliads) were in bloom with their bright red flower spikes and tiny purple flowers.  And if we looked closely there were small wildflowers in abundance.  This time of year–March–is the dry season so alligators were EVERYWHERE!  We took photographs and videos of these large reptiles.

Camping World

Along the road are many interesting stops.. We checked out Tree Snail Trail that let us walk through a hardwood hammock where we saw the remains of an old Prohibition Era still!  Also, we stopped at many of the culverts along the way to look for alligators and other wildlife that congregate near the flowing water.  There are a few campgrounds along the way that have limited facilities–portable toilets and trash containers only–but offer both views of cypress domes and large live oak trees filled with bromeliads.  And this time of year it was dry enough to find places where we could walk right into the cypress forests to get close-up photographs of airplants and orchids.  But bring a GPS or a compass if you leave the road!  Twenty feet into the trees we could not see the road and there are few landmarks.  Even the best woodsman can become disoriented quickly!

Bring a packed lunch or, if the water is high enough and the fish willing, catch your own lunch!  Small largemouth bass, fat Oscars and tasty rock bass make a great roadside meal!  Bring light or ultralight spinning tackle and an assortment of small spinner baits like the Beetlespin and some artificial worms.  Fish around the culverts.

We cooked our lunch on a propane stove off the tailgate of our truck.  There are really no good places to build a fire and during the dry season it is very dangerous!!

If You Go:

Although you are sure to have a wonderful experience driving Loop Road, bring your camera and binoculars.  A tripod for your large SLR cameras and lenses, spotting scopes and video equipment is a great help.  A good bird book like the National Audubon Society’s Sibley Guide to Birds or Roger Hammer’s Falcon Guide Everglades Wildflowers will make the trip more educational.  Other books on butterflies, reptiles, trees and mammals will also enhance your experience.

Keep in mind also that this drive is a true wilderness experience and the great majority of the trip is in very remote territory.  The road is mostly a narrow two lanes of crushed limestone.  during the rainy summer season portions of the road are often under water or washed out completely.  We’ve seen fish swimming across the road as late as October!

For the best experience, plan your trip from late November to about March when the water is low enough for safe travel and the weather is mild.  Although some of the best orchid blooms are in the summer, the mosquitoes, horseflies, heat and humidity with almost daily thunderstorms can make the trip very uncomfortable.  Summer is only for the hardcore naturalist!

We also recommend insect repellent, sunscreen and extra water even during the winter months as it can still get quite warm and buggy even in December.  Light comfortable clothes are a good idea with a change of socks and shoes if you venture off the road on foot.  Some spots could still be wet.

Check for future articles on other places close by that you would also enjoy.

Thanks for visiting ON THE WILD SIDE!