Photograph by Ian Dagnall, Alamy
Florida’s wet and primarily wooded freshwater and saltwater swamps are invaluable ecosystems providing essential habitat and refuge for wildlife. Since seasonal climate patterns and animal movements govern the rhythms of primal places, what you see, hear, and experience will depend on when you visit.
Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Naples
There’s nowhere else in the world where you can walk through North America’s largest remaining stand of virgin old-growth bald cypress forest. The largest and oldest trees along the swamp’s 2.25-mile-long boardwalk are more than a hundred feet tall and estimated to be nearly 600 years old. “Corkscrew is a mosaic preserving a rare ecological treasure,” says Jason Lauritsen, director of the 13,000-acre Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. “Stroll the boardwalk to explore wild Florida at your own pace, crossing pine flatwoods into a ribbon of scarce wet prairie, then into the bald cypress swamp forest.”
Graham Swamp Trail, Graham Swamp Preserve, Flagler County
At first glance, the single-track mountain bike loop through Graham Swamp Preserve looks flat. Just wait. By the quarter-mile mark, “you realize you’re not in Kansas anymore,” says Mickey Garrett, leader of the Graham Swamp Trail Crew, the volunteer group that builds and maintains the preserve’s more than six miles of biking trails. “At the 3.5-mile point there's a feature named Dragons Back. It consists of five boulders connected with wood ladders. There are also some steep technical climbs that a billy goat would enjoy.”
General James A. Van Fleet State Trail, Polk City
Considered the most rural of Florida’s paved rail trails, the 29.2-mile Van Fleet State Trail skirts the edge of the 560,000-acre Green Swamp. The multiuse recreation trail crosses through wetlands and flatlands and is open to cyclists, walkers, runners, and, on the mowed road shoulder, horseback riders. While the path is paved and bridges provide safe passage at multiple water crossings, many backcountry sections are remote and isolated, often with no one else in sight for miles. On a bike, it’s easy to pedal along the flat, primarily straight trail at a fast clip. If you ease up a bit, though, you’re more likely to see white-tail deer, bobcats, and alligators.
Practical Tip: The Graham Swamp Trail is sandy, creating extremely challenging biking conditions when the weather is hot and dry. The best time to ride is after a steady rain.
Safety Tip: Wear fluorescent clothing when hiking in the Green Swamp (or any remote area where hunting is permitted) during hunting season (January-April).
What to Bring: Check the weather forecast and plan for possible changes in weather. Bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and insect repellent.
Best Bet: Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary’s World Wetlands Festival, held the weekend closest to World Wetland Day (February 2), includes guided walks and a limited number of special swamp buggy tours into the sanctuary’s remote backcountry (reservation required).
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