Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park: Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk

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Reading inspires adventure. After reading “The Orchid Thief” by Susan Orlean earlier this year, visiting Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park became a priority. Over the weekend, I finally stepped foot in Florida’s largest state park and soon realized, I’ll need to make a return visit or two.

A Strangler Fig Embraces a Tree Along the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk in Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, Fla.
A Strangler Fig Embraces a Tree Along the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk in Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, Fla.

Reading Inspires Adventure. This Quest Was About Seeing a Ghost Orchid

“The Orchid Thief’s” non-fiction plot centers around poaching ghost orchids (Dendrophylax lindenii) in Southwest Florida’s swamps. The plant is only known to live in the wetlands of South Florida and Cuba.

To protect these rare plants from poaching, locations of ghost orchids are highly secretive and few people know where to find them. The Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary has a “Super” ghost orchid blooming right now. From what I understand, it’s the largest ever on record and sits 70 feet off the ground in a bald cypress tree about 100 feet from the boardwalk.

Big Cypress National Preserve and Fakahatchee Strand are two other commonly known habitats for the ghost orchid. However, as I learned, you just can’t step foot in the park and expect to see one. I’ll cut to the chase right now and no, I didn’t see one in Fakahatchee. This trip was a reconnaissance mission for a future adventure.

I'm a Bit of a Tree Hugger. The Cypress in Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park is About 200 Years Old and About 100' Tall!
I’m a Bit of a Tree Hugger. The Cypress in Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park is About 200 Years Old and About 100′ Tall!

Serenity of the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk in Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park

What I did find was a lush, active yet serene Florida forest along the half-mile Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk. Living and working in the Everglades taught me to appreciate Florida’s biodiversity by exercising patience. To find it, you need to slow down, look, listen, and inhale what’s happening around you.

Fakahatchee Strand is home to world’s largest cypress/royal palm forest and is nicknamed the Amazon of North America. The boardwalk meanders through a mix of old-growth cypress trees, about 200 years old and more than 100 feet tall.

Stop. Look. Listen. Inhale.

Eastern lubber grasshoppers are in peak mating season and once I intentionally looked for them, they were everywhere. A barred owl called out, “who cooks for you? Who cooks for you?,” and I swear another bird species responded. Something scurried up in the trees. A squirrel grabbed sticks with its paws, placed them in its mouth, then scurried back into the fold of a palm frond. Not too far from the nest, I observed small mushrooms emerging from damp dead logs. Pond apples bowed tree boughs and water droplets slowly slid off the green (inedible) fruit. Fakahatchee’s scent changes while walking the boardwalk. It’s a combination of earthy soil, decomposing foliage in the water and fresh foliage, almost like fresh-cut grass.

Leaving the boardwalk and heading back to my car, I looked in the canal and looking back was a big, stoic alligator head. Startled, I screamed while jumping back. Yikes! The gator didn’t move and although some people may think it’s fake, he was definitely real.

It was naïve thinking I could stroll into Fakahatchee Strand for the first time and spot a rare ghost orchid. But hey, stranger things have happened. You just never know. Ghost orchids typically bloom in June and July and my summer calendar is booking up. This means, chances are slim I’ll see one of these rare plants this year. *sigh* There’s always next summer.

Video of My Visit to the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk

Nuts & Bolts About Visiting Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park

Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk
27020 Tamiami Trail E
Naples, Fla. 34114
Suggested donation of $3 per person.

Main Entrance to Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve State Park (future blog post!)
137 Coast Line Dr.
Copeland, Fla. 34137
Open 8 a.m. – Sunset
Entrance fee: $3 vehicle (up to 8 people)
$2 pedestrians and bicyclists.
Exact change or pay online.
FloridaStateParks.org

FloridaHikes.com has a great post about hiking the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk.

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Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park
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Author: Solo Travel Girl

Jennifer A. Huber is an award-winning travel and outdoor blogger and writer in Southwest Florida. Originally from Buffalo, N.Y., a hiking trail led her to a career path in the tourism industry for more than 30 years. She spent a decade with a park management company in Yellowstone, Death Valley, and Everglades National Parks. She founded the travel blog, SoloTravelGirl.com with the goal of inspiring others to travel alone, not lonely. The unexpected death of her former husband in 2008 reminded her how short life is. His passing was a catalyst for sharing her experiences with the goal of inspiring and empowering others to travel solo. Jennifer holds a Travel Marketing Professional certification from the Southeast Tourism Society, is a certified food judge, member of the NASA Social community, and alum of the FBI Citizens Academy. When not traveling, she is either in the kitchen, practicing her photography skills, or road tripping with her dog, Radcliff.

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