Big Cypress National Preserve has some of the most diverse plants and wildlife in the world.
- 1 Big Cypress National Preserve has some of the most diverse plants and wildlife in the world.
- 2 When and What to See
- 3 Big Cypress National Preserve
- 4 Big Cypress National Preserve Visitors Center
- 5 Mike and Jennifer’s Favorite Places in Florida – all 3 ebooks!
FAQ’s about Florida Gulf Coast beaches of interest to RVers
- 6.1 What is the weather like along Florida’s Gulf Coast?
- 6.2 Did Hurricane Ian destroy many beach campgrounds on the Gulf Coast?
- 6.3 Are there any websites that can help me get a reservation for a Florida beach campground?
- 6.4 Are there places in Florida where you can literally camp on the beach for free?
- 6.5 But are there free, unrestricted RV beach camping spots in Florida?
One of the places that has a special hold on me is the Everglades area of Florida. It’s a wild, huge place filled with birds and wildlife as diverse as the flooded cypress and sawgrass prairies that make up the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States.
Every time I’m in south Florida, I budget time for the glades. I’ve ridden my bicycle along an eight-mile paved loop at Shark Valley, cruising yards past snoozing gators with their huge tooth-filled mouths open to cool off.
There are airboat rides, nature walks where you can actually get wet and wade in the swamp, and fishing not to be believed.
When and What to See
The winter dry season, which lasts from December to April, is the best time for wildlife viewing in the park. Weather conditions are generally pleasant during the winter and standing water levels are low, causing wildlife to congregate at central water locations.
Shark Valley, the Anhinga Trail at Royal Palm, and Eco Pond in the Flamingo area are popular areas for viewing alligators, wading birds, and other wildlife. Boaters have additional access to wildlife viewing opportunities in Florida Bay and along the Gulf Coast.
Big Cypress National Preserve
On one trip, I devoted an afternoon to the Big Cypress National Preserve. It’s a 729,000 acre part of the Everglades whose crystal clean freshwater plays a vital role in the health of the entire ecosystem of south Florida.
Jennifer and I drove a 24-mile loop road that runs south and east off Highway 41 at about mile marker 59.
It’s a dirt and gravel road, well maintained but meant for slow travel. Bounded on both sides by trees, there are frequent drainage ditches and small open spots all along the route.
It’s fine for Class B and Class C RVs. Too rough for a Class A. And once you commit, there are limited spots to turn around.
Amazing Wildlife Viewing
Found here are dozens of species of mammals, birds, and reptiles unique to Florida’s climate. It is easy to view and appreciate Florida’s largest reptile, the American alligator, living here in its natural environment. They are in almost every water hole, all along the banks, even sunning themselves on the shoulder of the road.
The birds are something else: Anhingas, egrets, wood storks, and herons are found in plentiful numbers feeding, displaying courtship feathers, and nesting in and among the cypress trees.
There’s a reason the speed limit is 25 miles an hour. Herons often launch from the trees and fly right across and over the road. Because of their bulk, it takes them some considerable wing power to get to altitude and if we had been traveling faster, we would have hit one several times.
Occasionally, one can witness river otters, bobcats, black bears, and the endangered Florida panther on the Preserve’s back roads and trails. We didn’t see any panthers, but Route 41 is peppered with warning signs noting that panthers frequently cross the road.
Invasive Wildlife in Everglades National Park
Not all of the animals are native.
In recent years, snakes from around the world have been turning up in and around Everglades National Park. Burmese pythons, one of the largest snake species on earth, are now known to be breeding in the park and spreading throughout south Florida.
Over 5,000 pythons have been removed from the park and surrounding areas-likely representing only a fraction of the total population. The population of Burmese pythons presently established in the park is the result of accidental and/or intentional releases by pet owners.
These introductions can have devastating consequences on our ecosystem. Burmese pythons have been found to feed on a wide variety of mammals and birds in the Everglades-even the occasional alligator!
By preying on native wildlife, and competing with other native predators, pythons are seriously impacting the natural order of south Florida’s ecological communities. The continued proliferation of Burmese pythons-and the continued introduction of new foreign species-can further threaten many of the endangered plants and animals we’re working diligently to protect.
These creatures reach 15-20 feet in length. We didn’t see one. Jennifer considers that good. Me, I would have liked to get my own photo instead of the Florida wildlife one used above.
Big Cypress National Preserve Visitors Center
The trip we took on the scenic loop road makes for a delightful afternoon. There’s a large visitors center for the Big Cypress National Preserve on US 41 that is well worth seeing.
And there are numerous federal campgrounds right off 41 up and down 41 from Naples to Miami. Most have openings every day.
Many campgrounds have amazing access to fishing opportunities and some even provide gear for their campers. If you want to maximize your experience, I recommend hiring a fishing guide. These guides know the complex everglades and variety of fish like the back of their hands.
Mike and Jennifer’s Favorite Places in Florida – all 3 ebooks!
We RVers may wander far and wide but it’s true for most of us that we end up with some favorite “Go-To” places – places that draw us back again and again.
Florida is one of those places for us. And we know it is for many RVers looking to get away and explore during the winter.
That’s why we’ve created three guides, covering Florida’s Atlantic Coast, the Gulf Coast, and the Keys.
Each of these guides is a seven-day guided exploration of one of the coasts. And each stop is a curated view of the best things that we’ve enjoyed on this trip and want you to experience.
Altogether these guides are over 300 pages of content!
FAQ’s about Florida Gulf Coast beaches of interest to RVers
What is the weather like along Florida’s Gulf Coast?
The weather along Florida’s Gulf Coast can vary depending on the time of year and the specific location. In general, the area experiences hot, humid summers and mild, pleasant winters.
The Panhandle region can be quite cool in January. It is seldom below freezing, but daytime highs are typically in the 50s. It warms up about 10 degrees each month.
You can also generally add about 10 degrees for every 150 miles you travel south down the Florida peninsula.
By the time you hit Naples, daytime highs in January are in the comfortable 70s.
Did Hurricane Ian destroy many beach campgrounds on the Gulf Coast?
While it severely damaged almost two dozen RV parks and campgrounds, about 8-10 campgrounds in the Naples-Ft. Myers area were completely destroyed. Most of the damaged campgrounds have been repaired and reopened.
Check with the Florida Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds if you have questions or concerns.
Are there any websites that can help me get a reservation for a Florida beach campground?
One of the best resources we can recommend is called Campnab. This service monitors parks for cancelations and sends you an alert when an opening matches your criteria. That said, it isn’t magic. The app doesn’t create availabilities.
The service works – but it is not free.
Campnab offers two ways to use the service. The first is individual pay-per-use scans. These watch for vacancies at a specific park for a specific date. These work well if you know exactly when and where you intend to camp. Pay-per-use scans cost $10 – $20, depending on how frequently you want them to check availability.
The second way to use the service is through a membership. These typically run monthly and are tailored to those who camp more frequently or are looking to maximize their chance of finding a site. Membership allows you to scan multiple parks and/or dates simultaneously. With memberships, you pay a monthly recurring fee ($10, $20, $30, or $50), depending on your needs.
Are there places in Florida where you can literally camp on the beach for free?
Not many. And they are very pricey. If you want to sleep directly on the sand in an RV, you’ll have to stay at a developed commercial campground like Camp Gulf on the Emerald Coast or an RV resort like Big Pine Key Resort in the keys. Some state parks like the Gamble Rogers State Memorial Recreation Area in the Atlantic Coast or Bahia Honda State Park in the keys or Fort Desto State Park near St. Petersburg have beachside sites, too.
But are there free, unrestricted RV beach camping spots in Florida?
Sorry, none that I know of that would work for RVs.
There is unrestricted camping on wild beaches on a couple of islands, but you need a boat to get there, and it is for tent camping only. If you want to sleep directly on the sand, there is Anclote Key offshore Tarpon Springs, and Shell Key in Pinellas County. Another favorite is Keewaydin Island between Naples and Marco Island but that area remains pretty devasted from Hurricane Ian.
March 07, 2014at3:44 pm, Anna Hooper-Mixon said:
and they seriously have this in their arms!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
March 04, 2014at8:18 pm, Joanne Dorfman said:
Great story but I am scared of snakes and alligators.
March 04, 2014at7:33 am, Pinky Jorden said:
Brave people i would Not Not i say even touch it!!
March 03, 2014at8:58 am, Joseph and Virginia Farrug said:
Hi Jennifer and Mike, weare also in southern Florida and love to visit the Everglades but we could not go this year ,we did explore those areas 2 years ago with a guide it was great ,we are going on a cruise to panama and Costa Rica this week , have been doing exercises in the pool here Joe and Ginny Farrug
March 02, 2014at8:10 pm, Saul Garcia said:
What the hell are they feeding those snakes
March 02, 2014at11:05 am, Bruce N Mary Nedeau said:
OH – MY – GOD Donna Lehman-Levesque!
March 02, 2014at10:13 am, Frank Cordaro said:
Not a native species
March 02, 2014at9:40 am, Loretta Land said:
March 02, 2014at8:15 am, Alan Tucker said:
BIG ASS SNAKE
March 02, 2014at7:51 am, Nancy Capparelli said:
I’ll pass that.
March 02, 2014at7:47 am, Donna Lehman-Levesque said:
How do you like this one Bruce N Mary Nedeau?
March 02, 2014at3:17 am, Evelin Weiss said:
Wenn man die Schlange sieht,glaubt man kaum daß es sie wirklich gibt
March 02, 2014at12:05 am, Gloria Youngblood Woda said:
March 01, 2014at10:15 pm, Daniel Robbins said:
That’s a big ass snake.
March 01, 2014at9:24 pm, Linda Eggeman said:
March 01, 2014at8:57 pm, Donna Lane OConnor said:
I am staying at the Long Pine Campground at the eastern entrance to the Everglades and I love it! There are at least 3 other Roadtreks in the campground right now. There is plenty to do and lots to see in the Everglades. I’ve never run into one of those snakes yet! Love this place!!
March 01, 2014at8:45 pm, Dan Broertjes said:
How many bullets did you put thru that snake?
March 01, 2014at7:09 pm, Doug Wiegers said:
Used to live near there…amazing place
March 01, 2014at7:04 pm, Anna Donnelly said:
March 01, 2014at6:06 pm, Chris Alt said:
my post disappreared
March 01, 2014at6:06 pm, Chris Alt said:
you just need to stay safe and be on your toes and look where you are going down there, I like Florida
March 01, 2014at6:06 pm, Esneide Shafer said:
March 01, 2014at6:01 pm, Bonnie Rose said:
March 01, 2014at5:34 pm, Joan St Laurent said:
I hate snakes!
March 01, 2014at5:32 pm, Rhonda Messersmith said:
No, Thank you…NO!!
March 01, 2014at4:56 pm, Ronda Deel said:
It won’t fit in the RT!
March 01, 2014at4:29 pm, Linda Diaz said:
Pair of shoes, hang bag and dinner lol
March 01, 2014at4:20 pm, Cymande Haalan said:
Is that a big passed snake? Oh hell to da naw! No Florida for me…
March 01, 2014at4:20 pm, Gail Jurick said:
March 01, 2014at4:08 pm, Alice Wiwcharuk said:
March 01, 2014at3:27 pm, Linda Maisey said:
Is there any way to return these creatures to the Amazon?
March 01, 2014at3:21 pm, Charles Breuss said:
March 01, 2014at3:21 pm, Charles Breuss said:
March 01, 2014at3:02 pm, Linda Maisey said:
That snake looks well fed!
March 01, 2014at3:01 pm, Henry Clayton said:
March 01, 2014at2:41 pm, Bev Laing said:
March 01, 2014at2:21 pm, Travis Hester said:
travel and see new things; I aint going there.
March 01, 2014at2:20 pm, Travis Hester said:
I have always love to trave;
March 01, 2014at2:15 pm, Vyktor Menendez said:
SON OF @ B…. !!!
March 01, 2014at2:08 pm, Bill Lewis said:
Sweetie, were never going to the Everglades!
March 01, 2014at1:59 pm, Beth Hall said:
Yikes!!! I’ll stay in northern nevada. !!!
March 01, 2014at1:35 pm, Claudia Harrison said:
Can I borrow it for a week…got a big rat problem in my house 😉
March 01, 2014at1:21 pm, Michelle W. Hanley said:
Well no more Everglades for me!!!
March 01, 2014at1:18 pm, Robert Starkey said:
Happy I’m not running Florida. !!!!
March 01, 2014at1:12 pm, Connie Lyons Shook said:
No way , don’t wanna go there…
March 01, 2014at1:01 pm, Reuben Ouimet said:
You guys should kill that snake before swallowing….
March 01, 2014at12:35 pm, Robert Robinson said:
I need a new pair a boots, n a coat. That snake will do just fine! 🙂
March 01, 2014at12:34 pm, David Ramos said:
March 01, 2014at11:59 am, Dianne Rose-Moten said:
NO Thanks!!! Ill pass
March 01, 2014at11:58 am, Daniel J Diller said:
I had another encounter on that kayak trip, I heard a gator coming out of the glades, I looked over and he and I were eye to eye, 3 ft from me, he was as startled as I was, he dove under my kayak and was gone. Maybe an 8 footer, not anything like the one in the photo. Both had my heart pounding
March 01, 2014at11:49 am, Peter Parker said:
ha ha that’s not a snake, now THIS is a snake
March 01, 2014at11:02 am, Martha Crafton said:
We spent three wonderful days there in late January. Previously, we had experienced the western edge via boat. Anchored off the Shark River, come sundown, hundreds, maybe thousands of white Ibis flew overhead to their nesting areas. This time, we enjoyed watching as egret flew low, just above the canal along Hwy 41; flocks of Rosette Spoonbill shuffling through shallow waters in search of food and the amazing sight of an alligator tossing and slamming a smaller ‘gator down into the water. Our Roadtrek was perfect for the road down to Flamingo with plenty of room to pull over and take in the views.
March 01, 2014at10:59 am, Kim Haverstock Winch said:
I hope it’s dead
March 01, 2014at10:45 am, Joseph Mullin said:
not sure i wanna go to florida !!!!!!
March 01, 2014at10:10 am, David M Bleile said:
all because idiots get them as Babies, and when they get to be 6 ft. long , they can’t handle them so they DUMP them
March 01, 2014at10:03 am, Mildred L. Creel said:
March 01, 2014at10:02 am, Daniel J Diller said:
way to close, while kayaking the Turner River I was inching forward to photograph a water lily, and I looked up and I was eyeball to eyeball with the biggest gator I’ve ever seen, he was hissing at me as I was about 6 ft from him, not quite in focus as I was back peddling as fast as I could.
March 01, 2014at10:44 am, Kim Bright said:
March 01, 2014at11:50 am, Peter Parker said:
You were LUCKY that gator decided to warn you instead of attacking
March 01, 2014at12:26 pm, Dean Upson said:
I bet it cured your constipation!
March 01, 2014at12:44 pm, Daniel J Diller said:
pretty much so, Dean.
March 01, 2014at3:21 pm, Kristina McClellan said:
he looks mad
March 01, 2014at3:28 pm, Daniel J Diller said:
neither of us were very happy
March 01, 2014at6:02 pm, Chris Alt said:
that looks like an old one too call the Swamp People on History
March 01, 2014at6:30 pm, Sherry Moore Kane said:
March 02, 2014at10:11 pm, Barbara Rainey said:
March 01, 2014at10:00 am, JR Cline said:
March 01, 2014at9:53 am, Daniel J Diller said:
great article, we winter in Florida and have hiked, biked, and kayaked the area. Last year we did a swamp buggy ride though the Panther preserve, no spottings but saw fresh prints.
March 01, 2014at9:37 am, Kathy Baugh said:
Oh no!! Scaey!!
March 01, 2014at9:34 am, Jeanie White Helton Dailey said:
No way hate them things
March 01, 2014at9:31 am, Beth Nolan said:
I will never go to Everglades now!!!
March 01, 2014at9:30 am, Larry Marr said:
I get that many of them need to be destroyed but surely some could go to zoos around the country?
March 01, 2014at9:25 am, Biljana Delic Dedic said:
After hurricane Andrew in south Florida shatter for exotic animals was destroyed some of those snakes find new home in Everglades, since they have no natural predators there is thousands of them in Everglades now. Once a year there is open hunt on them hopefully one day Everglades will be clean again.
March 01, 2014at9:24 am, Denice Bastoni said:
You. Can. Keep. It!!
March 01, 2014at9:23 am, Norma Von McBride Carr said:
March 01, 2014at9:12 am, Andre D Bryant Sr said:
No everglades for me
March 01, 2014at9:10 am, Duffy Deroy said:
These people are nuts
March 01, 2014at9:04 am, Denise Linscott said:
I think I would want a larger motor home for that trip
March 01, 2014at9:03 am, Barbara Tingley Nettleship said:
March 01, 2014at9:00 am, Kevin Reynolds said:
March 01, 2014at8:59 am, Biljana Delic Dedic said:
Those snakes don’t have a natural predators in Everglades, destroyed everything…..very sad 🙁
March 01, 2014at8:56 am, Amanda Whitney said:
March 01, 2014at8:55 am, Mel Deveau said:
A stick of dynomite just to make sure……
March 01, 2014at8:47 am, Matt Tammy Maxwell said:
Still thinking of going to Florida ?
March 01, 2014at8:46 am, David Linton-hewling said:
March 01, 2014at8:42 am, Lorree Ch said:
March 01, 2014at8:40 am, Louella Beach said:
…no camping anywhere near
March 01, 2014at8:40 am, Laura H P said:
Thanks for this article, Mike. We enjoyed the loop road earlier this year. We saw LOTS of ‘gators, birds and fish. It is an amazing area. We hope to camp in one of the campgrounds you mention next season. Continued safe travels!
March 01, 2014at8:38 am, Eleaner Palmer said:
No Thank you = nasty
March 01, 2014at8:36 am, Dodger Darrell Murray said:
I HATE SNAKES…
March 01, 2014at8:36 am, Becky Taylor said:
I hope u guys killed that big thing. Those snakes eat cats, dogs and little kids. Nasty.
March 01, 2014at8:34 am, Mike Lopez said:
wow thats is a big one
March 01, 2014at8:33 am, Neil Hey said:
Wtf!! Thats awesome!!!
March 01, 2014at8:29 am, Hugo Lopez said:
Those snakes are destroying the everglades
March 01, 2014at8:29 am, Cheryl T. Couch said:
OMG!!!!!!! Thats just crazy!!!!!!!:o
March 01, 2014at8:26 am, Fred Showker said:
yup we were just there … but didn’t see one of those!