Best Winter Weekend Getaway in Big Cypress National Park

By Alli Hill

Best Winter Weekend Getaway in Big Cypress National Park

While most people are dreaming of snowy mountain peaks and ice skating for their winter weekend getaways, Florida folks know that basking in the sunshine is the best way to celebrate in winter. Skip the crowded ski slopes and head to Big Cypress National Park, just north of the Everglades in the southern part of the state. This national park spans for nearly 750,000 acres and plays home to alligators, the Florida panther, and many other types of wildlife. Guided tours, hiking, camping, and tons of other outdoor activities await you on this epic outdoor adventure. 

Set up camp

Big Cypress features eight different campgrounds within the park, in addition to backcountry camping. RV and primitive campers are welcome here, with some sites featuring waterfront views and plenty of peace and quiet. Some campgrounds require reservations while others are first come first serve, so make sure you do your homework to get the spot you want. 

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Hit the hiking trails

Hiking is a major draw to the park, with miles of designated trails throughout. Going off-trail is also permitted, another reason to visit the park in the winter because of being dry season. If you plan on hiking the backcountry, you’ll need to fill out a waiver before you go. There is not a simpler way of taking in all of the beauty this park has to offer.

Go off-roading

The off-roading trail system here is nothing short of remarkable. You can use any of the trails designated for hunting, fishing, frogging, camping, and other nature-based activities. Before you go, you’ll need to grab a permit from the off-road vehicle office. Grab your helmets and hit the trails. Make sure to check out Florida Off-Roading laws and regulations before getting those wheels muddy!

Explore the area by canoe or kayak

Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean all water activities are off limits. Set off on a canoe or kayak and explore the myriad waterways of the park. Winter is synonymous with paddling season here because water levels are lower and you don’t have to worry about bugs. You’ll be able to access areas of the park that just aren’t possible on foot or by car, giving you a chance to experience all the area has to offer.

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Get involved with ranger-led activities

No one knows the area like the park’s own rangers, and they offer tons of free activities each day during the winter. You’ll want to book your spot in advance for some activities, such as paddling excursions and hiking expeditions, so check their calendar to see what’s available before you go.

Fill up at Camilla Street Grill

Tucked against the waterfront, this is the place locals hang out (so you know it’s got to be good!). Delicious seafood and an old Florida vibe set the stage for an amazing meal. It’s truly a hidden gem but well worth the hunt.

Take a tour with Captain Steve’s Swamp Buggy Adventures

A cross between an airboat and off-road vehicle, this swamp buggy tour lets you experience the backcountry in a whole new way. They customize every tour so you can get the most for your experience. Tours are kept small (just 2-6 people) and you’ll want to reserve your spot in advance.

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Visit the Museum of the Everglades

If you’re looking for a cheap activity, this cozy little museum is free and open to the public. The museum itself is steeped in history, having originated as a laundromat in a town that was once only accessible by boat. Today, visitors can expect a rotating selection of exhibits and artifacts dating back up to 2,000 years.

Soak in the history of Smallwood Store

Tucked on the edge of the Everglades lies one of the oldest former stores in Florida. Built in 1906, this trading post served as the only nearby place for trading furs, food, and other goods. The store shuttered in 1982, with many of its original goods remaining inside. The store reopened in 1990 as a museum that visitors can explore today. Also inside is the Tigertail Gift Shop, where you’ll find one-of-a-kind crafts, art, photography, and other odds and ends made by the Seminole Tribe.

Tour the Skunkape Research Center

The Skunkape Headquarters is one of the most iconic roadside attractions in South Florida. This supposed creature of legend has been featured on travel channels and news outlets alike. You can browse the gift shop and view tons of live animal exhibits (no real skunk apes, though), including giant gators and one of the longest snakes in the world.

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