Se­cret Gar­den

Big Cy­press National Pre­serve, Florida

Backpacker - - PLAY LIST - BY MELANIE RADZICKI MCMANUS

The wa­ter is cool against my calves and shock­ingly clear, re­flect­ing the tan­gle of cy­press roots, pond ap­ples, and Ja­maican dog­woods above. But I don’t have time to stop and stare—I need to make miles. I av­er­age roughly a mile per hour in the wet seg­ments of this 31.3-mile sec­tion of the Florida National Scenic Trail, and to­day the path has been mostly un­der­wa­ter. I wade through Big Cy­press Swamp un­til dusk be­fore look­ing for a dry patch. When I fi­nally spot a mound of soil that peeks just above the cof­fee- col­ored, tan­nic drink, I sling my ham­mock. It’s un­usual to camp so close to the wa­ter’s sur­face, a feel­ing that catches an edge as the night sucks the col­ors out of the day. Sure, it’d be eas­ier to do the Florida Trail in spring, when the wa­ter has nearly dried up, but what’s the fun of hik­ing through a dry swamp?

Turn-by-turn From Oa­sis Visi­tor Cen­ter

1 Pick up the Florida

National Scenic Trail and fol­low it 9.7 miles north through saw­grass prairies and pine flats to 10 Mile Camp .

2 Con­tinue 13.3 miles north be­neath stands of cy­press and through calf-deep wa­ter to Oak Hill Camp .

3 Al­ter­nate hik­ing on dry land and wad­ing through wa­ter to mile 30.2, where an un­named, gravel dou­ble­track crosses the trail (near 26.153778, -81.068567).

4 Turn north (hiker’s left) on the dou­ble­track and fol­low it 1.2 miles to the trail­head on I-75.

Camp­site 1 10 Mile Camp (mile 9.7)

The easy (dry) miles lead­ing to this spa­cious camp are a perfect warm up for the swamp. Find this trail­side, spot (first-come, first-serve) tucked in a pine grove. Top off wa­ter in the nearby cy­press-filled swamp. (Pre­filter through a hand­ker­chief if it’s muddy.)

Camp­site 2 Oak Hill Camp (mile 23)

Set up camp on this forested bump that rises just inches above the wa­ter. The smallest camp­site in Big Cy­press, it can fit only a hand­ful of tents (first-come, first-serve). Warn­ing: It can be buggy here be­fore the first hard freeze. Mesh net­ting rec­om­mended.

Veg­e­ta­tion

The first half of this route passes through tall, thick saw­grass, a sedge plant with blades edged with tiny, sharp teeth. (Wear pants and long sleeves.) In the lat­ter half of this route, look for swamp na­tives like air­plants, which grow on the trunks and branches of cy­press trees. The car­di­nal air­plant (Big Cy­press’s largest) pro­vides a pop of red amid the swamp’s green­ery.

Some sec­tions of Big Cy­press have bronze, tan­nin-stained wa­ter— but it’s still clear.

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