Big Cypress National Preserve

33100 Tamiami Trail E, Ochopee, FL 34141, USA

This vast and wild protected area about 45 minutes southwest of the mansions of Naples is home to such rare species as the Florida panther and the ghost orchid (made famous in the book The Orchid Thief). The over 700,000 acres of swampland at Big Cypress are largely inaccessible to humans, but there are several campgrounds, a beautiful boardwalk, and a visitors’ center to explore. At home in the preserve are hundreds of species of wild animals, including American alligators, Florida black bears, bobcats, river otters, and all manner of raptors and wading birds. This is as close to the real Florida—how the state once was and had forever been—as you can get.

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Looking for Alligators

While staying in Naples, my family took an airboat ride in the glades to look for alligators. Zipping through the mangroves was a really cool experience. I loved that in this photo, it was hard to tell where the trees stopped and the water started.

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