Florida on a Tankful: Navigating the Cypress Swamp Trail

By Scott Fais , Feature Reporter
Last Updated: Friday, August 04, 2017, 8:12 AM EDT

"This is originally how Florida would have looked,” said Laura McMullen, a Florida Park Ranger at Highlands Hammock State Park.

You don’t have to listen too closely to hear a wren’s song overhead, along with the sound of cicadas deep in their summer calling.

Far away from the hustle and bustle on U.S. 27, the fastest thing moving here is the current of the stream that cuts through this part of the park.

"It gives it an ancient and neat feel. There's a lot of history here,” Laura said of the park that has roots extending back to the early 1930s.

Since the days of the Great Depression, Laura says this porthole into natural Florida has welcomed all looking for peace along the Cypress Swamp Trail.

"Back in the 30s, they preserved it. There's never been any commercial logging done out here,” she says of the stretching cypress trees.

At Highlands Hammock, visitors can roam an elevated boardwalk that has a twist. The planks seem to dead-end behind a bench. But observant visitors will see there’s a network of narrow boardwalks hiding just beyond the dead end. Watch your step. Here begins a challenge of will and balance. 

"It's a little unnerving at first, because I don't have that extra railing,” Laura said.

Like walking the plank on a pirate ship or crossing a balance beam, this section of the boardwalk is only four planks wide, with a low railing.

Fair warning: some may find the network of boardwalks a little narrow. However, Laura says it used to be a lot more narrow. When first built, only two planks were used.

"You definitely want to keep an extra hand here so you feel a little steadier,” Laura suggested.

And yes, since you're wondering: they're here. This natural waterway is home to alligators. Hikers need to use caution.

"Just stay on the boardwalk and you'll be good,” Laura suggested. “And don't try to feed them!”

Getting this close to nature can be therapeutic for the overworked, the overstressed and those needing space.

"It makes it a little bit more personal for some people" Laura said.

Know Before You Go:
Admission is $6 per carload.  $4 for singles in a car alone. There is also a campground on site for overnight visitors.

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