Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park is a lush subtropical swamp covering about 100 square miles of southwest Florida. Home to the largest cypress/royal palm forest on the planet, it’s been dubbed “the Amazon of North America.” It’s not hard to imagine sighting a panther on the prowl…and you absolutely could.
Our 2 visits during the last week of March (2014) were vastly different. We first drove the length of Janes Scenic Drive, which is entirely within Fakahatchee Strand. This led to a drive through Picayune Strand State Forest. In all, 27 bone-jarring miles. In my Camry. My wife was certain I had no idea where I was going. And she was dismayed that we had no cell service.
The 11 miles of Janes Scenic Drive (Part of the Great Florida Birding Trail) are actually pretty well maintained, though it is just a dirt road. It’s not built for speed anyway. If you like the feel of driving on remote (jungle) country roads, you’ll love this drive. Do take your time or you’re sure to miss a lot.
Orchids, for instance. This 75,000 acre wilderness boasts the most native orchid species of any place in North America – 44 native orchid species and 14 native bromeliads. They’re pretty hard to find and even harder to appreciate at 30 mph (not that you’d want to drive 30 mph over most of this roadway). So the best way to see Fakahatchee is on foot. But since we were trying to scout 7 major natural areas in 5 days, we had to press on. I’ll be back for deeper explorations.
Along Janes Scenic Drive there are many side roads with gates, some locked, others open. Most are not well marked, if marked at all, but I was told that the West Gate (#7) & East Main Gate (#12) are the best places to hike – and they’re both well marked. That also makes them the most popular, so if you want more remote hiking, pick another gate.
Having driven the length of Janes Scenic Drive, we found ourselves exiting Fakahatchee & entering Picayune Strand State Forest, which is also part of the Great Florida Birding Trail. Rather than turning around and driving back through Fakahatchee, we decided to find our way back to civilization through Picayune. We had a full tank of gas and GPS was working, although there was no cell service. How hard could it be? Check out the link above for our full feature.
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