Roberts Lake Trail, Big Cypress National Preserve
The Roberts Lake Trail runs roughly north to south from the Tamiami Trail (US 41) to the gravel Loop Road for a distance of about 7 miles. It is one of the southernmost segments of the Florida Trail. I am ONLY reviewing the northern 3 miles or so here, which I did as an out-and-back hike. The draw of this trail as a day hike is getting to an old-growth stand of bald cypress, which was neat but not incredibly impressive. The trail itself is fine but wet and somewhat monotonous. I’m glad I hiked it, but if you only have time for one day hike at Big Cypress National Preserve, I think you can do better.
As usual in south Florida, the terrain here is flat. The trail is quite well worn in most places, so it is easy to find, but that has caused the actual surface of the trail to become slightly lower and more compact than the surrounding landscape. In Big Cypress, that means that it holds water most of the time. You definitely will not be able to keep your feet dry on this trail! While that is par for the course in this region and not really a problem, the sloshing gets old after a while. I also found that I got tired more quickly than I expected from keeping my balance and pulling my feet out of the mud repeatedly. And finally, the murky water obscured holes in the bedrock and incipient cypress knees, resulting in sore toes after a while from all the bumping. Remember, though, that the ecology here is fragile – it won’t do you any good to walk off the trail, as your feet will get thoroughly wet just down the road!
The trail passes through several of the ecosystems that are tiled together throughout the mosaic of the Everglades region. You will see bald cypress domes, small areas of hardwood hammock, and a lot of prairie dotted with pond cypress. Most of the trail does not have much shade, which also means that the mosquito situation is tolerable. I saw a few interesting wildflowers along the way, but not as much diversity as on other trails that I hiked in the region.
We selected this hike on the recommendation of a seasonal ranger in the Oasis Visitor Center who told us about a stand of old-growth cypress a couple miles in. I’m pretty sure we found it, because we came to a stand that seemed more diverse than some others I had been in, and seemed to contain more and larger trees in “fairy ring” formations. A word of caution if you’re excited about large old trees: the “big” in Big Cypress refers to the size of the swamp region itself, not necessarily to the trees in it. Bald cypresses can get to be good-sized, but they grow very slowly over their 600 year lifespan, so the girth and height never reach really huge proportions. If you want to check out this particular stand, ask at the Visitor Center for instructions on how to find it (which are something along the line of, “when the trail jogs, keep going east until you get to some bigger trees”). While the trail itself is well-marked with Florida Trail posts and periodic blazes, a compass or GPS will be handy if you plan to venture off to find this stand – it is easy to get turned around in the swamp!
Tip: On a map, it seems like this trailhead is just across the road from the Oasis Visitor Center. In fact, you’ll have to walk down the highway a bit to get there, which feels longer than it really is.
Note: Returning at dusk, we encountered several smaller cottonmouths curled up on the trail. With cooler temperatures, they were not extremely active, and I personally thought they were cool to see up close! I don’t know if it was the location, the time of day, or the time of year that brought them there, but if you are not a fan of snakes you might want to ask in the Visitor Center to see if they frequent this trail more than others.
Pros: Trailhead convenient to Visitor Center, visit to old growth cypress stand
Cons: Wet feet, mud, little shade, relatively monotonous scenery
Have you hiked the Roberts Lake Trail? Do you agree with the rating, or have anything to add? Comment below!