It is a hidden treasure three miles off the highway and, even better, it’s free.
Six Mile Cypress Slough is a stop along the Great Florida Birding Trail. Some liken it to the much larger Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, a Naples site owned by the Audubon Society, where entry is $12 for adults.
If you are taking a break from I-75, Six Mile Cypress Slough is handy because it also has restrooms and shaded picnic tables. (The only charge is for parking at $1 an hour.)
There is a well-done nature center with interactive exhibits. While children will especially enjoy the nature center, adults who are new to Florida’s environment will learn a few things too.
You could stroll the boardwalk in a half hour. But be warned: Once you enter the quiet, lovely world of Six Mile Cypress Slough, you will want to pause and linger. We meant to make ours a quick stop. Two hours later, we left promising to return and linger.
The boardwalk has two loops with many benches and one spot set up as a blind for better wildlife viewing. It is shady and largely mosquito-free even in summer, thanks to the hungry Gambusia, or mosquito fish, that inhabit the waters.
The boardwalk takes you through about 80 acres of the nine-mile long, 3,420-acre slough. About a third-mile wide, the slough is a wide, slow-moving river that eventually empties into Estero Bay. In addition to saving a pristine cypress swamp, the Six Mile Cypress Slough serves as a natural corridor through which wildlife can travel. (Earlier this year, a Florida panther was frequenting the slough but is believed to have been hit by a car and killed in June.)
Along the boardwalk, you pass lakes (formed by dredging for nearby roads) where you might spot alligators. The swamp is lush with a variety of ferns but the stars of the place are the gnarly old cypress trees, garlanded with airplants.
On our walk, we saw a gator, many turtles, herons, anhingas, cardinals and gar. Big, bright Pileated Woodpeckers are frequently seen, along with dozens of other types of birds.
The preserve is litter-free and has abundant volunteer support. That’s no surprise, considering that saving the slough was a grassroots effort led by idealistic young people.
It’s a great story. It was 1976, the height of the building boom that swept across South Florida. Acre by acre, the wild places that existed in Florida forever were being logged, paved and lost.
A group of Lee County students in an environmental science class saw that Six Mile Slough was likely to be next and began a campaign to save it.
Lee County voters eventually voted overwhelmingly to raise their taxes to purchase and preserve the slough. The boardwalk finally opened in 1991.
Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve
- 7791 Penzance Blvd., Fort Myers, 239-533-7550
- Directions: From I-75, exit 131 (SR 876, Daniels Parkway) south of Fort Myers, drive 2.7 miles west on SR 876 and turn right (north) on SR 865 (Six Miles Cypress Parkway.) Entrance is about two miles on right.
- Hours: 8 a.m. to sunset.
- Guided walks daily January to March at 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. From May to October, guided walks are only on Wednesdays at 9:30 a.m.
- Interpretive Center is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Closed Mondays.
- Parking is $1 an hour; $5 maximum. Meters accept credit cards. Proceeds helps pay for programs and maintenance.
While traveling I-75, consider these nearby activities:
- Sanibel Island by bike
- Kayaking Sanibel and Captiva
- Lovers Key State Park for manatees, kayaking and beaches
- Mound Key State Archaeology Site
- Fort Myers Beach: A charming seaside getaway
- Barefoot Beach is on Southwest Florida’s wild side
- Clam Pass Park, a Naples beach where you ride the tide
- Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples
- Koreshan State Historic Site, on the Estero River: History plus kayaking
- Gamble Mansion: Civil War history right off I-75 near Sarasota