FORT MYERS — Next time you travel Florida’s west coast on I-75, take a five minutes detour in Fort Myers to discover a magnificent slice of old Florida – a 1.2 mile boardwalk through an unspoiled cypress swamp called Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve.
It is a hidden treasure three miles off the highway and, even better, it’s free.
Six Mile 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 $17 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 an 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 spend more time.
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 Six Mile Slough 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. (In recent years, a Florida panther was frequenting the slough but is believed to have been hit by a car and killed.)
Along the boardwalk, you pass lakes (formed by dredging for nearby roads) where you might spot alligators. The cypress slough 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 Six Mile Slough. The boardwalk finally opened in 1991.
Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve
- Note: Six Mile Cypress Slough has reopened after damages from Hurricane Ian, which struck Sept. 28, 2022.
- Physical Address for Navigation: 7751 Penzance Blvd, Fort Myers, FL, 33966
- Boardwalk: Open seven days per week, dawn until dusk
- Guided Walks January-March: Daily – 9:30 a.m.; May-October: Wednesdays – 9:30a.m.; April, November and December: Daily – 9:30 a.m. NOTE: Please arrive 30 minutes early to register at the boardwalk entrance.
- Friends of Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve website
- 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.
- 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.
Wet walks at Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve: Canceled due to Hurricane Ian
Wet walks have been canceled for 2022 as a result of Hurricane Ian. If the walks return in 2023, they are likely to follow this previous fee structure: $25 for a non-member for one; $40 for a walk that is expected to be four hours. Each walk is limited to 10 people.
Wet walks allow participants to see the beauty of a cypress swamp up close during September and October. The walks are led by trained guides through a trail that is usually closed to the public. The path is immersed in the watery heart of the slough. Water levels may reach chest high, depending on recent rainfall. The trail is safe and has welcomed tens of thousands of visitors for more than 50 years.
While traveling I-75, consider these nearby activities:
- What makes Sanibel special and nine ways to experience it
- 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
- Matlacha: Artsy Gulf Coast spot for kayaking & nature
- Pine Island: Step back in time without a tourist in sight
- Manatee Park and the Orange River for winter manatee viewing
- Barefoot Beach is on Southwest Florida’s wild side
- Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples
- Koreshan State Historic Site, on the Estero River: History plus kayaking
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The information in this article was accurate when published, but changes may occur.
The author, Bonnie Gross, travels with her husband David Blasco, discovering off-the-beaten path places to hike, kayak, bike, swim and explore. Florida Rambler was founded in 2010 by Bonnie and fellow journalist Bob Rountree, two long-time Florida residents who have spent decades exploring the Florida outdoors. Their articles have been published in the Sun Sentinel, the Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel, The Guardian and Visit Florida.