Big Cypress Reservation

Back to nature—and a rich heritage.

A swamp buggy tour of the wetlands

Gary McKechnie

If you’re looking for one of the most remote tourist destinations in Florida, pull out a map and point at a place roughly 45 miles south of Lake Okeechobee. Your finger will rest on the Big Cypress Reservation.


Seminoles gather for a meal under an authentic, open-air chickee hut

Grayton Beach
Wakulla Springs
Jacksonville East
High Springs
Coral Gables
Big Cypress Reservation

Located near the fringes of Everglades National Park, this is perhaps the best place of all to learn about the Seminoles, the nation’s only unconquered Native American tribe. At the Smithsonian-affiliated Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, the short film We Seminoles is a sincere look at the tribe and its history. Following the movie, exhibits take you through a timeline to show how the Seminoles hunted, prepared meals, made clothing, and how they traveled and traded and celebrated. This is where you learn about their culture, their beliefs and family structure. On a nature walk behind the museum, you enter the kind of swampy woods that provided the Seminoles with shelter, food, medicine, and protection as they disappeared into the Everglades to evade soldiers intent on their capture. The trail eventually reaches a village where Seminole elders create and sell beadwork and handicrafts. A research center at the museum safeguards invaluable relics such as the manifest for captured Seminoles who were being shipped to Oklahoma following the Second Seminole War. 


The stately Clewiston Inn

Down the road, the centerpiece of the Seminoles’ tourist industry is the Billie Swamp Safari ( Reminiscent of pre-theme park roadside attractions, the experience is a wonderful glimpse into the area’s natural surroundings. Before their fortunes improved (the Seminole Nation owns most of the Hard Rock chain), wrestling alligators was one of their few sources of income. Now a part of Seminole tradition, you’ll see these demonstrations along with shows featuring venomous snakes and animals of the Everglades. From here, knowledgeable guides will take you via swift airboats and towering swamp buggies into 2,200 acres of woods and waters, pointing out the secret world within. 

One last bit of travel advice. When the opportunity presents itself, talk to members of the tribe. You’ll quickly realize few people are as kind as the Seminoles, few as deservedly proud of their heritage, and few Florida destinations as enlightening as Big Cypress.

Staying Over

There are few choices for lodging here: one designed for adventure, the other for comfort. 

At Billie Swamp Safari, waterfront chickee huts are modified versions of traditional Seminole dwellings. They are screened and have beds, but no air-conditioning or plumbing (i.e. no bathroom). On the other hand, you’ll fall asleep—and then awaken—to the sound of alligators, water buffalo, and sandhill cranes just outside.

A few miles from Billie Swamp, the Big Cypress RV Resort and Campground offers fully equipped cabins and paved pads for RVs.

Dining Out

When you’re at the Billie Swamp attraction, one of the few dining options is the full-service Swamp Water Café, the restaurant of choice for many tribal members. Casual and comfortable, it serves traditional American meals as well as Seminole favorites including catfish, frog legs, gator tail nuggets, and traditional fry bread. 

Nearby, on Josie Billie Highway, is the Sweet Tooth Café, which serves typical roadside fare. Nothing fancy, but quite convenient. 863-983-4700.

Side Trip

Clewiston Inn
Roughly 45 minutes north of the reservation on the southern edge of Lake Okeechobee, a marina run by famed angler Roland Martin can get you out on the lake, after which you can retreat to the circa 1926 Clewiston Inn. The hotel projects an Old Florida feel—especially in the Everglades Lounge, where a 360-degree mural of Florida wildlife, painted in the early 1940s by artist J. Clinton Shepherd, has been appraised in the millions.

Edit Module
Want to read the whole issue? Download and read this issue and others on Magzter.

Add your comment:
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags

Guides & Resources

2018 Premier Veterinarians

The 2018 Pet Guide: Pet Resource Guide

Here are some of the places you can go in Central Florida when you need supplies, products and services for your best friends.

Premier Realtors 2018

Let Orlando's best realtors help you find your dream home!

Orlando's Best Lawyers 2018

Our annual list includes hundreds of Orlando-area attorneys in dozens of areas of practice.

Orlando's Top Dentists of 2018

Our annual list featuring 224 of the area's finest dental professionals.

Guide to Private Schools 2018

Our searchable annual database will help you chart an educational course for your family.

2017 Premier Doctors

Our annual list of over 500 doctors.
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

MoreRecent Blog Posts

Health Hub: Cancer Care For The Body, Mind and Spirit

Treating the whole patient can improve outcomes.

Texas de Brazil Fall Feast Giveaway

Enter to win a $200 gift certificate for four to Texas de Brazil for a Fall Feast to remember!

Kid Kontributor of the Month - September 2018

Read all about why Leah's cat, Missy, is special, and learn all about our monthly feature, the "Kid Kontributor of the Month."

Orlando Burger Battle 2018 Giveaway

Enter to win VIP and General Admission tickets to our epic Orlando Burger Battle and a subscription to Orlando Magazine!

Health Hub: September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Research and advancements in treatment provide hope for the future
Edit Module