Updated January 2023
“I know you’re into adventure travel,” said my friend Carol. “How about a walking tour and photo shoot through the swamp in the Everglades?”
“Sure,” I replied, not considering any danger. Carol’s right, I’ve jumped into my fair share of crazy escapades, so why not a swamp walk? Besides, if former President Jimmy Carter could do this, why not me?
Last January Carol, her husband and I headed off toward Miami. We arrived at Clyde Butcher’s Gallery in the Big Cypress National Preserve about hours later. Clyde is a famous Florida photographer known for his large format black and white landscapes. He often takes photos while in the swamp, so I hoped to peek at the landscape from his perspective. Butcher also owns a few acres along the Tamiami Trail where he operates one of his Galleries and two rental properties.
We luckily had reservations for his one bedroom bungalow that is hidden behind the studio. The bungalow makes an ideal place to stay as there aren’t many options along this stretch of highway. The rental unit features a modern kitchen, sleek bathroom, screened-in porch and updated furnishings. Carol and Larry would take the large bedroom, and I’d snooze on the fold out bed. The best part, however, was that we were right in the thick of things – sleeping in the wetlands so to speak.
Butcher hires knowledgeable and passionate guides to host the swamp walks. They usually last one and half hour tours, but special photography tours take up to three hours and start earlier – mine at 7:15 am. Reservations are necessary.
What to Wear on a Swamp Walk
Carol and I dressed as directed in quick-dry hiking pants and a pair of old sneakers. “No waders needed,” said our guide. “Don’t worry, we don’t have pythons here. There may be a few small gators in one area, but nothing to be anxious about, ” he continued. Guess we believed him because we were ready to wade in.
Our group assembled and we all grabbed walking sticks, a necessity to maintain balance from hidden tree roots, rocks and slimy surfaces. We applied bug spray, strapped our cameras around our necks and carried a small backpack with extra supplies.
The Swamp Walk Begins
We gingerly stepped into a shallow still water creek under a canopy of ancient Cypress trees. “Start walking slowly and feel where you place your feet,” said our guide. So we did, the group maxed out at eight participants. We followed along in the mucky terrain. The depth was only a little higher than our ankles, so it didn’t seem scary, just awkward. However, as we proceeded further, the water grew deeper – up to middle thigh level. Occasionally my foot got stuck in the mud.
The surrounding scenery revealed eye-popping lush Oz emerald green foliage, humongous ferns and subtropical plants. We were walking in authentic Old Florida, a luscious landscape twinkling with shards of sunlight nudging between the trees.
Our guide explained details about the flora and fauna in the Big Cypress Preserve, seasonal changes and the ongoing conservation efforts. Our walk became an educational experience as well as a once-in-a-lifetime atypical adventure.
We snapped lots of photos, but finding a focal point proved difficult. The abundance of ferns, air plants, fungi, bromeliads, Cypress knees and swaying Spanish moss overwhelms and the scattering of old broken branches disrupts the desired shot. (I have the feeling Clyde cleans up the scene for his photo shoots.)
Near the end of our walk, we moved from the verdant wet ecosystem to a drier, grassy area. It appealed in a diverse way, a monochrome montage of browns.
I recommend this serene escape: it isn’t just a walk in the swamp; you become the swamp.
Reservations for a swamp walk: