Swamp Walk – Gator Hook Trail, Everglades, FL

Swamp Walk – Gator Hook Trail, Everglades, FL

Coming off my high from the swamp walk I had the week before at Sweetwater Strand. I decided I would do a mix hike/swamp walk and tackle the infamous Gator Hook Trail out on Loop Road. This roughly five mile trek can be either adventurous or very adventurous depending on how “deep” you want to get. I was all geared up for the long haul, so extra deep it is.

Turing off of 41 at the Monroe station, it’s only a few miles down the road till you see the parking and signage for the trailhead.

Once again, out at first light, close to 6:45am. Since the season is Fall, things are just a bit nippy in the morning. But a faster pace helps warm things up as the temps slowly raise.

The initial portion of the trail is a mix of heavy mud and submerged limestone rock. For this trek I brought my Rocky Prowler Gore-tex boots. I don’t want this to sound like product placement, but these boots kicked some serious ass that day.  I stayed completely dry, of course until the water finally reached over the tops. But Man, that extra hour of dry feet was welcomed.

Anywho, as you can see, the initial portion of the trail goes from bald cypress to dwarf cypress. There is one fork in the trial, but don’t worry, they connect back together.

The sun is just starting to peak over the horizon.

The morning fog hugs close to the ground.

The tree line is barely visible from out in the prairie.

After you cross the prairie, the trail mounds up and things get a little drier. The elevated ground is actually the original tram that the loggers used to get deep in the cypress forest.

However, that feeling of solid ground is quickly dashed when you meet your first deep water experience. Here is where the water will rush the boots and the pants get wet up to your mid thigh. Also, kind of stagnant in this area.

The tram mingles from solid ground to watery crossings. A few massive bald cypress remain, reminding you of what things once were.

I got tired of walking in the tram tunnel and opted to slush it through the water on the outside of the tram. This Turkey Vulture followed me for a short while to make sure I wasn’t lost. His company was not appreciated.

If you like air plants, then you will be in heaven out here.

Aside from the occasional sawgrass blade rubbing your hand the wrong way, there were tons of spiders nesting between the trees and thick blades of sawgrass.

This enabled me to finally capture something I’ve been chasing for quite some time…the morning dew spiderweb shot.

Once you reach the end of the obvious tram mound you will come to what seems like the end of your hike. Since I was off to the side of the tram it took me a little while till I saw this thin path through the cypress.

Another gift to me this morning was a beautiful Purple Lobelia still covered in it’s morning dew.

After you make the trek through the cypress water you will once again come to another dry tram trail. However, this one isn’t as easy as the previous ones. Here is an example of the path.

You might be wondering what’s with the photo of ferns. Well these ferns are actually the trail. Yes, the trail is completely covered in ferns that reach about four and a half feet in height. Since it was just ferns and not poison ivy/oak I didn’t have a problem pushing through them.

At the end of the tram things clear out a little bit and there is a bench for seating and this pump. Which didn’t work when I tried to use it.

Also, from some of the remains, it looks like people camp out here. So if you’re into that, that could be an option…might want to check with a ranger first.

And here is the best part of the trail. Just when you think things end, they don’t. You see those orange tags tied to the trees in the middle left of the shot? Those are trail markers. The thing about these trail markers is that you don’t see them very easily or at all at some points. You just need to hike in the general direction and keep going until you see another one. If you don’t then I suggest you head back to the last one you saw and try a new path. If that doesn’t work, then it might be best to head back.

Here is the trail, it’s about impossible to distinguish from the rest of your surroundings. And if you look hard enough, there is an orange marker on one of the trees.

I had lost sight of the markers myself and decided I would walk just a little further. Just far enough that I felt like I could find my way back. That’s when I came across this deeper pool of water. It definitely was breaking my rules of swamp walking so I stayed to the outer edges and explored around it.

Plenty of air plants.

Around the backside of the pond, this was as far as I needed to go.

Definitely some of the more creepier things I’ve seen out in the swamps.

Figured I would take a customary self portrait as proof of my existence deep out in the swamps before heading back.

Crystal clear.

Back on dry land! Aside for the occasional puddles of thick mud.

The afternoon sun makes the grey cypress trees harder to distinguish in a photograph. So turning this shot into sepia and boosting contrast makes for a more interesting image.

Almost back to the car, decided to take another photo for comparison of the earlier foggier version.

And a photo of one of the cleaner flowers I found out in the prairie.

Map of Gator Hook Trail

And for those who are interested, here is the trail map. The dotted portion at the end of the trail is the area I was walking around without gps service.

Hope you enjoyed this enough to go out and try it yourself. You won’t be disappointed!


  • Christal says:

    Excellent pictures and descriptions! I’m looking for a hiking trail on Loop Road but I think I’ll pass on this one! The “tons of spiders” and too-deep water is too adventurous for me. Thanks f or sharing.

  • Natalie K says:

    I would SO love to do this, but all my friends, even though they are male, are wimpy when it comes to this, thinking they’ll become gator lunch. I am a photographer (just for fun, not a pro though my pictures are pretty decent), and would love to explore this area and take my own pictures, though yours are really great. If you go back to Florida or have any friends in Florida who’d be open to a hiking and photography adventure here or any other part of the Everglades, let me know and I’ll join! (I live in Miami Beach). Thanks, happy holidays and keep shooting!

    • nick says:

      Thanks Natalie. I hope you can get together some people and make your way out there. If you are brazen enough, you can do it on your own. Just let someone know when you go and when you plan to come back. As far as me making it back out there, I sadly won’t be back in Florida for a couple more years.

      • Natalie K. says:

        My friend’s main fear is alligators, and I guess the name “Gator Hook” doesn’t help. Did you encounter any? There’s a photographer here, Clyde Butcher, who goes out into the swamps and does Saturday swamp walks ($50 per person though is steep!) and regular swamp walks ($100 per person!) and he has never been bitten. His assistant told us alligators are not interested in humans unless they are disturbed. I would go alone but I am easily disoriented and cannot read maps, I rely on my phone GPS to get around and I am sure there’s no signal here, as in 99% of the Everglades locations I have visited. My friend doesn’t understand that seeing a picture is not the same as living it and taking it yourself, I am trying to get a Meetup Miami Photography group of people interested, maybe I’ll be able to go after all in the future 🙂

        • nick says:

          The good thing about the winter is that gators are trying to get out of the water and into the sun. When I went, all the gators were up on the side of the road by the time I left. As far as being attacked, there are some simple things to avoid disturbing a gator. Try not to walk in anything above waist deep, it helps to be able to see through the water, and try to keep next to structure and not out in the open so it would be easy to get something between you and a gator if it did charge at you (which has never happened to me).

          Clyde Butcher is one of the most famous Florida photographers. So I would imagine his tours would be a bit pricey, but the good thing is that he knows where all the good scenes are. You might even get to see a Ghost Orchid if you went on a walk with him. There are other naturalists who do walks. Try checking with conservancies or ranger stations and see if they know of any.

          If you have an iPhone you can purchase Gia GPS and download maps. Your phone will track your position, but its the maps that you need to save before you head out.

          And finally, tell your friend he has a better chance of being attacked by a shark than by a gator. As long as you are smart about it. 🙂

  • Steve says:

    Thanks for the photos and description of your hike, Nick – very cool! I recently (yesterday) hiked in the area and thought I would offer my two cents to anyone wanting to do a swamp walk (for free). The trail from the Oasis Visitor Center (US 41) to Loop Road is quite nice, and looks to be somewhat more accessible (better marked) than the Gator Loop trail. I hiked 2.6 miles from Oasis to an area called Roberts Lakes Strand and back, and it was absolutely beautiful! This trail segment was originally the terminus of the Florida Trail, and is still marked as such. There are mile marker signs posted, trees are well-marked with orange hashes, and the trail itself is totally obvious for the entire route.

    As far as gators, it is obviously the backcountry wilderness and one should stay vigilant about the surroundings, but the likelihood of being attacked by a gator is very low. This was my first swamp walk, and I was alone and felt quite safe for almost the entire walk. However, the Roberts Lakes Strand is known to have a high density of gators, and I would be very careful walking through that area. I ventured into it for several hundred yards to reach a camp spot, and spooked a gator that was perched on the camp spot. It bolted away and watched me from under water in a nearby pond while I ate my lunch. I did not stick around too long, and I was relieved to get out of there. (I probably wouldn’t go into that area alone again.) That said, I felt fine the rest of the trail. It cuts through dense pond and bald cypress in crystal clear cool water about shin to knee deep (New Balance Minimus worked great for me). It is a fantastic experience to walk through such a unique environment, and I would highly recommend it!

    (Suggestions: Ask the ranger at Oasis EXACTLY where to begin the trail, it can be slightly confusing. Also, ask the ranger for walking sticks – they have them available to borrow. I used two.)

    Thanks again, Nick, your photos really capture the feeling of being out there!

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