Loop Road – The Alligator Super Highway in the Everglades
Most people who travel Florida have heard of, or traveled, Alligator Alley and the Tamiami Trail. Both run across south Florida through the Everglades. Each is known for alligator sightings, but the Tamiami Trail is more densely populated with this reptile we call an alligator.
Since the Tamiami Trail is a two-lane road from Naples to south Miami. travel is much slower. A freeway, I-75, completed in 1992, was designated Alligator Alley. If either of these highways is considered the pathway or alley for alligators, we have news – there is a road that must be the “super-highway” of gators.
Can you imagine a 25-mile stretch of road where you can view scores of alligators in their natural habitat without even getting out of your car? That rarely traveled road is Loop Road, Big Cypress Preserve.
Take Care When Considering Traveling Loop Road
Loop Road starts when traveling east on Tamiami Trail (Rt. 41), when using the Tamiami Trail, at about mile marker 59. Also known as Monroe Station, the location is not much more than an intersection. Loop Road runs a little southeast and then back northeast until it intersects Rt. 41 again, some 25 miles later. You wander through some of the densest swamp in the Everglades.
I am not going to sugarcoat this! If you don’t like nature, don’t take this road. If you don’t have plenty of gas, don’t take this road (there are no gas stations). If you are in a hurry, don’t take this road. If you don’t want to run about 20 miles an hour on a pothole-laced gravel road, don’t take this road. If your vehicle has any weaknesses, don’t take this road! If you need a bathroom, once again, you better like nature really well!
Loop Road is not only unique but may have more wildlife in their natural habitat than you will ever see anywhere. In the first five miles of the road we saw white egrets, blue herons, hawks, snowy egrets, ospreys, anhinga, turkey vultures, night herons, wood storks and several species we could not identify.
While admittedly the first couple of miles makes you think you made a mistake by taking this gravel road, it quickly changes into a dense tree-lined swamp that suddenly is alive with alligators. Your eyes get trained to the gators’ dark log-like first appearance when viewed in the swamp.
In our travels, we generally get to Loop Road about mid-morning. By the time the sun gets high in the sky, alligators begin to creep out of the swamp and onto and along the road. In fact, close-up picture taking turns into a car window process, rather than tempting fate with eight foot gators a few feet away.
Simply stated, if you want stunning photos of everything an untouched wooded swamp can provide, this is it. Unbelievable picturesque opportunities are literally everywhere.
At some point, my mind wandered beyond this virtual wildlife parade about the time a three or four foot snake of undetermined type was leisurely swimming by. How did this road get here? Who forged this trail through dense trees, vines, undergrowth, and water? How many men succumbed to the perils of the swamp and what was their life like 100 years ago when the road was first cut through? With the man-made enemies of the Everglades, should we even be here?
If no other reason to visit, you will understand the eco-system that has been the home to native Americans, gladesmen and pioneers for hundreds of years. It is difficult to visualize how man survived in this natural wonderland of trees, vegetation, tangled brush, vast grasslands and brackish streams that make up the Everglades.
The Fragile Everglades
The Everglades, a 60-mile wide “river of grass” as described by Marjory Stoneman Douglas, is under assault by man’s ever-growing need for development. This ecosystem is unlike anything else in the world. As far back as the 1800’s, people wanted to stop the flow of water and try to control one of mother nature’s most delicate natural habitats. The resulting pressure has seen the decline in size and quality of the Everglades, despite our changing attitudes about preservation.
Our intrusion into such natural phenomenon seems wrong but may be the only way more people are made aware of what this vast preserve used to be and the need to protect it in the future.
You can read about the history of Loop Road on other sites. We do know the attempt to develop this area into a town with settlers, businesses and growth failed. This graveled pathway is all that is left. If that seems the sad, it should not. This may be one of the few instances where man’s attempt to tame such naturally beautiful creation came to an end.
As I come down off my soap box, I hope people travel the area and ask themselves, why is this so populated with so many sights and sounds no longer seen – even at manmade zoos, wildlife havens and attractions?
Enjoy your trip down Loop Road and a clear vision of how the Everglades used to be!
An update to this post. We visited Loop Road again in July 2021. Brent Edger made a digital version of our trip above.