Day-trip Drive from Fort Myers
Are you ready to take a drive? The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum is an awesome family-friendly destination. With over 200,000 unique artifacts and rotating exhibits, the Museum is the perfect place to learn about the Seminole people and experience their rich cultural and historic ties to the Southeast and Florida. In addition to the Museum, you can immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of the Everglades on the Boardwalk, and grab a bite to eat on the Reservation. Plan your perfect day trip today!
In our featured image this week, you can see a scenic view of farmland, with trees and palms visible. This is only one of the views you can enjoy during your drive out to Big Cypress! While driving, we suggest you delight in the experience; however, do not stop or pull off the road to take pictures. There are very few safe areas to stop, and the road to and from the Big Cypress Reservation is used by farm and semi-trucks. Always remember: safety first!
Tips for your Drive
What to Bring in the Car
Prior to heading to Big Cypress, fill up your gas tank either in Fort Myers or Immokalee on the way. The drive to the Reservation is long, and there are no gas stations between there and Immokalee. We suggest you pack a lot of snacks, hook up a playlist, and enjoy the drive! The drive from Fort Myers to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum takes about an hour and a half. It is the perfect length for a day-trip. On your journey, you will see a wide variety of Florida scenes, from farmland to swampland. But, be mindful of other trucks and cars on your drive. Additionally, you may see animals like gators, wild boar, lynx, and birds that occasionally cross the road. Be aware of your surroundings and enjoy your drive!
What to Bring to the Museum
The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum is located in the heart of the Everglades and features a mile-long boardwalk. Bring ample water, sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, and comfortable walking shoes. Interesting in birding? The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum Boardwalk is part of the Florida Birding Trail. Bring a field guide or download the Audubon app for easier identification. Check out our previous post Birds of the Boardwalk on the best guide for Spring birding.
For my drive to the Big Cypress Reservation, I started from Fort Myers, FL. Leaving around 9:00am, I got to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum at 10:58am. It was approximately a 2-hour trip. These 2 hours included a single stop in Immokalee, which is at about the halfway mark of the drive. Starting that early in the day meant I was driving into the sun, so sunglasses were critical! Leaving Fort Myers, I took Daniels Parkway and turned on 82 towards Immokalee. This route takes you right by the Wild Turkey Strand Preserve, the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, and several other preserves and sanctuaries. While not as scenic from your car as the second half of the drive, you will still be able to see several wildlife areas and a variety of native Florida plants. Keep your eyes open and look for a variety of birds, gators, and turtles.
While on my drive, I decided to stop by the new Seminole Trading Post in Immokalee. Just down the road from the Seminole Casino Immokalee, this trading post is chock-full of everything you need for the road trip out to Big Cypress. Above, you can see my car parked right at the front of the newly opened Seminole Trading Post. Just opened last October, the trading post is a whopping 7,200 square feet. It features six dual-sided pumps in the front for cars, vans, and trucks and four in the back for larger semis. This trading post genuinely is a wonderful place to stop and refresh on your way out to Big Cypress. Inside, the convenience store sells any possible candy, chip, or snack you may desire. In addition, there is hot coffee, freshly made hot food to-go, and very clean, well-kept restrooms.
On this day, I went in to refresh and grab some snacks. I was pleasantly surprised by the sheer amount of options. Truly, there is something for everyone. Although I walked out with only some gummy candy and a soda, there were ample options for those seeking anything from a snack to a full meal. This is also a great place to get gas before heading out. Be mindful of your gas tank. There are EV chargers and gas on the Big Cypress Reservation, but nothing in between.
Leaving Immokalee, you will take Immokalee Road and turn right on Main Street. You will then turn left on County Road 846. Once you leave Immokalee, the drive will become much more rural. So, stock up on any gas or snacks you may need before leaving town! Right as you leave Immokalee, you’ll see wide swaths of farmland, complete with cattle. Old Oak trees heavy with Spanish moss surround marshy farmland and grazing areas. This is a great place to spot birds and other animals through your windshield. If you have kids, it is a great opportunity to make a game of it. How many herons can you spot? Ibis? What about cows? While driving, you should be able to spot a number of birds and animals. Take it a step further and try and spot some native plants!
Slowly while you are driving, the landscape will change to more open vistas. In our featured image this week, you can see a view from about five minutes before you cross on to the Big Cypress Reservation. You can see scrubby palmetto bushes, as well as some tree island in the background. While talking about the Everglades in a previous blog post, we mentioned that tree islands are slightly raised areas with dense tree growth. During the wet season, they provide safety and shelter for plants and animals and are very dense and diverse.
After about 20 miles on CR 846, you will take a sharp right on CR 833 S. This will take you right into the reservation. After another 16 or so miles, you will be on the reservation, and the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum will be on your right. Turn on to W Boundary Road, and you will see the parking lot.
What is at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum Right Now?
Wondering what is at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum right now? In addition to the permanent exhibits and the boardwalk, there are a couple of exciting current and upcoming offerings that you won’t want to miss! Interested in some upcoming events and exhibits? Seeing Red: A Communities Response to the Crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives will open May 5, 2023.
There will also be a large Earth Day 2023 celebration with two FREE events. On April 18th, join in on the festivities at Seminole Okalee Indian Village in Hollywood, FL from 9:00am to 6:00pm. On April 20th, join in at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum on the Big Cypress Reservation from 10:00am to 4:00pm. The events will showcase live performances from Barry Big Mountain and the Iron Horse Dancers, Rez Jamz, and Tribal food and craft vendors. Additionally, there will be several non-profits joining in on the celebration, including Museum of Discovery and Science, History Miami Museum, Henry Glades Audubon, the Florida Trail Association, NASA, and more.
Looking for a bite to eat on the Big Cypress Reservation? At Billie Swamp Safari, the Swamp Water Café is a short drive from the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. Although Billie Swamp Safari is closed until further notice, the Swamp Water Café is a full-service Everglades restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The Swamp Water Café reopened in 2022 with a whole new look and menu. Enjoy a wide variety of culinary choices, from Indian Tacos to Impossible Burgers. Check out the menu before you go, there is something for everyone! If you are looking for a quick snack or ice cream, Sadie’s Big Cypress Landing offers burgers, sandwiches, ice cream, chips, candy, and other convenience foods. Big Cypress Landing has been around in its current building since 2008. But, Sadie Tommie Cypress, the owner, has been selling food and necessities to the community since the 70s.
Choose your adventure back
Heading back, you can either retrace your steps and go back the way you came OR make a loop by continuing through the Big Cypress Reservation and driving on Snake Road. On this day, I chose to return the route I had driven in the morning. But, if you have a bit more time the Snake Road option is a great way to see one of the best driving views to or from Big Cypress. Snake Road meanders its way through the Big Cypress Reservation before crossing over and into the Miccosukee Reservation. Winding and picturesque, Snake Road is a great place to spot alligators and many varieties of birds. If your day trip places you driving back in the afternoon, it is also a great place to experience a beautiful Florida sunset. Taking Snake Road, you can then easily get on I-75 North back to Fort Myers.
Whatever direction you take back, the drive to and from Big Cypress is one that is worth the time and effort. On it, you will see a variety of Florida birds, animals, plants, and open land. In many ways, the drive TO the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki is just as much of an experience as the Museum itself. I encourage you to take the time and plan your day trip today
Originally from Washington state, Deanna Butler received her BA in Archaeological Sciences from the University of Washington in 2014. Deanna moved to South Florida in 2016. Soon, she began working for the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Tribal Historic Preservation Office. Deanna was the THPO’s Archaeological Collections Assistant from 2017-2021. While at the THPO, Deanna worked to preserve, support, and process the Tribe’s archaeological collection. She often wrote the popular Artifact of the Month series and worked on many community and educational outreach programs. She lives in Fort Myers, FL with her husband, son, and dog.