Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
What to expect at the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
A 2.25-mile raised boardwalk takes visitors through four distinct environments: a pine upland, a wet prairie, a cypress forest, and a marsh. Interpretive signs along the boardwalk and a field guide and Children's Activity Book available at the admissions desk in the Blair Center allow each visitor to take the self-guided tour. Benches and rain shelters are along the trail. For those who do not wish to walk the full 2.25 miles, an optional trail shortens the walk to one mile. Volunteer naturalists are usually on the boardwalk to answer questions. Allow about 2-3 hours.
Wildlife sightings vary depending on the time of year, the weather, and even the time of day. Birds, reptiles, mammals, insects, and a variety of native plants including wild orchids may be seen from the boardwalk. Due to natural predators such as mosquito fish and dragonflies, mosquitos are not a great nuisance in the swamp.
Southwest Florida has two seasons: a dry season in the winter months and a rainy season in the summer months. Typical temperatures in the winter/dry season are highs in the 70's and lows in the 50's, and in the summer/rainy season, highs are in the 90's and lows in the 70's. A typical summer day begins with sunshine; then, clouds and humidity build in the early afternoon leading to a late afternoon thunderstorm and clearing skies in the evening. Summer visitors should come prepared for changeable weather.
Food, Drinks, and Restrooms
No foods, beverages other than water, or tobacco are allowed on the boardwalk, and the only restrooms are in the Living Machine at the entrance to the Sanctuary. A small selection of cold sandwiches, snacks, and soft drinks are available in the Blair Audubon Center, but they must be eaten there or in the picnic area adjacent to the parking lots.
Our Nature Store features an extensive selection of field guides, natural history books, Florida travel books, optics and binoculars, clothing, cards, gifts, bird feeders, nature cassettes and videos, and camera film. All proceeds from the Nature Store help support resource management and education activities at the sanctuary. The Nature Store is open all days when the Sanctuary is open and closes each day at 5:30 PM even during the summer months when the boardwalk is open until 7:30 PM.
Adult: $ 10.00, Full-time college student with photo ID: $ 6.00, National Audubon Society member with ID card: $ 5.00, Student (6-18 years old): $ 4.00, Children under 6: free
Prices Subject to change without notice.
Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary - Boardwalk Tour
A 2.25-mile raised boardwalk takes visitors through several distinct habitats found within the 11,000-acre Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, including the largest remaining virgin bald cypress forest in North America.
This natural system is managed by the National Audubon Society to maintain the native plants and animals found here and to preserve the natural processes that have been occurring for thousands of years. This photo tour will introduce you to each of the habitats along the boardwalk -- pine flatwood, wet prairie, pond cypress, marsh, lettuce lakes, and bald cypress forest -- and give you a small sampling of some of the sights you might see along the way.
The boardwalk begins in pine flatwood at the Blair Audubon Center. A little further along, a spur leads to the site of an old plume hunter's camp that is also in the flatwood. Occasional oak and hardwood hammocks dot the area.
Long ago, most of Florida was open pine forest and resembled this scene. These forests were created and are kept open by periodic natural fires, so plants growing here need to be able to recover quickly after the burns.
Although at a higher elevation than the wetlands, the general lack of topography gives an advantage to plants that can also withstand occasional summer flooding. Southern Slash Pine, Cabbage Palms, and Saw Palmetto dominate the area, and a myriad of wildflowers are in bloom throughout the year.
Wildlife in the pine flatwood varies with the seasons. When the palmetto berries ripen in the fall, deer, raccoons, and occasionally black bears are drawn to the abundant food supplies. Cardinals, woodpeckers, vireos, mockingbirds, and red-shouldered hawks may be seen and heard throughout the year and are joined seasonally by migrating warblers, towhees, and buntings. Wood storks and swallow-tailed kites soar overhead during their spring and early summer nesting seasons.
The boardwalk trail continues across and along the wet prairie. It is really a type of marsh dominated by grasses, sedges, and reeds, with sand cordgrass being the most common. The time it is flooded during a year is relatively short compared to other wetland habitats. It is slightly lower in elevation than the pine flatwood, and a combination of nutrient-poor soils, fire, and flooding help keep this grass-dominated prairie from becoming a pine flatwood or a cypress swamp.
During the spring dry-down, herons, egrets and ibis forage in the grasses while hawks hunt at the edge of the pond cypress. Wood storks should be soaring overhead, and listen for the occasional sand hill crane closer to the pine flatwood.
As the summer rains begin, deer move into the prairie to feed on the fresh growth, and the resonating calls of frog choruses fill the air. Look for swallow-tailed kites skimming the tops of the pine trees searching for food. During the fall when water levels are at their highest, alligators may be seen moving throught the grasses, and a variety of mammals cross the prairie, frequently using the boardwalk, to reach the ripening berries and figs in the cypress forests.
Pond cypress is a natural buffer between the bald cypress forest and the wet prairie/pine flatwood. It serves as an ecotone (an area where two different habitats meet), creating an environment where wildlife from both the wet prairie and the bald cypress forest mingle.
Pond cypress are smaller than the bald cypress that are more commonly found deeper in the swamp. Although stunted by nutrient poor soils on the edge of the prairie, these pond cypress trees are well over 100 years old. Scientists are not in total agreement whether pond cypress and bald cypress are two distinct species. DNA testing suggests they are, but they are known to hybridize. Superficially, the pond cypress have a slightly different appearance -- the bark is more deeply ridged, the needles spiral around their stems, and they grow in much closer proximity to each other.
Understory plants include sawgrass, ferns, air plants, wax myrtle, strangler fig, and a variety of flowering plants ranging from water lilies and pickerel weed to wild iris and the bladderworts. Look at the water surface for the characteristic cypress knees.
Bald Cypress Forest
Standing like sentinels guarding a fortress, bald cypress trees dominate the swamps of South Florida. The majestic, old growth bald cypress trees at Corkscrew are approaching 600 years in age and reach heights of 130 feet. They comprise the largest remaining virgin bald cypress forest in North America.
Swamps develop over time under the right conditions. As organic (peat) soils accumulate, trees begin to have an advantage over other wetland plants. Because the peat may only be several feet deep, mature cypress trees rely on an extensive system of horizontal roots; cypress knees grow up from the roots to provide the extra stability necessary to have weathered hundreds of years of storms and hurricanes.
Natural cavities in the old growth trees provide homes for barred owls, screech owls, wood ducks, raccoons, and other cavity nesters, while pileated, red-bellied, and downy woodpeckers excavate their own holes. Because the cypress lose their needles for several months during the winter, light filters down to the forest floor enabling a rich diversity of understory plants to thrive. Epiphytic orchids and airplants grow on the pond apple trees, ferns colonize fallen trees and establish themselves on the cypress knees, and red maples take advantage of breaks in the canopy.
Less than a half mile into the cypress swamp, a boardwalk spur gradually rises to an elevated observation platform overlooking the central marsh, which is encircled by the old-growth cypress forest.
In South Florida, sawgrass marshes dominate. The soil is organic, built up over hundreds of years from dead plant material -- peat. Typical marsh plants are sawgrass, pickerel weed, cattails, and bulrush, although the coastal plain willow is colonizing the area. Periodic fires help restore regular marsh vegetation.
During the spring, wood stork nesting colonies can be observed with binoculars and spotting scopes in the tops of cypress trees on the north and west edges of the marsh. Swallow-tailed kites, vultures, anhingas, and storks catch thermals to soar high above the marsh while vireos, cardinals, and blackbirds search for food among the plants. Raccoons hunt along the ground while alligators and otters are in the wetter areas. Queen butterflies utilize the twining White Vine as a nectar source and larval plant, while Viceroy butterflies prefer the willow.
The Lettuce Lakes along the boardwalk trail are in the bald cypress forest, but when water levels are too deep, no trees can grow. These deep, treeless channels within a swamp are called sloughs (pronounced slews). The deeper water and open skies attract a variety of wildlife, especially during the spring when shallower ponds elsewhere may begin to dry up.
Although they are lakes, the water surface is often covered with a mat of floating vegetation, primarily water lettuce and frog's bit, which provides shelter for crustaceans, fish, small reptiles, amphibians, and insects. These in turn are prey for the larger animals, notably alligators and wading birds. The floating plants are themselves food for turtles and a variety of insects. Open benches and benches under rain shelters allow visitors to sit and enjoy the continually changing show.
Blair Audubon Center
The boardwalk begins and ends at the Blair Audubon Center, which since its opening has served as the model for other National Audubon Society Centers in the United States. In addition to serving as the entrance to the Sanctuary and the boardwalk, it houses the Swamp Senses Media Theater, a tearoom with food service counter, two fully equipped classrooms, a foyer featuring paintings, sculpures and photography by regional artists, and the Nature Store.
The Nature Store offers field guides, books, videos, signature clothing and accessories, optics, jewelry, cards, photographs, bird feeders and bird houses, gift items, and educational games and toys for children. During the late fall, winter, and early spring, bird feeders placed at the start of the boardwalk attract a variety of birds such as buntings, cardinals, woodpeckers, chipping sparrows, and towhees. Native plants in the adjoining butterfly garden and around the Living Machine draw hummingbirds and butterflies throughout the year.
A back porch with benches and rocking chairs invites visitors to linger and to collect their impressions and memories after their stroll on the boardwalk.
Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary - Volunteers
At the start of the 20th century, concerned individuals came together with a common interest to protect birds and other wildlife. This was the start of the Audubon movement. These volunteers successfully stopped the slaughter of wading birds in Florida and throughout the United States. In 1953, volunteers mobilized to save the little known cypress swamp called Corkscrew.
Known as the crown jewel of Audubon Sanctuaries, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is a spectacular pristine mix of native plants and animals. Ancient 600-year old cypress trees tower into the sky shading the shallow swamp waters. Volunteers are once again involved with protecting the swamp by participating in many different areas of Sanctuary operations. Working closely with Audubon employees, volunteers contribute countless hours and services. You, too, can be part of this family.
Information courtesy Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary