Florida’s real Alligator Alley is a step back into another world…
By Jim Ferri
I’ve been across Florida’s Route 75 — the famous “Alligator Alley” — many times and I’ve never seen an alligator.
In fact, I’ve never seen any animal. It’s a pretty boring drive.
But there is another road off Tamiami Trail. It’s the old road to the south that originally connected Miami and Miami Beach with Florida’s west coast. Running parallel to Route 75, here you’ll often see alligators galore, close next to your car given the right conditions. You’ll see other wildlife, as well.
It’s called the Loop Road and is part of the Big Cypress National Preserve.
Not everyone likes alligators. I’m not a big fan myself. But when you get to see them from the safety of your car on this real Alligator Alley, your attitude changes a bit. I know, I’ve done it several times.
I first heard of Loop Road a few years ago on a program on National Public Radio, of all places. Tuning in I heard a writer for Sports Illustrated telling the show’s host about growing up in Miami. He told how he and his friends would go out on Loop Road when they were kids. His description of primeval nature of the place made me want to go. I made a mental note to check it out next time I was in the area.
Off Alligator Alley and Onto Route 75
A few years later as I was crossing the Everglades on Route 75, I talked my wife and some friends into tracking down the Loop. Using the GPS in our car we found the easterly end of it and off into the wilderness we went.
It was fairly innocuous for the first few miles. The road was paved and was lined with a few square concrete houses built by local Indians. Behind the houses were fields of scrub vegetation and marsh. Everything increasingly grew more dense and taller as we moved deeper into the swap. Soon the pavement turned to dirt, which although rough, was still passable.
On subsequent trips we found it wise to choose your month of travel on Loop Road, the “real Alligator Alley,”carefully. The summer-early fall “rainy season” is the worse time to try to traverse it. At that time large areas along its entire length are washed out by floods. You’re forced to creep along at 3-4 miles per hour, slowly and arduously weaving about large craters in the road.
A Map From Miami Beach to Loop Road
The Route from Miami Beach to Loop Road in the Big Cypress National Preserve
This map is interactive; press +/- to enlarge it or make it smaller. It can also be viewed, and the route followed, on your smartphone.
Other popular tours they offer:
See the Real Alligator Alley on Loop Road
During the winter dry season after the road has been filled and leveled by the Park Service the drive is much easier both on your car and your bottom. The winter dry season is also a better time to travel the Loop since it’s when you see the most wildlife.
During the hot summer months alligators spend most of their time in the water keeping themselves cool. But in the winter months, when the waters cool down a few degrees, many come out of the water. Then they lie sunning themselves along the banks of the streams and marsh alongside the road. In fact, on this Alligator Alley they’re so close you can stop your car only yards away from them.
It’s not a good idea on this Alligator Alley, to get out of the car in certain spots. We once convinced a Texas friend of this, when she was halfway out of the car “to pull its tail”. Nor do you want to walk your dog along the road here, since Fido is an alligator’s favorite treat. Keep in mind that gators are extremely fast from a dead stop and can grab your dog, or you, within seconds.
Moving on down the road we slowly moved further into the primeval wilderness. In the Big Cypress National Preserve, we passing signs for Sweetwater Junction, Gaging Station and Trail City. It was totally quiet except for the sound of an occasional bird off in the trees somewhere. In the crystal-clear waters little fish darted about in the shadows of ferns that cascaded over the bank.
A Primeval Adventure
We saw very few cars or people on this real Alligator Alley, even at midday, since few know about it. At various places we’d pull over when we saw alligators lying along the side of the road on creek banks. Sometimes they’d be piled atop one another in the morning sun.
Up ahead, every now and then, groups of vultures stood in the middle of the road as if to blockade us from venturing further on. Egrets perched on tree limbs, their white feathers bright against the dark green shadows of the deep swamp.
Sometimes we would stand outside the car and only hear birds singing in the towering cypress about us. At time we’d hear the rustle of the water made by fish or a swimming gator. A huge Great Owl fluttered out of a stand of old trees onto the road in front of us. It then quickly flew away as our car edged forward.
At one spot, my wife and I stood looking across the water into the forest of Cypress trees rising from the water. Incredibly, we could not hear a sound. It was total silence, with not even the whisper of a breeze blowing. We stood there and stared at the beautiful scene almost feeling that we were the very first humans who had ever discovered this primeval place.
It was our own National Geographic moment. Right there on the Real Alligator Alley.
If you go:
This isn’t a trip for everyone since it can be rough at times, exceptionally rough if the Park Service hasn’t yet leveled the road. Still though, it is a unique experience.
You’ll find Loop Road halfway across State Road 41, the southernmost road that crosses the state from Miami to Naples, FL. Follow the map above and happy hunting!