Sometimes it's soft and quiet, the sun turning an early morning mist into an orange fog and silhouetting motionless stands of slash pines. At other times the sun rises in a bright festival of magenta-tinged clouds gathering over Lake Okeechobee. However it begins, a morning at the Babcock-Webb wildlife preserve is always magical.
Dew-covered dragonflies shine like crystalline ornaments as they wait for the sun to dry their wings. White-tailed deer trail silently along hidden paths. Only a sleepy raccoon, curled in the crotch of a tree with his tail covering his eyes, resists the coming dawn.
Chirping woodpeckers flit from tree to tree. Great blue herons and wood storks wade in the shallows while alligators drift slowly through their territorial waters. Carpets of yellow, white and pink wildflowers host a never-ending variety of butterflies, dragonflies, grasshoppers and bees.
Where else in Southwest Florida can you drink in so much nature, from the clean, sweet smells of the damp earth to the deliciously soft morning air against your face?
The Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area spans more than 65,000 acres and shares the same ecosystem as its next-door neighbor, the Babcock Ranch. Home to one of the largest remaining undeveloped wet pine flat woods in Florida, it's also habitat to many of Florida's native species. Visitors to the preserve will understand what's at stake as the region wrestles with the controversial development of the enormous Babcock Ranch, and why it's worth working to keep at least some of that land wild.
What The state's Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management area is one of the region's last underdeveloped expanses of wet pine flatwoods.
Where Charlotte County, near Punta Gorda. From I-75, take exit 158 east one-quarter mile to the entrance.
Hours Daily hiking and exploring, from half an hour before sunrise until half an hour after sunset; recreational camping (nonhunting) from 5 p.m. Fridays to 9 p.m. Sundays, and some holidays. Camping for hunters is allowed seven days a week during hunting season.
Fees $6 per car or $3 per person
Best Time to Visit All year, except on hunting days (unless you're a hunter).
Where to Go/What to Do Drive along Tucker Grade, Oil Well Grade, Tram Grade and Seaboard Grade or take the hiking trails along all roads; you can also fish, camp, horseback ride or hunt.
Creature Comforts Bring water, snacks and bug spray. Restroom facilities along Webb Lake Road.